Created by: Cathy Pollak, Noble Pig
No reason to stress over the Thanksgiving turkey. Brining will keep it juicy and a few seasonings are all you need for a flavorful bird.
I can still recall the sound of my mother clanking around in the kitchen on Thanksgiving mornings. There was always this mad rush to get the turkey in the oven while it was dark out. The funny thing is, I can't recall ever eating Thanksgiving dinner before 5pm. I’m still not quite sure why the turkey took so long to cook, but it does kind of explain why it was so dry…sorry mom.
I know a lot of people really stress about making the Thanksgiving turkey. The pressure can be overwhelming with so many people counting on you to make their holiday taste perfect. But I’m here to tell you it’s not that hard to make a juicy Thanksgiving turkey.
There are two secret weapons when it comes to turkey-making excellence. The first is a meat thermometer, preferably digital, and the ability to brine your turkey – this means you need a clean, 5-gallon bucket.
Brining makes such a difference in flavor and how moist your turkey will taste. If you're going to spend so much time cooking this piece of poultry, why have it turn out less than awesome?
If you go back to high school cell biology, you'll likely remember the terms "osmosis" and "diffusion." If you went on to study biochemistry, you already understand the denaturing of proteins as well. This is basically what happens when we brine.
With osmosis, the high salt solution of the brine passes through permeable meat cells when you begin soaking your turkey overnight. Diffusion creates the balance of the salt and water in the meat and the salt and water from the surrounding brine solution. This results in a higher concentration of salt and water in the meat and less water loss during the cooking process.
The salty concentration also denatures protein strands found in the meat, taking them from a tightly wound-up shape to an unwound and tangled state. It’s the tangled-up structure that traps the water molecules and holds onto them while cooking. Amazing, right? This will almost ensure the juiciness of your turkey.
The next juicy turkey secret weapon is the meat thermometer. If you use a digital one, you won't have to keep opening the oven to check the temperature. It will save you so much stress in the long run and you won't overcook the bird. It’s a lifesaver and a great investment for all the meat you cook.
I season my turkey with very few ingredients. It doesn’t need anything else, especially with all the flavorful side dishes we serve during the Thanksgiving meal.
- 1 gallon regular water
- 1⅓ cups kosher salt
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp. dried sage leaves
- 1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
- 1 Tbsp. dried crushed rosemary leaves
- 1 Tbsp. thyme
- 1 Tbsp. dried marjoram
- 1 gallon ice water
- 1 turkey (12-14 lb.), fresh or frozen and thawed
- 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
- 1 Tbsp. coarse black pepper
- 1 Tbsp. table salt
- 1 Tbsp. onion powder
- 1 Tsp. garlic powder
- For the brine, combine regular water, sugar, kosher salt, rosemary, sage, thyme, peppercorns and marjoram in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, making sure the salt and the sugar are dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature.
- Pour the cooled brine into a clean 5-gallon bucket. Stir in the ice water.
- Place the turkey, breast down, in the brine. Make sure the cavity gets filled and that you've removed all the turkey innards. Place the bucket in a refrigerator overnight. Brine the turkey for 24 hours, no longer.
- Remove the turkey, draining off the excess brine and patting it dry. Discard the brine.
- Preheat the oven to 450˚ F.
- In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients for the turkey seasoning. Place the brined turkey on a large, rimmed baking sheet. It’s easy to work with on the rimmed sheet. Gently pull up the skin of the turkey and rub the seasoning directly on the flesh. Pour more seasoning into the inside cavity and rub all around. Use the rest of seasoning to completely cover the outside of the turkey on top of the skin. Place the turkey in a large roasting pan.
- Roast the turkey at 450˚ F for 30 minutes. At this point, you may want to cover the top of the turkey and the wings and legs with some aluminum foil as they can burn easily. Turn the oven down to 350˚ F for another 1½-2 hours, or until the thigh meat and breast meat both reach 160˚ F on a meat thermometer. This is where a digital thermometer comes in handy. You don't have to keep checking the doneness of the meat while it's in the oven. Start with the thermometer in the breast and when it reaches 160˚ F, move it to the thigh. Dark meat often takes longer to cook. A properly cooked turkey should reach 165˚ F. I like to remove my turkey when I know the dark meat is 160˚ F and let it rest for 20 minutes before carving. During this resting period, the turkey continues to cook and reaches the proper temperature for eating.