Not all turkeys are delicious. Not all preparations do these magnificent, delicious creatures justice. This recipe however, does. It will bring you all the Thanksgiving glory you desire.
1 turkey (10-18lb)
½ gallon of apple cider
64oz low-sodium chicken stock
1 gallon heavily iced water
½ cup brown (or white) sugar (we prefer brown)
1 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns (or ½ tablespoon ground pepper)
1 6oz pack of fresh stuffing herbs (sage, thyme, rosemary)
Nice but optional: 1 tablespoon dried herb blend of your choice or 1 teaspoon of allspice
Step 1: Choose your brining vessel
A full 24 hours before you plan to cook your turkey, it’s time to brine. First off, you need to find a vessel large enough to hold your turkey while submerged in the brine. A large pot works great, but only if you have room to fit it in your refrigerator. If you lack refrigerator space (as many do during this time of year), another great option is a beverage cooler. These coolers (assuming yours is new(ish) and not from your 1979 Little League days) are efficient enough to keep your bird at a safe temperature out of the fridge for a day. Once you have your brining vessel of choice, rinsed and ready, proceed to making the brine.
Step 2: Making the brine:
We suggesting doing this the afternoon/evening before Thanksgiving.
Thoroughly mix cider, stock, sugar, salt, pepper (and any additional optional herbs or spices that may inspire you). Some recipes call for heating the brine, but we do not think this is necessary as long as you make sure to stir until your sugar and salt are dissolved. Once you feel good about how dissolved everything is, add ice water, stir again, then submerge your turkey, breast side down. Put the pot in the fridge or close the cooler. Set aside for 16 hours.
Step 3: Make your compound butter
Happy Thanksgiving morning! While your turkey is still happily brining, make your compound butter. Combine ½ stick of unsalted butter in a bowl with 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon pepper and ½ of stuffing herbs. It’s easiest if the butter has been sitting at room temperature for 30 minutes or so before doing this. You do not want the butter melted, just soft enough to manipulate. Once everything is mixed, cover it and refrigerate.
Step 4: Buttering the bird
Remove turkey from its brine and rinse. Time to use that compound butter. To do this, follow these steps carefully. Near the neck cavity, there should be some excess breast skin. Begin working your fingers (gently so to not rip it) under the skin, but above the breast muscle. If you have long fingernails, be careful, or ask another family member who does not to do this for you. You should start to feel the skin separate from the meat. As it does, slowly work farther and farther, making a pocket between the skin and the breast. Eventually, the majority of your hand should be under the skin and on top of the breast muscle.
At this time, split compound butter so you use half on each breast. Carefully push the butter into the pouch you created and smear it up and back by pushing down and back on the skin. This should smear the butter over the entire breast and under the skin. If you want to be extra fancy with your table presentation, place some whole sage leaves on top of the butter. When the turkey bakes, you will see the sage under the skin. Profesh!
Step 5: Salt and sit
By this time it’s probably a couple hours before your plan to bake the bird.
This step can be skipped, but we think it makes for a crispier skin. Put your brined and buttered bird in roasting pan, drizzle with some olive oil (or spread a little more butter over the outside skin). Sprinkle a light layer of salt and pepper on the bird and return the turkey (uncovered) to your fridge. This step helps dry out the skin a bit, which it needs after all that brining if you wanted a crispy-skinned finished product. Also at this time, place a celery stalk, carrot, onion (and/or items like lemon, orange and apples) in the turkey cavity.
So now, the big question: How long will it take to cook?
Using the method we are about to explain below, you can anticipate roughly 12-13 minutes cooking time per pound of turkey. Meaning a 14lb turkey should take roughly 3 hours to cook. That said, there are many opinions on this. Some say 20 minutes per pound, some 10. Use the force, search your feelings, you can do it! In the end, you ideally want your turkey’s internal breast temperature reading 161ºF.
Step 6: Preheat and cook
Okay, the bird is prepped and has been air drying in the fridge for a few hours. When you’re ready to cook it, preheat to 500ºF. Once hot, put in the turkey uncovered. Bake at this high heat for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 350ºF and proceed to cook until the turkey is fully cooked. We suggest basting the turkey with its own juices 4 or 5 times throughout the cooking process.
A few pro tips on thermometers, poppers and how to tell if it’s really done:
Foolproof method: Use an oven probe thermometer. Place it in the thickest part of your turkey’s breast, being careful not to hit the bone. Your turkey will be done when the thermometer reads 161ºF.
Old-school method: Cut into the thigh. When the juices run clean, you’re good to go.
The wrong method: Never use the “popper” that sometimes comes in or can be added to a turkey. These poppers can be flawed, but even when working correctly are set to “pop” at a temperature beyond your ideal cooking time. Turkeys actually rise in temperature and continue cooking once removed from the oven. If you really want to test your popper and skills, remove the turkey fro the oven pre-pop and rest, covered, for 15 minutes. We bet, if you followed the steps correctly above, the popper will pop while the turkey rests. Perfect!
Step 7: Rest (the bird, not you yet, sorry) and carve
We will leave the carving skills up to you or uncle Ralph. Just make sure you let the turkey sit at least 15 minutes prior to carving.
Enjoy! Give thanks! Cheers!