|courtesy of Butteball
Making the Perfect Turkey
It’s Thanksgiving week, and that means my favorite eating holiday is upon us. As much as I love the Christmas season, I am a stickler about not starting to decorate or celebrate it until we have enjoyed and hopefully eaten ourselves silly on Turkey Day. Next week the holiday recipes will be out in full force, but this week is going to be all Thanksgiving all the time. Since the turkey is the star of the day I figured I’d start by talking about some options for preparing the big bird and tips on making it your best one yet. Later this week we’ll talk sides and desserts, but now let’s start with main attraction.
While turkey is served in almost every home across the country on Thanksgiving, there are a number of different ways of preparing your turkey that means your holiday dining experience can be entirely different from that of your neighbor or friends. Of course there are not just a number of different ways to make your turkey day bird, but also a number of ways that you can ensure your family ends up with a meal they’ll talk about until next year.
General Tips and Advice:
Brine your Turkey: If you are oven roasting or smoking your turkey you need to make sure you brine it first. Brining turkey is one of the most important,yet seems to be one of those basic steps in turkey preparation that most people overlook. What is brining you ask, well the short answer is that brining is a process to ensure your turkey is as juicy and flavorful as possible. Brining comes from the root word “brine” meaning salt. Simply explained, when you fill a bucket with salt water and soak a turkey in it, a chemical reaction known as osmosis begins to take effect. This chemical reaction attempts to equalize the levels of salt on the inside and outside of the turkey. Directions for brining your turkey can be found at the bottom of this post.
Thawing Turkey: If you have bought a frozen turkey, make sure to pull it out of the freezer and place in refrigerator at least 2.5 to 3 days prior to cooking to allow it to thaw and to give you time to properly brine it.
Traditional Oven Roasted Turkey
The night before, or early the morning of cooking, brine your turkey using the following recipe:
1 Gallon Distilled or Filtered Water, chilled or with ice
1 Gallon Vegetable Stock (If you do not have stock, use a good bullion or broth)
1 1/4 Cups Kosher Salt
2 Tablespoons whole black peppercorns
½ Cup brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons allspice berries
1 ½ teaspoons candied chopped ginger
In large pot combine vegetable stock, candied ginger, salt,peppercorns, brown sugar, and allspice berries over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until all of the spices and solids have dissolved.
Remove from heat, allow to cool and place in refrigerator.
In a 5 gallon bucket combine cooled brine and chilled water,placing the turkey in the mixture breast side down. Place bucket in refrigerator and soak for at least 10 hours.
Preheat Oven to 500 degrees.
Remove turkey from brine, rinse inside and out with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
Prepare aromatics and items for stuffing turkey as follows:
1 Apple, cut into eights
¾ Yellow Onion, chopped
1 Cinnamon stick
1 Cup water
4 Sprigs Rosemary
6 Sage Leaves
2 stalks chopped celery
2 cups chopped carrots
1 stick unsalted butter
Place turkey on rack in roasting pan
In microwave safe dish place water, apple, cinnamon stick,onion and microwave on high for 4 ½ minutes.
Add to turkey’s body cavity with celery, carrots, rosemary,and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the body of the turkey and liberally rub the turkey with the stick of butter.
Place turkey in oven on lowest possible grate, and roast at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and roast until internal temperature of turkey is 163 degrees. Remove from oven, cover with tin foil and allow to rest for 15 minutes give juices time to reincorporate into meat.Carve, Serve, and Enjoy!
Note: A 14 pound turkey should take approximately 2 to 2 ½ hours of cooking.
Prepare your smoker to a temperature of about 225 degrees. While other woods work well too, I prefer using Mesquite when smoking turkey.
Remove your turkey from the brine, wash off all the salt from the exterior and pat dry with paper towels.
Prior to placing your turkey in the smoker rub the outside of the turkey with a stick of unsalted butter making sure not to tear the skin (the skin is integral in helping keep the moisture inside the bird). This is a time if you’d like to add some seasoning to the outside you can do so. If you added various flavors to your brine you want to be careful not to over season the turkey, giving it too many competing flavors. Often I’ll sprinkle some good creole seasoning over the bird to give the outside just a little extra oomph.
Inside the turkey stuff an onion cut into quarters, 2 cups of roughly chopped carrots, 2-3 stalks of celery chopped up, and a whole apple cut into eights.
Once the turkey has been buttered and seasoned, place it in the smoker and cook it until done. I suggest basting your turkey with butter about once every hour or so while it cooks. If at any point the legs or wings start getting too browned, go ahead and wrap them in foil to keep the outside from getting too crispy.
Your turkey is done when the thickest part of the breast hits 175 degrees and the thickest part of the thigh reaches 180. I like to take my turkey out of the smoker about 5-7 degrees before it reaches those temps since the carryover cooking process will bring them up that last little bit.
Pull your turkey out of the smoker, wrap it in foil, and allow it to rest for 12-15 minutes to allow the juices to be reabsorbed into the meat ensuring your turkey is as juicy and moist as possible. Carve, serve, and enjoy!
Note: Smoking a turkey takes approximately 30-40 minutes per pound. Use this estimate to know when to start smoking based on when you want to eat. If for some reason your turkey has not reached the proper temperatures and the troops are getting antsy, you can go ahead and pull it out of the smoker and finish it in the oven wrapped in foil at 375 degrees until done. I only recommend this if your turkey has been smoking at least 5 hours.
For deep-frying you don’t want to brine your turkey as it can add unwanted water, for which we all know that water and hot oil do NOT mix.
Prepare your turkey fryer with about 3 gallons of peanut or canola oil and heat to 400 degrees. Make sure you do not put too much oil into the pot as it can become disastrous (and extremely dangerous) if the oil boils over when the turkey is added.
While turkey fryer is heating the oil up, remove your thawed turkey (it is key to make sure the turkey is fully thawed before frying as again water and hot oil do NOT mix) and pat dry, making sure all moisture is dried both inside and out. Season turkey with good creole, or seasoning of your choice.
When oil is at proper temperature, place turkey (neck end first) and peeled whole yellow onion in fryer basket and very slowly lower into the oil. Maintain temperature of oil at approximately 350 degrees and cook turkey for 3 ½ minutes per pound, or about 45 minutes.
Remove turkey from oil, and allow to drain. Check internal temperature of turkey with meat thermometer and make sure that turkey has cooked internally to 175 degrees. Allow turkey to rest for 15 minutes. Carve, Serve, and Enjoy!
Note: When deep-frying a turkey, make sure you always do it outdoors and on concrete. Not in a garage, on a covered patio, or even the deck, but truly outdoors. To determine the amount of oil you will need, place the bird in the pot you intend to use for frying. Pour in cold water until the turkey is covered by a couple of inches. There should still be several inches between the surface of the water and the top of the pot. Measure the water: this is how much oil you’ll need.
How to Brine a Turkey:
For brining a roughly 10-12 lb. turkey you’ll need a 5 gallon bucket and probably about 2 gallons of water. I try to use distilled or filtered water to make sure as many of impurities and extra unwanted things you find in tap water are not there to taint the flavor of your turkey. The proper ratio of salt to water in a brining solution is 1:16. Thus 1 cup of salt per every gallon of water. Since atypical turkey takes about 2 gallons of water to get it fully submerged I start with 2 cups of kosher salt mixed into the water. A small note, any additional seasonings you add to your brine should have as little salt in them as possible or your bird may turn out saltier than you want it.
Soak your turkey, breast side down, at least 10 hours (typically overnight) in the fridge. You want to make sure the bird is fully submerged. Often I will place a rock or something heavy in a zip lock bag and set it on top of the turkey. When you are ready to cook your turkey, take it out of the brining solution and rinse the bird well to ensure no traces of salt are on the outside of the turkey. Smoke or bake as you normally would.