Purchasing the Turkey
If you can, buy a fresh turkey. The flavor is great and it’s worth the extra cost. If buying frozen, thaw it properly in the fridge, on a try and in its plastic. For every pound of turkey, plan for about 5 hours of thawing.
10 pound turkey: Approximately 50 hours (just over two days)
15 pound turkey: Approximately 75 hours (just over three days)
20 pound turkey: Approximately 100 hours (just over four days)
A thawed turkey can be kept in the fridge for up to two days before cooking.
What is brining?
Brine is a salty solution. The salt deeply penetrates the meat tissue, opening the pores and actually unlocks the fibers. Not only does it trap water molecules and keep the flesh juicy and moist, it seasons the flesh throughout which adds a lot of flavor.
How much salt should I use?
A moderate brine is approximately ½ cup of Kosher salt per 3 quarts of water.
Table Salt (without iodine) – 1 cup (10 ounces)
Morton Kosher Salt – 1 1/2 cups (about 8 ounces) so you'll need to use 1.5 cups in total
Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt (half as potent as regular table salt) – use 2 cups (5 ounces per cup)
When using other salts, such as sea salt, pickling salt, or other brands of Kosher salt, simply weigh out 10 ounces on your kitchen scale to find its equivalent of table salt.
Create different brines by adding herbs, spices, and brown sugar, honey or molasses. Apple juice, cider, apple cider vinegar, rice wine vinegar, stock, tea, beer, wine, or other liquids can replace some or all of the water.
Always start with a cold brine
For food safety reasons, the brine must be cold (40° degrees Fahrenheit, 4° degrees Celsius) to ensure the meat stays at proper refrigerator temperature. If you need to heat the brine mixture to dissolve the salt, make sure you cool the brine down before using. The food must be completely submersed. Refrigeration is absolutely required during brining. The meat and brine solution must be kept below 40° degrees Fahrenheit at all times. If you can’t find a large enough container, fill a cooler with ice.
The turkey should sit in the brine for at least 10 hours. It can process for as much as 24 hours but the turkey will have absorbed all the brine it needs in about 10 hours. The amount of brining time is not set in stone. Even a little brining is better than none. Brining for too long can ruin the flavor as well and make it too salty. If you are using a small turkey, cut down on the brining time, or reduce the amount of salt in the brine.
Once the meat is removed from the brine, you can rinse off the excess salt from the surface and pat dry. You can also air-dry poultry in the refrigerator overnight. Place a cooling rack over a baking sheet and rest the poultry on top. By letting the moisture evaporate, it is easier to achieve crispy skin.
Make sure to discard used brining liquid. It has been contaminated with raw food and cannot be reused.
Stuff or not to stuff?
Don’t stuff your turkey. Stuffing acts as insulation and makes cooking the turkey that much longer, creating dry breast meat. Hot air cannot get inside the turkey and can’t cook the meat closest to the bone, which is the area that takes the longest to cook. Simply season the turkey extremely well with salt and pepper and let the hot oven air do its work.
Preparing your turkey
Season the cavity and underneath the skin. Rub butter underneath the skin and make sure to start with a short stock for added flavor. Place the turkey on a V-rack, so it’s not in contact with the juices in the pan. The steam from the juices will keep the turkey nice and moist during the slow, long cooking time. A V-rack guarantees a moist turkey and the beginnings of a delicious gravy.
Make sure you don’t put a cold turkey in the oven. It will take that much longer to cook, and longer cooking time means dry meat. Let the turkey sit at room temperature for up to one hour before roasting.
Ideal oven temperature
The ideal oven temperature is 350º degrees Fahrenheit.
To baste or not to baste?
If you over-baste, you lower the oven temperature and the temperature of the turkey, making the cooking time longer. You create a baste by slipping butter underneath the skin. Baste another 1-2 times, but don’t get carried away.
Which way is up?
If you brine your turkey, it will be juicy any way you place it. However, if you don’t brine, start with the breast side down. The gentle steam from the pan will keep the breast meat nice and moist. At half way point, turn it over so you end up with crispy skin.
When is it done?
Turkey needs to reach an internal temperature of 165º degrees Fahrenheit; higher than this will produce dry meat. Use a thermometer, and insert it into the thickest part of the thigh. Test both thighs for accurate readings. If you don’t have a thermometer, stick a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh, making sure you hit bone; if the juices run clear, it’s time to take the turkey out.
Resting any kind of meat, before carving, is essential. It allows the muscles to relax and the heat to distribute evenly. It makes it easier to carve and the meat will be nice and juicy. Rest a large turkey for at least 20 to 30 minutes. Tent with vented foil. The steam must be able to escape so the skin doesn’t get soggy.
For additional information, visit:
USDA Poultry Preparation and The National Organic Program