How to Cook The Best Thanksgiving Turkey Ever

dry-brined-turkey

I love turkey. ( I particularly love leftover layered “everything Thanksgiving dinner” casserole but that’s a different post and recipe.)

However, I can’t stand dry turkey. Doesn’t matter how much you drown each bite in in gravy, dry turkey just seems to suck every bit of moisture into the turkey jerky black hole.

I’ve had a hand in preparing, or cooking entirely on my own, close to 100 turkeys in my lifetime.  And we’ve tried just about every turkey prep idea out there.
Deep frying, smoking, injecting, “wet” brining, turkey bagging, waving the magic wand…we even discarded the turkey option one Thanksgiving and went with tenderloin and ham (which was actually a very tasty Thanksgiving option indeed).

“Wet” brining produces a tender, juicy turkey, true, but the extra water that the turkey sits in can essentially dilute the “turkey” flavor of turkey.  (There is food science, for us food science nerds, to back this up here: The Food Lab: The truth about brining turkey)

Smoked turkey was a close second, thanks to the talented skills of my “passionate about BBQ” brother in law.

Fried turkey was good, but not great, and comes with the added risk of burning your house down.

It wasn’t until we tried “dry” brining, that we found the magic technique, the secret sauce, the perfect moist turkey abracadabra. This method produces, seriously, the most flavorful, tender, juiciest turkey I have ever had the pleasure of putting in my mouth.  AND, it is SO easy!

Any turkey roasting requires picking the right turkey- organic or all natural turkeys will ensure that you are getting a tender bird that has been sustainably and humanely raised.

all-natural-turkey

If you are brining your turkey, make sure to choose a bird that has only “retained water” listed on the front. If the listing includes any other ingredients (salt, sugar, broth) or states that it has been injected, you cannot brine it or it will be inedible.

turkey-close-up

Follow the few extra tips noted in the recipe directions, and you will be well on your way to the best Thanksgiving turkey ever!
(At least as much as I can help you out- overcook the turkey? Not even dry brining can help you out with that one.)

The Best Thanksgiving Turkey Ever

Ingredients:
1 organic or all natural turkey (10-12 lbs)
1 cup kosher salt
2 Tblsp dried rosemary
1 Tblsp dried smoked paprika
1 Tblsp dried cayenne pepper
1 Tblsp garlic powder
1/2 Tblsp dried sage

Aromatics for stuffing inside turkey (if desired, but recommended)
1 apple, quartered
1 onion, quartered
1 orange or lemon, thinly sliced
1 stick butter
Dried sprigs of rosemary, parsley, thyme, and sage

(Plan ahead- turkey needs to be refrigerated and brined for at least 24 hours, preferably 48, before roasting)

Directions:
Thaw turkey completely. Remove neck and giblets from interior of turkey and set aside for gravy, if desired, or discard.

Rinse turkey well with cold water, inside and out. Pat thoroughly dry with paper towels and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine salt and spices.

dry-brined-turkey-salt-and-spices

Place turkey in sink. Carefully lift the skin of the turkey off the turkey breasts (without tearing or removing skin) and rub salt mixture over breasts and down towards the thighs and drumsticks.

Smooth skin back over breasts and rub salt mixture over exterior of turkey, making sure to get salt on the underside and in between the drumsticks. Thoroughly salt the interior of the turkey, mixing up more salt and spice mixture if necessary.

dry-brined-turkey-uncooked

Using a two gallon zip lock bag or doubled up heavy duty clean grocery sacks, (the ones from Target work well) tightly bag the turkey, squeezing out as much air as possible.

Place in refrigerator for 24-48 hours, turning at least once during brining time.

When ready to roast turkey, remove turkey from refrigerator and place in sink. Discard bags and rinse turkey very thoroughly, inside and out. Drain turkey well and pat dry with paper towels.

Place on rack over baking sheet on counter for one hour.
(Note: This “sitting” time allows the turkey to come to room temp which ensures a more evenly cooked turkey. There are mixed studies and reviews about the food safety of allowing the turkey to sit at room temp- this is the way we have always prepped our turkey and we have been fine. Go with what you feel comfortable with. It also allows the skin to dry out before roasting which will help to provide the crisp, tasty skin that everyone loves.)

Preheat oven to 425F.

Place a turkey or baking rack inside roasting pan.
(Note: Lifting the turkey off the bottom of the pan allows for more even cooking and cleaner drippings for making gravy. If you don’t have a rack, coiled up aluminum foil can work in a pinch.)

Set one oven rack in the middle of your oven, removing the second rack if necessary. Place the turkey with the breast side up in the roasting pan and loosely stuff interior of turkey with all aromatics.  Thinly slice the stick of butter and tuck pats of butter under the skin over the breasts. Tuck at least two pats of butter in the interior of the turkey with the other aromatics.
(Note: Stuffing the interior of the turkey with aromatics and pats of butter under the skin helps to keep the turkey moist, cooking evenly, and creates richly flavored drippings for the gravy. The last turkey gravy I made needed no additional seasoning whatsoever- came out perfect!)

Roast turkey in oven for 30-45 minutes, until skin is crispy and golden brown.
(Note: Flash cooking the turkey at high initial heat crisps up the skin and helps to “seal” the juices into the turkey.)

Remove turkey from oven and (carefully!) cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Lower the oven heat to 325F and roast turkey for a approximately 15 minutes per pound.
(Note: I remove the aluminum foil and temp check my turkey at least 30 minutes before roasting time should be complete. The internal temp of the turkey will rise a bit even after removal from the oven. If the thermometer reads 160F in several places, ie: thickest part of the thigh, the breast, and the drumstick, remove turkey from the oven-it’s done. Do not rely on color of meat or juices for turkey “doneness”. A brined turkey can still look pink on the outside as the salt brining creates a “cured” affect. A correctly calibrated meat thermometer is the only safe way to tell if your turkey is done.
Want to know how to calibrate your meat thermometer? Find out here: How to calibrate a meat thermometer)

Remove turkey from oven and set aside to “rest” for at least 15 minutes or as long as 30 minutes.
(Note: Do NOT skip this step. “Resting” after roasting is crucial for juicy, tender meat. The juices that are pulled to the surface of the meat during roasting are reabsorbed into the interior of the meat during the sitting period.)

Carve turkey and serve!
(Note: A great turkey carving tutorial done by Backstage with Rachel Ray is found here: Carving the Turkey)

dry-brined-turkey-cooked-closeup

Serves 8-10 people

 

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