Thanksgiving Turkey Brining & Roasting Guide

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So many of you have had questions about how I do my Thanksgiving turkey that I broke it down step by step at your requests. This is just what I do and have had excellent results every year. As with all things - do what makes you happy.

Weekend before Thanksgiving:

Step One- Buying the Turkey:
General rule of thumb is 1 lb. per person for dinner itself, 1 ½ lbs. per person if you would like to have leftovers. If using frozen turkey see step 2, if using fresh skip to step 3.

Step 2- Defrosting the Bird:
Place the frozen turkey in the fridge. You'll need to allow about 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds of frozen turkey you plan to thaw in the fridge. So a 15 lb. bird takes about 3 to 3 ½ days, plan accordingly! I like to put mine in a huge bowl to catch any liquids that may accumulate and prevent any cross contamination with other foods. If you didn’t plan that far ahead look for a fresh bird or try the cold water method of defrosting which still takes about 2 days.

Tuesday Morning:

Step 3- Into the brine:
Simmer 1 quart apple cider and entire contents of brining mix packet (6 oz.) for 5 minutes in saucepan, stirring often. Cool completely. Using an ice chest or clean, lined 5 gallon bucket add remaining 3 quarts cider and 4 quarts water to brining mix and stir well. Place fully defrosted turkey in brine, add additional water if needed to completely cover the bird, cover and refrigerate overnight. Don’t forget to remove the gizzards and neck and save for stock before brining. If you do not have room to refrigerate place in a cold area such as a garage and add ice to brine to keep very cold and avoid spoilage. Place in a safe/ protected location.

Wednesday Morning:

Step 4- Aging the bird:
Drain turkey, rinse, pat dry, place on a thick layer of paper towels in large pan and refrigerate uncovered for 24 hours.

Step 5- Preparing to Season the bird:
I use a compound butter to glaze and season our turkey. Boil 2 cups apple cider until reduced to ¼ cup in saucepan, about 15 minutes. Whisk in 1 stick of butter and add 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning blend or 2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, sage and thyme. Cool completely in refrigerator until tomorrow.

Thursday- The Big Day! 

It’s the final countdown:
1) Remove bird from refrigerator, dispose of paper towels and bring to room temperature in roasting pan.
2) Generously rub compound butter mixture all over bird and in between breast and skin, tuck wings under, and tie legs together loosely. I like to take fresh sage leaves and create patterns under the skin which give a beautiful presentation but this is totally optional. I do not recommend stuffing the bird but baking separately as it tends to get soggy in the bird and takes longer to cook.
3) I fill my turkey cavity with an aromatic mix of quartered red onions and oranges tossed with 1 tablespoon of poultry seasoning blend.

Roasting by time doesn’t work- a meat thermometer is the only way to accurately know if your turkey is done. I roast for the first 30 minutes at 450 degrees and then reduce oven to 350 and baste every 30 minutes. The only true test for doneness is the temperature of the meat, not the color of the skin. The turkey is done when the thigh meat reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. To get an accurate reading, be sure that your thermometer is not touching the bone. If the breast begins to appear overly browned cover the breast only with aluminum foil.

When the turkey is done, remove from the oven and allow to stand for 20-30 minutes before carving. You can finish up other dishes that require more attention at this time while allowing the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, and making it easier to carve. Dispose of aromatics and carve.

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