The Best Way to Cook a Turkey

Cooking Great Turkey Requires Quality Ingredients

Many people get caught up in the drama about whether to stuff a turkey, what cooking method to use, whether to baste, and other details, often neglecting the single most important factor in turkey preparation—the bird. Cooks should choose a good-quality, fresh turkey for best flavor. Eschew turkeys that have been injected with proprietary chemicals or self-basting varieties, because the following recipe will be adding its own brining agent for incredible flavor, moistness, and tender texture.

How To Brine a Turkey

Holidays are the traditional times for turkey preparation, and many people feel they must continue to prepare turkeys the way their parents, grandparents, and ancestors did, back to the time of the first Thanksgiving. This is essentially a bunch of bull. Modern techniques create new methods of food preparation, and brining solves several problems conveniently. The process eliminates the need to baste the turkey, takes the place of marinade, makes the meat incredibly tender, and prevents breasts from drying out during the long cooking process.

Making the Brine

Brine is a salt-water solution that displaces the natural moisture in meat, introducing salt and moisture content right into the individual protein cells. Osmosis causes the liquid in the meat and brining solution to equalize, but that tells only part of the story. The salt tenderizes the meat and breaks down proteins in the cells, which then block moisture from leaving individual cells. Extra water passes through the cell membrane, where it is trapped, causing the meat to retain greater levels of moisture.

The following ingredients make a flavorful turkey brine.

  • One gallon or 8 cups of water.
  • One cup of salt or one-and-a-third-cups of kosher salt.
  • One-half cup of granulated sugar.
  • Three-quarters cup of brown sugar.
  • Three garlic cloves, crushed.
  • Four–five whole black peppercorns.
  • Few springs of herbs such as thyme, parsley or rosemary.
  • 2 bay leafs.
  • One-half cup white wine or white wine vinegar.

Bring the above ingredients to a boil until all sugar and salt are dissolved. Put this brine solution in the refrigerator or freezer to cool. Once it cools to 40 degrees, it can be poured over turkey. Clean turkey and remove any pinfeathers or giblets. Add the turkey to the brine and weight it down so that it is completely covered. The turkey must be refrigerated, or left in an environment that is 40 degrees or cooler. Allow the turkey to soak in the brine at least 12 hours, or cooks could leave it in brine for as long as 24 hours. After brining, the turkey must be rinsed, dried and allowed to rest on a rack for two hours before roasting.

Cooking the Turkey

At this point, cooks could choose any method to cook the turkey, and it would have great flavor, and a moist and tender texture. Roasting creates great holiday ambiance, infusing the home with aromas of roasting fowl. To roast the bird efficiently, follow the steps below for perfect turkey.

  1. Stuff the turkey loosely with dressing. Many sources will suggest roasting turkey and dressing separately, but that procedure will never produce a truly delicious stuffing. Dressing needs the turkey cooking juices to gradually swell to its full flavor potential.
  2. Truss the bird with kitchen string or skewers. The wings and legs must be compressed tightly to the body.
  3. Place turkey on a rack, breast side down. Turkey can also be nestled on a bed of aromatic vegetables, including carrots, onions, and celery cut in large chunks.
  4. Use a moistened cheesecloth or sheet of aluminum foil to tent over the turkey before placing it in the oven.
  5. Roast the bird at 325 degrees until a meat thermometer indicates the turkey is 165 degrees. Stuffing must reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees. The following time guidelines will give cooks an idea of the time frame involved.
    • 8–12 pounds: 3.5–4 hours.
    • 12–16 pounds: 4–4.5 hours.
    • 16–20 pounds: 4.5–5 hours.
    • 20–25 pounds: 5–6 hours.
  6. Reduce cooking time by one-half hour if bird is not stuffed. Turn the bird breast side up 45 minutes before the end of roasting time, removing any foil or cheesecloth, so turkey skin can brown and crisp.

Extras for the Best Meal

Dressing, gravy, cranberry sauce, and some sort of starch are traditional side dishes served with turkey. Always allow turkey to rest for 20–30 minutes before carving so juices can resettle within the meat. If using these flavorful pan drippings, be aware that they will be more salty than normal, so make adjustments accordingly. Make fresh cranberry relish with whole berries for a delightful alternative to jellied cranberry sauce. When slicing the turkey breast, always cut against the grain for extra tender slices. Turkey prepared in this way will be the best the family has ever tasted.