In Defense of Turkey or How to Cook Everything Turkey

by Ben Miller

After 30 minutes in the oven

After 30 minutes in the oven

I’ll admit it, I’m a turkey apologist. Unlike Matt, turkey is one of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes. I think it provides an integral texture difference when amassing a giant pile of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Coupled with my love for time consuming recipes, I was the natural choice to prepare one of the two turkeys we had at the IFA’s pre-Thanksgiving celebration last week.

Since Kriston and Ficke were taking care of the second turkey, I decided to do something slightly different from a salt brine (apologies to commenter Hershel, but I like the way brined turkeys turn out and I was making gravy using the giblets so the pan drippings weren’t as important).

After careful reserach, and advice from IFA commenters, I decided to go with Alton Brown’s roast turkey recipe. In general, I was quite pleased with the results, though I found the recipe lacking in some detail and had a slightly off cooking time. With that said, recipe and thoughts after the jump.

Carving the turkey once its done

Carving the turkey once it's done

Roast Brined Turkey

(from Alton Brown’s Good Eats)

  • One whole turkey 14 to 16 pounds (I used a 15.5 pounder from Market Poultry in D.C.’s Eastern Market)

Brine Ingredients:

  • 1 cup salt (keep in mind that kosher salt requires a bit more than table salt)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 gallon vegetable stock (that’s 16 cups thanks to the brilliance of the U.S. measurement system)
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tablespoon allspice berries (I used a mixture of nutmeg, black pepper, ground cloves, and ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tablespoon candied ginger
  • 1 gallon water

Inside the turkey:

  • 1 red apple, cut into slices
  • 1 onion, cut into slices
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 6 leaves sage
  • canola oil or butter (I used butter, it’s Thanksgiving, embrace the fat)

In the roasting pan:

  • 2 or 3 carrots
  • 2 or 3 ribs of celery
  • 1 cup of water


To make the brine, bring the vegetable stock to a boil in a large stockpot. Add in the salt, sugar, vegetable stock, allspice berries, candied ginger and let it all combine for a few minutes. Remove it from the heat and let it cool. When it is closer to room temperature, place it in a large container with the other gallon of water in the oven to cool (alternatively, you could put ice in this part of the stock, but I let my brine sit overnight to get cold).

Prepare the turkey for the brine by rinsing it thoroughly with cold water. Remove the neck and giblets and place it in the container. Place a light weight on the turkey to keep it fully submerged, cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

When the turkey is done soaking, remove it from the container and wash it thoroughly with cold water. You then want to pat it dry with paper towels and make sure that it is as dry as possible. The drier it is, the crisper your skin will end up being.

At the same time, take the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and water, place it in a bowl in the microwave and microwave on high for 5 minutes.

Take butter or canola oil and thoroughly rub the turkey with it. I can’t speak to the canola oil, but the butter will help it brown and give it a nice color.

When done, place the turkey breast side up on the v-rack of a roasting pan. Place the apple/onion combination inside the turkey and add in the sage and rosemary.

Next, you want to truss the turkey. Do this by taking a long length of string, pushing the two legs together and wrapping the string around them a few times. Next, run the string behind the wings and tie the two ends together around the loose flesh where the head used to be.

Place the turkey and roasting pan in the 500 degree oven for 30 minutes. Do not put the vegetables in the bottom of it yet because they will burn.

After 30 minutes, take the turkey out and turn the oven down to 350 degrees. Then, take out aluminum foil and cover the breast with a double layer. This is extremely important. If you don’t do this, then the breast will likely cook much faster than the dark meat and dry out. Place the vegetables and water in the bottom of the roasting pan. Also take an oven-safe thermometer and place it either in the thickest part of the breast or the thigh. (I started with the breast, but the the thigh gave a better reading). Return the turkey breast side up to the oven.

Now, a lot of turkey recipes give cooking times. The one I linked to said 2.5 hours. But the reality is you want to do this based upon the temperature of the meat. If the thermometer is in the breast, you want it to hit about 161 or so before removing it. If it is in the thigh, you want it to get to 170. This can take 2 hours, or it can take substantially longer. Don’t be like me and freak out if the latter occurs. When mine hit 170 in the thigh I let it cook for about five more minutes and then took it out.

Once the thermometer hits the needed temperature, take the turkey out from the oven. If you’re like me, use a pot holder that doesn’t block out heat and get awesome blisters on two fingers while transferring it. If you like your fingers, use oven mitts.

Cover the turkey with some aluminum foil to let it rest. This will raise the temperature to a safe level. After about 20 minutes, start carving and enjoy!


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