Sunday, November 13, 2011

How To Brine And Roast A Turkey

It's almost that time folks. Are you ready to roast that big bird or are you running from the task quicker than you can say turkey trot?  To all of you with trepidation in your soul at the thought of tackling this job, fear not -- I have one word to help you achieve success -- and it rhymes with fine. No, it's not wine -- although a glass of chardonnay or pinot noir for the cook never hurts. The word folks is brine. Since the first time I brined a turkey years ago, I have never looked back. It's a fail-proof way to ensure a moist, flavorful turkey, even if you forget to baste it and even if you roast it a little longer than required.  
Mix salt, sugar, herbs and spices with water and bring to a boil.
Dump the brining mixture over the turkey and add ice cubes (unless you have a refrigerator large enough to contain the large bucket). Let it sit overnight.
Roast the turkey over a bed of celery, carrots and onions and with some whole heads of garlic strewn all around the pan. Baste occasionally.
I leave the carving to my dad, but it's the same way you would carve a chicken. Remove the legs, thighs and wings, then remove each half of the breast in its entirety from the carcass.
Cut the breast in slices and place all the meat on a serving platter surrounded with the whole roasted heads of garlic.
gobble, gobble!

printable recipe here

Turkey Brine

(Makes enough for up to a 24 lb. turkey)

1 cup kosher salt

1/2 cup sugar

1 gallon water

2 T. black peppercorns

1 T. allspice berries

1 onion, sliced

1 large bunch sage

6 bay leaves

ice cubes

The day before (or night before) you want to cook the turkey:

Using a 5-gallon bucket, line it with a plastic bag. Put the salt, sugar, onion, herbs and spices in a pot on the range with only two cups of water taken from the one gallon of water called for in the recipe. Bring to a boil and stir everything to blend the flavors. Remove from the heat and add some ice cubes to cool it off, plus about half of the remaining water. Put the thawed turkey in the plastic bag in the bucket and add the water and herb mixture. If the bucket needs more water to cover the turkey, add it now.

Since I can't fit the bucket into my refrigerator, I always place it outdoors on the deck, adding ice cubes to the water to make sure it stays cool. It's never been a problem here in New Jersey in late November, and sometimes it's gotten so cold that the top layer of water has frozen.  I don't want to take any risks though, so I always add the ice cubes. Twist the top of the bag and secure it closed. To keep squirrels or birds from pecking into the bag during the night or before it goes into the oven, place a flat baking pan on the top and weigh it down with something heavy. Let it sit overnight and soak.

The next day, drain the turkey from the liquid before roasting.  Pat dry, then place your hand between the skin and the breast meat and spread some butter inside with some sage leaves. Alternately, make an herb butter, mixing some softened butter with minced sage, rosemary or other herbs.

Roasting Method

After rubbing butter between the skin and the breast meat, place the turkey in a pan that has a bed of celery sticks, carrots and onion chunks. Take several whole heads of garlic and slice a shallow slice off the top. Spread them in the corners of the pan. If you're not stuffing the turkey, place some onion chunks, fresh herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary or thyme or a combo) and a couple of lemons that have been halved, in the cavity. Rub the outer skin with a stick of butter that's been softened. Roast turkey according to timetable below, basting occasionally. If the breast starts to get overly browned, make a tent with aluminum foil and cover loosely. If wings get overly browned and the rest of the turkey still needs cooking, wrap the wings in aluminum foil. The total roasting time will depend on whether the turkey is stuffed or not.

Here are the roasting times recommended by the USDA. If you're checking with a meat thermometer, the USDA says the turkey is safely cooked once the thickest part of the breast and thigh reach a minimal internal temperature of 165 degrees. Full roasting instructions from the USDA are here.

Timetables for Turkey Roasting

(325 °F oven temperature) 

Use the timetables below to determine how long to cook your turkey. These times are approximate. Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of your turkey and stuffing. 

4 to 8 pounds (breast)1½ to 3¼ hours
8 to 12 pounds2¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds3 to 3¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds3¾ to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds4¼ to 4½ hours
20 to 24 pounds4½ to 5 hours

4 to 6 pounds (breast)Not usually applicable
6 to 8 pounds (breast)2½ to 3½ hours
8 to 12 pounds3 to 3½ hours
12 to 14 pounds3½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds4 to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds4¼ to 4¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds4¾ to 5¼ hours

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  1. A great recipe and way of preparing turkey! I bet that meat was succulent and moist.



  2. One of these days, I'm going to try brining a turkey. So far, mine turn out moist but so many people swear this is the way to go. Great tutorial, Linda.

  3. I have never brined a favorite way is a Reynold's Oven Bag. It makes a perfect turkey every time!

  4. I'm brining a turkey as we speak! I'm not hosting the feast this year and I'm getting my share of leftovers early!

  5. Why does your brined turkey look better than mine? The last time I brined a turkey, the bag leaked and I cleaned the fridge for three hours the day before Thanksgiving. I could consider putting it out in the snow that is sure to come and hope the raccoons don't feast! Your father carves a beautiful turkey!

  6. Hey I have the same pan as you! Ok, I'll admit I have turkey anxiety! I'll cook every thing else, no problem, but the turkey stresses me out. to brine or not to brine,last year i did a dry brine via Martha Stewert, nothing to write home about, it was good though. Wet brine seems so much work to me, but if you say it's good I just might give it a try, I'll be cooking for 14 and I don't want to screw it up!

  7. che idea geniale Linda, non ho mai visto preparare così il tacchino!Grazie per aver condiviso questa preziose informazioni, buona settimana,un abbraccio...

  8. Is the turkey in the picture breast side down like the recipe says? That looks like the breast meat on top, or am I just all mixed up?

  9. Jacques - You're right. I roast chickens breast side down for first half of the cooking time, then flip over. I've done the same for turkey, but when I brine, it's not necessary. Will correct recipe. Thanks

  10. That turkey looks so good I could almost smell it!! When I first started roasting turkeys 25 years ago, it was a simple, in the oven event. Now I always brine...they just come out better...good tutorial Linda!

  11. I've cooked the Thanksgiving dinner for my extended family for 35 years! I also began brining my turkey a few years ago after so many celebrity chefs began extolling the virtues of doing so. :) I use apple cider instead of water as the brine base. It gives the turkey a very slight apple flavor and I think the cider helps to tenderizes the meat.

    I also lightly stuff the cavity with an onion, carrot, celery and fresh herbs. They help flavor the turkey and gravy.

    Your Dad is an expert carver, Linda!

  12. Wow, I need these instructions, I'm trying to figure out how to make the Thanksgiving turkey, every year I make a mess. I see you came to Italy and went back to the US. I went to the US,( I lived in the Bronx for 15 years) as a child and now I'm back in Italy. I live in Trapani, Sicily but at the moment we are in Rome. Ciao!

  13. Now this is news you can use! Brining on the patio sounds like the way to go. Lots of seasoning, too to make this sometimes bland bird into something special.

  14. Linda, that's a lovely bird!
    And like you, I also cook most birds breast side down.
    But, the brining is a technique I often shy away from. And you would understand, if you could witness my clumsiness in the kitchen.
    But, at least, my cats appreciate it.

  15. Brining the bird adds so much to the final outcome. I have never brined a whole turkey buy have done so to a breast or two.

  16. I just wish to be a guest on an american table for Thanksgiving to have the right vibes.....

  17. Non conoscevo questa tecnica, grazie per averla condivisa con noi, il risultato è sorprende, una delizia per gli occhi e per il palato. Un abbraccio Daniela.

  18. What a beautiful bird Linda! I am not a briner. I do a cheesecloth soaked in wine and butter over the breast, and roast at a higher temp...
    Whatever gives you a gorgeous juicy bird is great!
    I am excited ...Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday!
    A very Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

  19. Talk about timely :-). It is a perfect post! That bird look perfect and I'm sure it was delicious. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  20. What a beautiful bird! I should try this recipe for Thanksgiving.....thanks!