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Bacon Roasted, Salt Brined Turkey - My Way 
21st-Nov-2008 08:59 pm
Since Thanksgiving is going to be here shortly, I figured I'd share my salt brined roasted turkey recipe. It's unlike any turkey you've had before (no, really - it's MUCH better), it's actually very easy to do, and it'll win you lots of praise with your dinner guests. It took a long time and lots of trial and error to perfect it, but now it is done. It's highly seasoned and well flavored before it even goes into the oven, and there's a few of secret weapons once it DOES go into the oven that makes it even better. Let me 'splain...

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
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together
  2. 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)
  1. In a large stock type pot or dutch oven, bring the water to a boil.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients, reduce the heat to medium low and allow to simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Dissolve the salt in the brining solution, remove from the heat, and allow to cool to room temperature.
  4. 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.
  5. 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Stuff the cavity of the turkey with the onion, bay leaves, sage leaves, thyme sprigs, rosemary, and garlic.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
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!
22nd-Nov-2008 02:20 am (UTC)
Oh, sounds yum.

I've never tried brining before, but I've heard about it.
22nd-Nov-2008 12:16 pm (UTC)
I brine a lot, it really does make a lot of difference!
22nd-Nov-2008 03:22 am (UTC)
I did this turkey last year and can vouch for it. It has been demanded requested for this year.

I printed this out last year. Fair warning, this is THREE FULL (SINGLE SPACE) PAGES PRINTED. It's worth it.

Edited at 2008-11-22 03:23 am (UTC)
22nd-Nov-2008 12:17 pm (UTC)
Awesome. It's not that difficult once you get the hang of it, and almost better than the taste is the smell it throws off during cooking throughout the whole house!
22nd-Nov-2008 03:23 am (UTC)
I've made this turkey a few times now, and everyone loves it. Thanks!
22nd-Nov-2008 12:18 pm (UTC)
Excellent! I'll never do another version of this turkey, this one is perfect for me.
22nd-Nov-2008 03:32 am (UTC)
What time is dinner???

22nd-Nov-2008 12:18 pm (UTC)
22nd-Nov-2008 04:15 am (UTC)
Where do you find all these delicious seasonings? My Kroger doesn't seem to carry all those things.
22nd-Nov-2008 05:00 am (UTC)
I admit that when it comes to the spices, I used what I had around. The recipe is very adaptable in that regard.
22nd-Nov-2008 12:19 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, totally make it your own.
22nd-Nov-2008 12:19 pm (UTC)
Improvise, use dry spices is you have to. If you're unable to find something, let me know - it might be named differently in the store.
22nd-Nov-2008 08:08 am (UTC)
22nd-Nov-2008 12:20 pm (UTC)
I got a 25 pounder this year, it's girthy. ;-)

We've got almost 35 people to feed, we're doing thee of them. We do it UP around here in the South for Thanksgiving!
22nd-Nov-2008 11:18 am (UTC)
I liked the front doorstep part the most ;)
22nd-Nov-2008 12:21 pm (UTC)
HA!! I thought you would, OF COURSE you would!
22nd-Nov-2008 01:12 pm (UTC)
Oops, you know me better than many "real-life" people do! :)
22nd-Nov-2008 07:17 pm (UTC)
I LOOOVE it when you post recipes!!!!!
24th-Nov-2008 02:29 pm (UTC)
I love coming up with new ones!
23rd-Nov-2008 05:02 am (UTC) - Turkey recipe
SOunds mmmm mmm good
24th-Nov-2008 02:29 pm (UTC) - Re: Turkey recipe
Best turkey ever.
24th-Nov-2008 05:13 am (UTC)
Thank you for posting your recipe! My friend linked me (habibiekindheart) - I'll be making the turkey this year for the first time, and since she'll be attending, I think she wants me to get it right!
I have been researching and taking notes from TV sources, newspaper articles, etc. as Turkey day approaches. I look forward to seeing your pictures, and I am sure I'll be nervous about how mine turns out. (My family is really pretty forgiving, but sometimes we are our own worst critics.)
~Kendra Wesner
24th-Nov-2008 02:30 pm (UTC)
It's a lot easier than it looks, it just takes more steps to prepare than most people are accustomed to - but trust me, you'll be making it like this from now on.
24th-Nov-2008 05:18 am (UTC) - BTW
Do you mind if I friend you? I am still pretty new at LJ, but if you can cook, I'd like to get to know you better.

Feel free to peruse my page.
24th-Nov-2008 02:31 pm (UTC) - Re: BTW
I don't mind at all!
26th-Nov-2008 06:03 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm brining the turkey this year (har har guys, give the vegetarian the turkey) and using this post as my main guide. (Where you and Alton Brown disagree, I split the difference.) I'm winging it on the flavor combinations, since I absolutely refuse to do a Thanksgiving meal that doesn't involve stripping half the countryside of sage leaves, but you've got some of the clearest and most soothingly non-fussy instructions I've found.
14th-Dec-2010 09:49 pm (UTC) - this is the absolute best turkey I have ever tasted in my LIFE
do it, do it, do it. I cut some corners, didn't make my own vegetable stock, didn't make the compound butter and it was STILL REMARKABLY EXCELLENT! I HIGHLY recommend this recipe. Brad, you're a culinary genius.
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