Brining (soaking in a salt water solution) a turkey allows the meat to hold more moisture during roasting, something of particularly good use for a turkey as they tend to be notoriously dry. The same can be done with chicken. The too-dry turkey is usually a result of overcooking or carving before the proper rest period. Consider that a roasted turkey fresh from the oven will continue to cook for several minutes after leaving the oven and you'll start to get it. Always allow it to rest on the counter, loosely covered in aluminum foil (shiny side in) for about 10-15 minutes BEFORE carving to allow for the temp to raise and the meat to reabsorb much of the pan juices. As soon as you begin carving a turkey that hasn't rested properly all of the natural juices begin to leave the meat resulting in turkey jerky. Just trust me on this, okay? I've been doing this for almost 20 years now.
More on the brining. Often times people simply brine in salt water, which is fine, but I like the idea of adding extra flavor where I can so long as it's not overpowering. That's why I brine my turkey in a highly seasoned and well salted vegetable stock. To make a good vegetable stock, save all the scraps you'd normally throw away and freeze them. Onions (skins & root ends), carrots (ends and trimmings), celery (leaves & root ends) are really all you need. Save as many of them as you can and boil them in a gallon of water with some parsley, garlic cloves, bay leaves, salt & pepper for about an hour and you have a good vegetable stock for soups or for brining a turkey. Strain out and discard the cooked veggies and let it cool to room temp before putting it in the fridge. Couldn't be easier and it freezes well for up to 2 months.
Now for the second secret weapon, the compound butter. Compound butters are really just a mixture of herbs, spices, and/or other flavorings added to softened butter, which is usually placed on a sheet of plastic wrap and rolled up into a log shape before being kept in the refrigerator. When you need some, cut a slice from it and there you go. I've made it with roasted jalapenos, garlic, and cilantro and served it over fresh grilled or roasted corn on the cob. I've made it with fresh garlic and parsley for garlic bread and to toss with pasta. I've made it with oregano, sundried tomatoes, and roasted shallots for the same reason. This one is used as a flavor baste for the turkey, and it does wonders for chicken as well.
Third and last secret weapon, the bacon. When roasting a turkey it is not uncommon for people to place a little foil over the breast after the initial browning so that it doesn't brown too much and risk making the breast meat too tough or dry. Foil works fine, but thick slices of peppered bacon not only do the trick - they do it better. It prevents excessive browning, acts as a self basting agent, and adds extra flavor and I'm all over that. Try to get mere aluminum foil to do all of THAT for your turkey!
Make sure you have the turkey in your fridge a minimum of 4-5 days BEFORE the brining takes place to allow for proper thawing. Make sure before you brine the turkey that you remove the neck from the body cavity and the little bag of giblets from under the breast. Save them to make turkey stock for gravy or soup, or do what I did once and leave them on the front doorstep of an ex that pissed me off. Hey, he had it coming.
2 days before roasting, make the compound butter:
- 2 sticks of salted butter (not margarine), softened to room temperature
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 tsp fresh orange juice
- 1 tsp worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together
- Cover with either a tight fitting lid or plastic wrap and leave in a cool place, just not the fridge.
While making the compound butter, also make the brining solution:
- a large ice chest or similar container that will hold a couple of gallons of liquid, a whole turkey, and lots of ice - all at the same time
- a gallon of vegetable stock or vegetable bouillion
- a gallon or so of water
- 1 cup of kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon of black peppercorns
- 6 bay leaves
- 1-2 sprigs of rosemary
- 12 whole allspice berries (optional, but I like them)
- In a large stock type pot or dutch oven, bring the water to a boil.
- Add all remaining ingredients, reduce the heat to medium low and allow to simmer for 30 minutes.
- Dissolve the salt in the brining solution, remove from the heat, and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Place brining container in the coldest part of your house - a basement or dark bathroom tub will work. In the brining container, combine the brining solution with the vegetable stock. Place the turkey headfirst into the solution and breast side down until completely submerged.
- Add enough ice to cover, continue adding ice as necessary to maintain temperature. Brine the turkey for a full 24 hours if possible, but no less than 9 hours.
Roasting your turkey:
- the compound butter
- 1 medium onion, skin left on, cut into quarters
- 3 bay leaves
- 4-6 large fresh sage leaves
- 1 small bunch of fresh thyme sprigs
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 4 whole garlic cloves, skin left on
- 1 lb thick sliced, hickory smoked bacon (preferrably peppered)
- 1 quart chicken broth
- a meat thermometer
- a large roasting pan
- a 500° oven
I'll take pictures on Thanksgiving day and add them to this post. Share this recipe with friends, and link to this post at will. I love sharing a good thing!
- Preheat the oven to 500°. Remove turkey from brine, rinse and pat dry inside and out. Discard brine. Place the turkey breast side up in a roasting pan.
- Using your hands, rub the turkey inside and out with the compound butter, paying extra attention to get some of the butter under the skin without tearing it.
- Stuff the cavity of the turkey with the onion, bay leaves, sage leaves, thyme sprigs, rosemary, and garlic.
- Arrange the bacon slices so that they completely cover the breast of the turkey, overlapping enough that they keep themselves together. I usually achieve this by weaving them together in a lattice kind of a thing. Insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, making sure not to touch the bone.
- Place the pan on the lowest rack in the oven and pour the chicken broth into the pan around the turkey. Roast at 500° for 30 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350° and continue roasting until the thermometer registers an internal temperature of 165°. They'll tell you that it has to be cooked to 170° in order to be safe, but remember - that extra 5° will happen during the resting period. If you roast any longer than this, it's going to increase the chances of dry turkey. Generally speaking, a good sized turkey takes about 2 1/2 hours (give or take) to roast properly. I do a temp check every 30 minutes after the first 1 1/2 hours. Incessant basting is only going to cool the oven down and prolong cooking, so only bother with it once or twice when doing a temp check.
- After the turkey reaches its desired temp of 165°, remove the roasting pan from the oven and allow it to rest, loosely covered in aluminim foil (remember - shiny side in) for about 15 minutes before carving.