I know you might be thinking… uhh, you’re a bit late. But bookmark this page for next year, or better yet, give turkey a second chance. I think it’s a shame that turkey is relegated to one day of the year when it’s one of the most delicious and economical proteins out there. If you have the freezer space, the prices that you can get it for around this time of the year make it a very affordable way to feed your whole family for practically a week from one roasted bird.
I think a lot of people don’t bother with turkey beyond Thanksgiving because they don’t like it. And I think most of the people that don’t like it feel that way because they’ve never had a well prepared turkey. If you’re one of the people who don’t quite get the fuss and place a small piece of dark meat on your plate and load up on sides, I’m about to change your life. This is turkey you will fight for your share of.
Look through the pictures of the turkey that I roasted yesterday. For actual thanksgiving day we ate at my parents house so I saved my own bird for Sunday, Justin’s day off. But the trick to my turkey is simply thinking ahead and preparation. For the best turkey of your life, it’s time that you open your heart and mind to brining.
Brining can seem intimidating if you aren’t a seasoned cook. It’s a whole process kind of deal, and it takes up a big chunk of your fridge for a few days so you need to accommodate it and it requires you to own a bucket that can hold a turkey. But once that prep work is out of the way, it sits there and minds it’s own business for a few days and then results in the best turkey of your life, and you’ll refill that fridge space with enough meat so you won’t have to do any more major cooking for days.
And if you’re intimidated by the idea of then having to carve a turkey? No worries, after you do my brine, there will be no carving. It results in turkey meat that you can pull right off the bone, see my photos, look at the close up of how juicy that white meat is. Yeah, it’s amazing. I’m not one to talk myself up, but this is one area of my life where I know I am the master.
In my earlier life I worked in a group home, in various roles but due to my good kitchen skills I was always the one in charge of serving thanksgiving for thirty plus people for seven years. Every year I’d make two huge turkeys for the group, and often repeat it for Christmas as well. This afforded me a lot of time to tinker with my methods and eventually this method was born and the search for the perfect bird was complete.
Do you want to make turkey that people will RAVE over?
I’ve never had anyone eat my turkey and NOT tell me it’s the best they have ever had. So if you picked up an extra bird, or see a good sale coming up for Christmas time, grab one and give this a try. You will NOT be disappointed. Your family will rave and the bones will be picked clean. And throughout the coming week, I’ll be sharing with you how we use the leftovers, because a 22 pound bird like I made will be feeding my family of three for a week plus, even with having given away a few pounds of meat to my grandparents.
Step one: A week before you want to be eating turkey, you need to acquire and defrost (or take from your freezer if you already have it) a turkey of any size. A big 20-plus pounder like I made can take three or more days to fully defrost in the fridge, and I leave mine out at room temp for about 8 hours when I first remove if from the freezer to jump start the process. Once your bird is defrosted, probably three days later, proceed to the brining phase.
Step two: brining. You will need a large bucket that fits inside your fridge. (I have an oblong bucket that I got at bed, bath and beyond for a few bucks, I think it’s intended for mopping. All I use it for is brining, the rest of the year it holds our water bottles in the pantry after a triple washing and disinfecting.)
To make your brine, the formula is one tablespoon of kosher salt to one cup of water. With your turkey still wrapped, cover it in the bucket with water. Remove the turkey, and see what volume of water you are left with. Add six cups to this to account for the inside of the turkey, and now using a measuring cup, remove the water from the bucket and put it into a large pot, counting how many cups you have. Add that many tablespoons of kosher salt. Also add a handful of dried cloves, a package of turkey herbs commonly found in the produce department this time of year, or a small package each of fresh sage, Rosemary and thyme. Slice one lemon into 8 or more pieces, and add 1/4 cup of maple syrup. Bring this to a simmer and stir occasionally until the water is clear and not cloudy, no salt should be visible. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Note: this is my personal seasoning blend which results in amazing flavor but, beyond the salt, all of it is optional and can be substituted or omitted as you wish with any other flavoring being fine to add, just don’t add anything additional that is salty like soy sauce or it will be a salt bomb to eat.
Once your brine is cooled, unwrap your turkey and remove the innards, I just discard those but you can keep them for gravy or stuffing if you like. Put the turkey into the bucket, ideally with its back facing up so the whole breast is submerged. If you have a smaller bucket and have to do it on its side or the turkey will not fully submerge, you will have to rotate the turkey which means more work during the brine. If the turkey can fully submerge, you won’t need to touch it at all for a few days.
Pour your brine over, being sure that the cavity is filled, tip the bird each way to release any air bubbles it was holding, distribute the herbs and lemons throughout the bucket around the turkey. Top this all with plastic wrap and into the fridge it goes. Again, if it’s fully submerged with just a hint of its back showing, fine, it’s good on its own for a few days. If it’s on its side or large portions of meat are exposed you will need to take it out and rotate the bird in the brine once daily so it brines evenly. Allow it to brine no less than three days and up to five days. The longer the better in my book, I always aim for the full five, especially for a huge bird. Smaller birds will be fine with the three days.
Step 3: The day before you plan to roast your turkey, prepare your roasting pan and transfer the turkey from the brine to the pan. Pat it dry with paper towels and try to leave as little excess fluid as possible in the pan. Drain out the brine and place the lemons and herbs from it in the turkey cavity, squeezing out any excess water first. Place this back into the fridge open to air overnight, ideally for 24-36 hours, taking care that nothing else is touching your turkey (transferring germs).
Step 4: roasting day! Take your turkey out of the fridge and make a paste with a tablespoon of olive oil, a tablespoon of paprika for color and a tablespoon of poultry seasoning, do not add salt, brining gives you all the salt you need. Rub this all over the bird and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. My 22 pounder took about three hours to roast. I find brined turkeys cook a lot faster than non brined ones. The usual timing is 7 minutes per pound which would’ve come out over 4 hours but going by the pop up timer, it was done in three. Keep an eye on it, checking it hourly and basting with maple syrup each time you check. If it has a pop up timer, go by that and double check with a meat thermometer. The goal for poultry is 160 yet remember that it will carry over cook a bit so consider it done if it’s clocking over 150.
Step 5: once it’s done, remove it from the oven and let it rest in its pan until it’s cool enough to handle. All the good bits and juices in the pan are great for stock or gravy. I put down a few layers of contractor paper to pull it apart on because I don’t have a board big enough to handle it, plus easy clean up, just throw it away after.
To ‘carve’… I don’t carve my turkeys, I pull them. I score down the leg joints and both sides of the breast bone to release any trapped heat, which will be there with a big bird. Don’t burn yourself, let it rest as long as you need to. Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin and set it aside in a single layer so it doesn’t get soggy (yum- best part).
Remove the whole leg quarters by grabbing ahold and pulling it backwards, down and out. If you have a snag, use a knife, it can happen but it should come off pretty willingly. For the breasts. I just get to work grabbing junks and pulling. It detaches from the bones nice and easy, some of the juiciest and more flavorful meat you’ll ever have. Get as much meat off as you can and break up the bones to put in the crock pot for stock. Cover it with water and let it go for 24 hours, use this for soup or cooking of any kind where stock is needed, freeze it in jars if you want to but please don’t just throw away those bones! If you don’t have a crock pot this can be done stovetop.
Enjoy your bounty of a massive pile of turkey meat that you will have your family begging for bites of.
Last night we had it pretty traditionally with mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, corn and fresh sourdough bread. My husband also made cheese and chocolate soufflés to impress me. 🙂
Tonight is the night I love the most, turkey sandwiches again on that fresh, beautiful bread. Coming up later in the week, see what else we do with all this turkey! There’s a lot more options than just piling a plate high with all the components again, although there is nothing wrong with that either!