I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said “Love people – cook them tasty food.” This made me really happy and I especially enjoyed the timing of it, as it is almost Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. I love the food, the the leftovers piled on in sandwich form and, mostly, I love the gathering of (and the chance to feed) people I care about.

Thanksgiving is usually a family affair. Some families are big and boisterous, some are small and quiet, but family is important and I am thankful for mine. However, I am also thankful for my friends or, as I sometimes call them, my “urban family.” So I’ve started hosting an “Urban Family Thanksgiving” dinner before everyone takes off for their hometowns. I cook a turkey (and pumpkin roll!) and set a nice table, my friends come over with their favorite dishes and we have an actual sit down dinner and enjoy both the company and our collective culinary talents. “Alright,” you say. “Enough of the sappiness. What’s up with the turkey?”

The turkey is the heart of Thanksgiving and I feel that there is this stressful aura surrounding it.” Will we have enough time to cook the whole bird?” (yes) “What if it is too dry?” (brine it) “Should I pack the cavity with stuffing?” (no) It’s like the Thanksgiving turkey has its entire own mythos to contend with (but, as my friend, Brandon, says, I like anything with a mythos…) But seriously, don’t worry. It’s not that difficult to properly cook a juicy, flavorful turkey. It will all be okay.

For me, brining is the way to go. Essentially, this means soaking the turkey in a salt solution for at least 8 hours. The salt carries moisture and flavor into the meat, which helps keep it juicy during the cooking process. “Wait, I thought that’s why we baste the turkey while it cooks?” No! No basting! Turkeys have thick skins and skin is designed to keep water out. All that happens when you baste a turkey is you let heat out of the oven and extend the cooking time. Don’t do it! “But my grandma says to baste!” My response? Alton Brown says don’t.

Now, keep in mind that brining calls for a little planning ahead. First you have to make the brine, then cool it down. Then the turkey soaks in it for at least 8 hours, which means that most of the work takes place the day before you eat the turkey. Plan accordingly. Also, don’t start at 2am. Trust me. Nothing involving a family holidays is okay at 2am.

Brined Turkey Ingredients

Turkey (14 to 16 lbs)

For the Brine
1 C Kosher Salt
2 cans frozen OJ concentrate
1/2 C Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp Ginger, fresh & grated, or in a tube
1 Tbsp Garlic, fresh and pushed through a garlic press, or in a tube
3 Bay Leaves
2 Tbsp Black Peppercorns, whole
3 qts vegetable & chicken broth
1/2 C Dried Cherries
1 gallon cold water
Ice

 

Turkey (8 of 18)

 

For Stuffing the Turkey:
1 to 2 Apples, quartered
1 to 2 Onions, roughly cut into wedges
6 to 8 gloves of garlic
handful of dried cherries
A few sprigs of Rosemary
A few sprigs of Thyme
boiling water

Special Equipment: Very very large plastic or brining bags; roasting pan, meat thermometer, aluminum foil

 

Turkey (2 of 18)

 

Combine all the brine ingredients, except for the water and ice, in a large pot and bring to a boil, stirring to make sure that all the salt and sugar and whatnot has fully dissolved into the liquid. Also, if you are like me and accidentally purchased a can of pineapple/oj concentrate, you want to kill the bromelain, which is the enzyme in fresh pineapple that turns meat to mush. The freezing/concentrate process may have neutralized it already, but why risk mushy turkey?

 

Turkey (5 of 18)

 

After the brine has reached a boil, take it off the heat and let it cool completely in your fridge. Or, if you are making this at 2 am because your evening plans ran late, take the brine off the heat and start dumping ice in it to cool it down.

 

Turkey (3 of 18)

 

Once the brine has cooled, take your turkey out and rinse it off. Also remove the neck and gizzards. Toss those in a plastic baggie and store them in your freezer for making soup later on! Go ahead and put the turkey in your big-ass ziplock (or glad etc)  or brine bag in preparation for the brining.

 

Turkey (4 of 18)

I’m paranoid so I actually like to double bag that baby.

 

Turkey (6 of 18)

 

Now that the brine has cooled, go ahead and pour it into the bag with the turkey.

WORD OF CAUTION: An assistant would be helpful at this point. While the bags are sturdy, they are prone to tipping and spilling turkey brine all over your floor. Not fun to clean up. It might be wise to actually put the bagged bird in a roasting pan to help with stability and ward off spillage.

Add ice water to the bag with the turkey and brine, until the liquid just covers the turkey. Keep in mind that you can tie the top of the bag to bring the liquid level up around the bird. You may be able to see in the picture that I gathered the top of the interior bag together and used a clip to hold it.

Transfer the bags to your fridge (or a cooler with ice) and let it brine for at least 8 hours or up to 12 or so.

Now that your bird is all lovely and brined, it’s turkey time!

 

Turkey (9 of 18)

 

Preheat your oven to 500ºF.

At this time steep the apples, onion, garlic and cherries in a plastic bag or covered bowl with the boiling water for about 1o minutes. I never stuff a bird with a traditional stuffing, because that just sucks moisture out of the meat and you have to overcook the meat to cook the stuffing through all the way. Seriously, just cook stuffing separately. The apples and whatnot are meant to enhance the bird during cooking and can just be tossed afterward.

Turkey (10 of 18)

While the apples et al are steeping, and take the bird out of the fridge. Drain the brine, pat the turkey dry with paper towels and set the bird in your roasting pan. (I like to just use a disposable one from the grocery store…one less thing to clean later on.) Rub canola oil over the skin of the turkey and sprinkle with salt and pepper, if desired. (salt and pepper are optional, not the oil.) Tuck the wings under the bird to prevent them from cooking to death.

Once the “stuffing” has steeped, drain the water and transfer the apples, onion, garlic and cherries, along with the thyme and rosemary, to the cavity of the bird. You probably won’t need to use all of it, because you don’t want the cavity to be packed full.

 

Turkey (11 of 18)

At this point you are ready to roast! Cook the turkey at 500º F for 30 minutes . Then insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the turkey breast so you can monitor the temperature as the turkey cooks. Seriously, just ignore that irritating red plastic pop up thing. Turn the temperature down to 350 and cook until the thermometer hits 161º F. I put my14 lb  bird in the oven at about 1:15 and it came out around 3:45, so it took about 2.5 hours to cook.

Tip: Check on the turkey through the door of the oven (try not to open the door too much during cooking). If the skin on the breasts is starting to get too dark, create a triangle out of foil and cover the breasts for the rest of the cooking time.

When the temperature hits 161º F, take the turkey out of the oven and transfer to a cutting board or plate. Tent foil over the bird and then walk away. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes, but 30 is better. Mine sat for more like an hour because everyone was late, and was still warm, juicy and delicious when we carved and ate it.

When you carve your turkey, be prepared for some juices to run out. A carving board or platter with a lip on it is ideal to help contain all that goodness. And don’t forget to save the turkey drippings from the roasting pan for gravy!

 

Thanksgiving Roast Turkey
 
Recipe By:
Ingredients
  • Turkey (14 to 16 lbs)
  • For the Brine:
  • 1 C Kosher Salt
  • 2 cans frozen OJ concentrate
  • ½ C Brown Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Ginger, fresh & grated, or in a tube
  • 1 Tbsp Garlic, fresh and pushed through a ginger press, or in a tube
  • 3 Bay Leaves
  • 2 Tbsp Black Peppercorns, whole
  • 3 qts vegetable & chicken broth
  • ½ C Dried Cherries
  • 1 gallon cold water
  • Ice
  • For Stuffing the Turkey:
  • 1 to 2 Apples, quartered
  • 1 to 2 Onions, roughly cut into wedges
  • 6 to 8 gloves of garlic
  • handful of dried cherries
  • A few sprigs of Rosemary
  • A few sprigs of Thyme
  • boiling water
  • Special Equipment:
  • Very very large ziplock or brining bags
  • roasting pan
  • meat thermometer
  • aluminum foil
Instructions
  1. Combine all the brine ingredients, except for the water and ice, in a large pot and bring to a boil, stirring to make sure that all the salt and sugar and whatnot has fully dissolved into the liquid.
  2. After the brine has reached a boil, take it off the heat and let it cool completely in your fridge.
  3. Once the brine has cooled, take your turkey out and rinse it off. Also remove the neck and gizzards. Place the turkey in your brine bag and set the whole thing in a roasting pan for support. Double bagging is also encouraged.
  4. Once the brine has cooled, pour it into the bag with the turkey.
  5. Add ice water to the bag with the turkey and brine, until the liquid just covers the turkey. Keep in mind that you can tie the top of the bag to bring the liquid level up around the bird.
  6. Transfer the bags to your fridge (or a cooler with ice) and let it brine for at least 8 hours or up to 12.
  7. When you are ready to cook the turkey, preheat your oven to 500ºF.
  8. Steep the apples, onion, garlic and cherries in a plastic bag or covered bowl with the boiling water for about 10 minutes.
  9. While the apples et al are steeping, and take the bird out of the fridge. Drain the brine, pat the turkey dry with paper towels and set the bird in your roasting pan. Rub canola oil over the skin of the turkey and sprinkle with salt and pepper, if desired. (salt and pepper are optional, not the oil.)
  10. Once the "stuffing" has steeped, drain the water and transfer the apples, onion, garlic and cherries, along with the thyme and rosemary, to the cavity of the bird.
  11. Cook the turkey at 500º F for 30 minutes .
  12. Then insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the turkey breast and lower the temperature to 350º F and cook until the thermometer hits 161º F. It takes about 2.5 hours to fully cook a 14 lb turkey.
  13. When the temperature hits 161º F, take the turkey out of the oven and transfer to a cutting board or plate. Tent foil over the bird and let it sit for at least 15 minutes, but 30 is better.
  14. When you carve your turkey, be prepared for some juices to run out. A carving board or platter with a lip on it is ideal to help contain all that goodness. And don't forget to save the turkey drippings from the roasting pan for gravy!