Brining is best!
If you really want a flavorful roast turkey with juicy white and dark meats it’s going to take a little time…but it’s worth it.— Alton Brown
Classic Wet-Brined Roast Turkey
This recipe is loosely based on Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” Roast Turkey recipe.
1 turkey (fresh or frozen)
For the Brine:
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar (light brown sugar is recommended, but any type can be used)
1 gallon vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger (optional)
1 gallon heavily iced water
For the Aromatics (any/all of the following):
1 apple sliced (any type of apple can be used)
1 onion sliced (yellow onions are recommended)
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water
Fresh Herbs (any combination, such as 4 sprigs rosemary, 6 leaves sage, 4-6 sprigs thyme, etc.)
Olive oil or Butter
5-gallon food grade bucket or cooler
2-4 days before you’d like to eat:
Begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees F. This will take 2-3 days for a 12-15 lb turkey, and 3-4 days for a 15-20 lb turkey.
2 days before you’d like to eat:
Combine the stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate (overnight is best).
1 day before you’d like to eat:
Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once halfway through brining.
On cooking day:
- Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
- Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.
- Drain the bird. Pat dry with paper towels. This is important so the bird is roasted, not steamed.
- Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan or roasting pan.
- Make the breast shield: Cut a piece of foil big enough to cover the turkey’s breast. Mold piece to breast. Remove foil, then grease one side of the molded foil, set aside for later.
- Coat the bird with oil or rub butter all over the turkey to get an even coating.
- Pack the aromatics to the turkey’s cavity.
- Tuck the wings underneath the bird.
- Sprinkle a small amount of chopped fresh herbs over the bird (optional).
- Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes.
- Remove from oven. Place molded foil over the breast. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Return to turkey to the oven.
- Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. Our goal is 164 degrees F, but the turkey will continue cooking for a while after it is removed from the oven.
A thermometer is by far the best way to determine if the turkey is done roasting. The following is a general guide for planning purposes:
- 12-14 pound, unstuffed turkey should require a total of 2 ¾ – 3 hours of roasting.
- 15-16 pound, unstuffed turkey should require a total of 3 ½ – 3 ¾ hours of roasting.
- 18-20 pound, unstuffed turkey should require a total of 4 – 4 ½ hours of roasting.
- 21-22 pound, unstuffed turkey should require a total of 4 ½ – 4 ¾ hours of roasting.
- 24 pound, unstuffed turkey should require a total of 4 ¾ – 5 hours of roasting.
You may let the turkey rest, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes before carving. This will let your bird continue to cook for a few minutes after it’s removed from the oven (this is called “carry-over cooking”). Resting the bird does little to make it more juicy or moist. Here is a great article on the myth of resting meat.