Hope you all are slowly coming out of a nice Thanksgiving food coma (and just in time to enjoy the last of the leftovers!). Obviously, this post is too late for this year, but be sure to flag it for next year if your turkey-cooking skills could use a little work.
As some of you may know, we have crowded, rowdy Thanksgiving every year at my parents’ house in Tucson—complete with tequila shots and sports gambling. The food is always amazing, but the birds don’t get as much love as they should.
The 50 or so lbs of turkey are my dad’s job, and suffice to say he’s more of a set-it-forget-it-and-go-have-a-bloody-mary kind of guy than a doting tender of the turkey. Plus he never thinks the bird is cooked enough, so it’s inevitably a liiiitle on the dry side.
When it comes to the dirty work, though, he’s your man.
Sorry, love you daddy, but I thought we could step our game up this year. And did we ever.
We did the usual turkey trio: one in the oven, one in the fryer, and one on an ancient charcoal grill that’s been around since Tucson was dirt roads and cowboys.
The ultimate consensus was that the brined, butter-slathered, oven-roasted turkey was the clear winner, but the others held their own.
So we’ll start with the star of the show—a massive, fresh (no frozen birds at our party) 22-pounder which I lovingly brined, slathered in a buttery marinade and monitored with a trusty digital probe thermometer. All that—and a little help from my friend Alton Brown—gave us one of the best birds to date.
The perfect roast turkey
One turkey, thawed (recipe is for a 14-16 lb. bird)
2 sticks butter
1 tablespoon pepper
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
For the brine:
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 gallon heavily iced water
A container large enough for the bird and the brine
For the aromatics:
1 red apple, sliced in half
1 half onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
4 sprigs rosemary
6 sage leaves
The night before Thanksgiving, slightly tipsy off Ra’s dangerously strong whiskey and diets, I brined my bird. First, mix all the brining ingredients together—minus the ice water—in a large stock pot (I upped the ingredient amounts for our big bird).
Yes, that is a bottle of Jack Daniels in the background. No harm in maintaining my pre-thanksgiving buzz … besides, how else does one find the stamina to pull off Thanksgiving dinner for 50?? By the way, I had nothing to do with the Belvedere bottle reflection you see in the brine pot.
When the brown sugar and salt have dissolved, remove the mixture from the heat and let cool to room temp.
Add the mixture to your ice water and put the bird in. I have a last minute Ace Hardware run to thank for my brining bin. Technically it was plastic file folder container, but who’s counting? Worked like a charm.
Brine the turkey overnight in the fridge.
Here’s where it gets tricky; timing the bird perfectly is next to impossible, but follow Alton’s loose guidelines: About 2-2 1/2 hours for a 14-16 pound bird (temps to follow). I estimated that our monstrosity would take about 4-5 hours, plus 30-45 minutes to rest, so I put it in at 11 a.m. to be ready at 5ish.
First, heat the oven to 500 degrees. Yes, that’s right. Alton says it crisps the skin and gives you a nice golden brown color. Mine didn’t look as good as his, but since it was delicious anyway, I’m sticking to the plan.
Then, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it off and pat it dry. Place it in a roasting pan and set it aside.
Heat your aromatic ingredients in the microwave in a small bowl of water for a few minutes.
Once they have cooled stuff them in the turkey cavity. If the giblets are still there when you go in, you missed a step.
Now get to work on the butter mixture. Mix softened butter with your seasonings.
Now comes the fun part: The trick is to loosen up the skin enough that you can stick your hand in between the skin and the breast and massage the butter in.
Lovely, I know.
Then give the entire outside of the turkey a generous slathering for good measure.
Now comes a special Alton Brown trick: form a aluminum foil triangle to the breast like so:
Now remove it—you’ll use it in a minute.
If you don’t have a digital probe thermometer, I highly recommend it—either way, place your thermometer in the deepest part of the breast, sideways (see Alton’s video to get a visual). Now, put the turkey in the oven and put the timer on the outside of the oven. Start the time so you can keep track and set it to go off when the temperature reaches 161 degrees.
Let the turkey cook at 500 degrees for about 30 minutes to brown the skin. Then lower the temp to 350 and put the foil on the breast. This will keep the breast from drying out to much. Mine was cooking a little faster then I would have liked, so I lowered it to 325 about halfway through and then to 300 for the last hour. When the breast temp reached 161, pull that baby out and let it rest for about 30 minutes. Recruit your best carver (Dave in our case) and get to work!
As I mentioned, the turkey didn’t brown as I would have liked, but just look at that juicy breast meat. MMMMMMMMmmmmmmm. Plus, the gravy we made from the roasting pan juices had a depth of flavor like I’ve never tasted, thanks to the aromatics. And to think … we almost went sauce-less after my mother and Q’s near throwdown over gravy-gate 2009: the previous year’s baked-on stovetop gravy mess.
The fryer and BBQ turkeys were a little less time- and labor-intensive. I skipped brining, although if I’d had more time, I would have used the same brining process for the BBQ turkey (the fryer turkey doesn’t need it since frying locks the juices in.)
One turkey, thawed
Dry rub of your choice
Fryer and oil of your choice (we used Canola oil)
First and foremost, read the directions on your fryer to avoid third-degree burns and house fires. The oil usually takes about an hour to heat (you’ll want it absolutely no higher than 350), so plan accordingly.
Rub your turkey generously with the dry rub of your choice (I used a cajun rub) and stick it on the turkey fryer hook thingy. Yup, that’s the technical term. (Your fryer should come with instructions for this).
Slowly and very carefully lower the turkey into the fryer like so:
Bronco Billy is our fearless fryer.
Give the turkey about 4 minutes of cooking time per pound. Pull it out, let it rest and carve it up.
One turkey, thawed
Butter marinade (same as above with spices of your choice)
Charcoal grill with charcoal and a brick
Rub your turkey down with the butter mix, as I described with the roast turkey. I added a BBQ spices to mix things up.
To prepare our grill, we put a brick in the middle, surrounded by coals.
This keeps the heat evenly distributed and the temperature low and steady to avoid overcooking.
Heat your coals. When they’re ready, place the turkey directly on the grill rack.
Our 15 lb. turkey took about 3 hours and 45 minutes.
Cook until the breast meat is about 161 degrees. And by the way, don’t leave a digital thermometer in the turkey while it cooks as my dad did … it doesn’t end well.
Let it rest and carve.
And there you have it.
After all that, 4 lbs of stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn cassarole and appetizers, you’ll understand why I kept good ole Jack Daniels close by.