Since 2013, I’ve been responsible for the Thanksgiving Turkey for my wife’s family get-together. I say since 2013 but really it’s since 2014 when I had their turkey and it was so dry and lacked a lot of flavor that I begged them to let me take over and I’ve been doing it ever since. Recount that famous waterboy clip where he begs Coach Kline to not serve that water to his players ever again.
There are millions of ways to cook poultry but these birds being very low fat means it’s good to give the meat’s moisture a fighting chance by both forcing the meat to absorb more moisture (via a brine) then encouraging the moisture stay in the meat via a cooking method that is low heat and using foil to keep the bird from sweating and if it does, give it some broth bath underneath which can everaporate and keep things moist above. This is the basics:
- Purchase turkey depending on the size of your party (1.5 pound per person is a good baseline)
- Have the turkey fresh (ideal) or defrosted at least 3 days before you cook it
- Brine for up to 3 days but not more
- Cook for up to 24 hours depending on the size of the turkey. I’d say 1 hour per pound is a good amount
- Keep the turkey covered by foil until the last 2 hours
- Remove from oven when internal temperature hits 165F
- Let sit for 30 minutes
The brine is a salt-water bath with the intention of coercing the very low-fat meat to absorb flavoring that will hopefully stay in the turkey while you cook it. 3 days Is good for a bird that’s 20+ pounds. Adjust accordingly for smaller birds. This brine is really a 25 pound bird brine and the only variable here is water and ice to make sure the bird Is submerged completely. I use a 10 gallon water igloo for this: https://amzn.to/31gZoQ4
- 2 gallons water
- 2 cups Morton kosher salt
- 1 cup white sugar
- 2 Tbs Morton Tender Quick
- 2 Tbs onion powder
- 1 Tbs garlic powder
- 1 Tbs paprika
- 1 Tbs white pepper
- 1 Tbs powdered ginger
- 1 Tsp mustard powder
- 1 Tsp powdered sage
- 1 Tsp nutmeg
- 1 rosemary bunch
- 1 sage bunch
- 1 thyme bunch
- 6 apples
- 6 oranges
- Apple Cider
- 2 cups Bourbon
All of the ingredients except the ice are put into a pot and as soon as brought to a boil, cut power and let the brine get back to rook temperature..basically you can make the brine as early as you want but you don’t put the turkey in a hot brine..it needs to be back to room temp or you’ll melt all of the ice. The boiling of the brine dissolves all of the dry ingredients like sugar and salt. Put the turkey in the cooler with the full brine and chop off your fruits then add ice and water until the bird is submerged After 3 days, pull the bird out a few hours before you plan on cooking it. You can let it get up to a warmer temperate as the bird will be at or just below freezing temperature.
Put the turkey onto the rack, use twine to tie the legs together and you will cut up fresh apples to stuff the bird with apples. These won’t absorb any of the juices but will help insulate heat and add a tiny bit of flavor. You can skip it if you’re being cheap.
Now rub down the bird with any vegetable oil with at least a 400 degree smoke ceiling. I use regular Crisco vegetable oil and I rub it in to every visible area of the bird with my hands. Then you apply this rub to every square inch of the bird:
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 Tbs onion powder
- 1 Tbs paprika
- 2 Tsp garlic powder
- 2 Tsp kosher salt
- 2 Tsp white pepper
- 1 Tsp powdered ginger
- 1/2 Ts ppowdered sage
- 1 tablespoon dried crushed rosemary
- 1 tablespoon dried crushed thyme
- 1 tablespoon dried crushed oregano
- 1 tablespoon dried crushed basil
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
For the first X hours (x being the pounds of bird), you can set it and forget it around 200-250F. If you’re on a time crunch, 300F is fine and will save you about 25% of the time. So my latest 27 pound bird we just did I did 18 hours at 300F with the bird completely covered on all sides with 2 layers of aluminum foil and sitting in a bath of chicken broth and 2 sticks of butter.
4 hours before you serve, crank temp p to 350-400…again depending on how many pounds you have to serve. Then last 90 minutes comes the hard part. You need to add more broth / butter to the area underneath the bird and uncover it. Then get a baster and your meat thermometer ready. Baste every 10 minutes which requires opening up the oven, pulling out the bird so you can get to all sides of it and basting everything gently so you don’t disturb the rub that has really not cooked onto the skin yet and will still be slightly loose. Keep basting and every 30 minutes do 2-4 probes with the thermometer to see if your’e close to 165. You’ll keep doing this until you hit 165 so if it takes 1 hour great, if it takes 2.5 that’s just what it is. That’s all based on the size of the turkey. Basting keeps the moisture in the meat and keeps the skin from tearing. If it’s a larger bird, you may want to keep the legs wrapped in foil as they have a tendency to dry out and be fully cooked well before the rest of the turkey is done.
Then once you get 165F on at least 4 spots in the bird, you can remove it from the oven and re-cover it and let it sit for 30 minutes before you serve
So my Thanksgiving turkey is always fresh never frozen and picked up the day it’s butchered then brined for 3 days, cooked for 24-27 hours (we usually have a 25 pound bird) and then served at 1PM on thanksgiving day. I used to baste the turkey all night but I’ve found I can really baste it the last 2-4 hours and get equally as good of results.