Saturday, November 19, 2011

Brining and Roasting a Thanksgiving Turkey (the best you'll ever have!!)

There is nothing I hate more than a dry turkey. In fact, for YEARS I claimed that I didn't like Thanksgiving turkey. But then, when I was a teenager, my mom started brining her turkeys and I suddenly, our entire family fell in love. Now, I look forward to making this all year long. It's quite a process, but worth EVERY ounce of extra effort!! The sweet and salty brining process creates a chemical reaction causing the meat to tenderize and soak up tons of that wonderful flavor. Once you try this, you may never go back to making turkey the old way! And I can't think of anything else that will get you in the Thanksgiving spirit THREE DAYS early!! ;)

Thanksgiving Turkey Brine

-adapted from Melinda Lee-

**Note: This is enough brine for a 12-18 lb. turkey. I would increase the measurements for anything larger because you will have to use a larger brining bag.

2 1/4 c. kosher salt
2 c. brown sugar
15 whole cloves
4 1/2 teaspoons peppercorns
2 gallons apple juice or cider
peel of 2 large oranges (just cut off the skin instead of peeling it, to avoid getting too much of the bitter, white pith)
3 tsp. thyme
2 tsp. sage

**Note: If you're not planning to use a fresh turkey, be sure to start the turkey thawing process SEVERAL days before you start brining. This takes a few days...I usually put mine in the fridge 5 days before Thanksgiving (so on Saturday morning). This gives it 4 full days to thaw, and one day to brine. If you need to speed up the thawing process, fill the sink with cold water and let the turkey soak while still wrapped in packaging.

Day 1:
(Tuesday night)

Combine ingredients in LARGE stock pot (my largest pot is 8 quarts, and it doesn't quite fit all of the apple juice. I just pour any leftover juice on top of my turkey once it's in the brining bag.). Bring to a boil and let simmer for 20 minutes, partly covered. Cool completely (I usually let it sit overnight in the fridge, or covered on my stovetop if fridge space is limited).

Day 2:
(Early Wednesday morning)

Rinse turkey inside and out. Place turkey in a large brining bag. I have tried several different versions and my favorite type is Ziplock's LARGE size heavy duty blue bags. I've found that the LARGE bags can fit up to a 17 lb. turkey (maybe slightly larger). They sell XL bags too, or you can buy a specific "brining bag" at Williams-Sonoma, Crate and Barrel, or Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I've just found that these are usually too large for my small-ish turkeys, but they are a great option for a large one.

Place bagged turkey in sink and pour brine over to cover. This is easiest if you have someone else helping you hold the bag open. I've wasted a LOT of brine down the drain by trying to do this myself! If you need slightly more brine to cover the turkey, just top it off with a little water or the extra apple juice. Seal bag (I like to double bag it) and place it in the refrigerator for 18-24 hours. Turn turkey 2-3 times throughout the process to ensure the most even distribution of flavor.

Day 3:
(Early Thanksgiving morning)

Remove the turkey from the bag and discard brine. Rinse turkey COMPLETELY (inside and out) to avoid overly salty meat and gravy...This is a very important step! The brine has already worked it's magic by now, so don't worry about washing away the flavor. Pat dry with paper towels and let turkey sit in the fridge UNCOVERED for a few hours ( or overnight if you prefer). Letting the turkey sit will ensure even distribution of the brine, making it extra tender. It will also help you have nice, crispy skin. Be sure to remove the turkey from the fridge TWO hours before roasting. This will promote even cooking since it will be at room temperature and not ice cold in the center.

Just before roasting, rub entire turkey (underneath skin and on top of skin) with 1/2 c. butter. I like to mix in some fresh herbs-- sage, thyme, and rosemary.) Cook turkey in roasting pan (or bag-- use your preferred method) according to turkey’s size. Keep in mind that brining DOES tend to shorten the turkey's cooking time!! Based on my oven, I usually start roasting 2 1/2- 3 1/2 hours before I plan to serve dinner (depending on the turkey's size). Here is my personal cooking method:

For a 12-14-pound turkey: Roast breast-side-DOWN at 350 degrees, for about 1 1/4 hours, then turn breast-side-up for remaining 30 to 45 minutes, basting frequently with melted butter. Roasting times are approximate (and are estimated for unstuffed turkeys-- stuffed will take a little longer). If the top skin seems to be getting too dark, cover it with a doubled piece of aluminum foil. Remove the foil 10 minutes before removing the finished turkey from the oven.

For larger turkeys: Simply estimate 10 minutes per pound, but begin checking the turkey with a thermometer after about 3/4 of that time. Follow same method as described above.

Unstuffed turkey is done when a meat thermometer, inserted in the thickest part of the thigh meat (without touching the bone) reads 160-165 degrees. Test the thigh meat in several places, to be sure. Stuffed turkey is done when the thermometer reads 160 degrees in the center of the stuffing.

After removing from the oven, cover with foil and allow the turkey to stand for at least 20 minutes before carving (or longer if necessary). This will re-distribute the juices ensuring an extra moist turkey.

Good luck!!!
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  1. I'm excited to try this recipe for our turkey day. I'm just a little confused on how long the turkey stay in the brine. In the intro you mention 3 days but the instructions say 24 hours. I want to get it right so I can have the yummiest turkey ever :). Thanks!! xo~Penny

  2. I've clarified the directions. Hope this helps! It really is the most moist and flavorful turkey you'll ever have! Good luck.