Don't Skip the Brine
I remember when I first started roasting my own birds, sadly, it was due to my mom's failing health. My first attempts had mixed results, with the bird being under cooked, and after cutting it and serving part, putting it back in the oven. Like everything else I've taught myself, it was trial and error. At that time, brining seemed like a step that was more trouble than it was worth, and I was already a little intimidated. Now, I'm really glad I take the time to brine my turkey. I have included links to other blogs and some Amazon affiliate links, the latter are highlighted in red.)
Last year, I tried roasting at a high temperature to get a nice crispy skin, but still managed to overcook it by just a bit. This year, prices went through the roof and an organic turkey would have cost me $80. I instead purchased a major brand bird on sale for .88/lb for a total of $20 and some change. I was able to get it without the added hormones and antibiotics, etc., so was pleased with the purchase overall.
When the time came to start getting it ready, I couldn't find the jar of brine mix I planned to use – did I finish it up last year? Didn't matter, I made do with what I had on hand, thanks to having a well-stocked pantry. I threw together the following ingredients: Salt and peppercorns, orange peels, aromatic herbs, including dehydrated sage from my 2020 greenhouse garden and lemon juice (I had a jar in my pantry).
I added the ingredients to water (I used about 8 qts) and brought to a gentle boil, dissolving the salt in my 20-qt stockpot. After it cooled, I placed the turkey in the solution and let it soak overnight. My concern was where to keep it. If I put it outside, it would freeze, as our nights in the NE Utah mountains are in the teens. Plus, I was worried critters would get to it anyway. Fortunately, my 17 lb bird fit perfectly in my stock pot. I pulled some shelves from my refrigerator and placed it on the shelf where it would have the most support. Don't forget to avoid cross contamination during this phase of preparing your bird.
When it came time to cook, I used a smaller roasting pan, as my other one is quite heavy, and I wanted to see if more space in the pan would make a difference. Previously, the stock I would use to baste the bird would cook off rapidly, and this solved that problem. I also know, as I get older, it will be harder to get that heavy roasting pan out of the oven, one of many topics I will be writing about in the upcoming year. Yes, I know I have help, but I want to know what I can do on my own for as long as I can.
I set the oven for 425 degrees (it won't go to 450, how I miss my old Viking range!) and after 20 minutes set it for 325 degrees. I used stock from last year for basting, and the leftover stock from the second quart jar, I just added to the stockpot for the stock presently simmering. For more on hows and whys of making your stock, as well as long-term preservation of stock, check out the blogs on my website.
While the turkey was “resting” I made the gravy, which was salty due to the brine. I added extra cream and flour to thicken and the flavors balanced beautifully. I also added less salt to the potatoes as I knew the gravy would make up for it.
I also carve the bird differently than the norm. I have never liked the turkey breasts as I found them to be tough and dry. I did solve the dryness issue with the brining and proper cooking time and keeping a careful eye on the temperature of the meat (breast should be 170 degrees, thigh meat180). Rather than carving the breast meat into thin slices, I remove them entirely in one peace each and slice across the grain; here is an excellent demonstration on how to carve your bird.
I let the bird do some of its resting in the oven that had been partially cooled. After I take it out of the oven, I cover it in foil while I prepare the gravy. The result was piping hot, very juicy turkey on the table. It always seems that by the time all the dishes are plated and on the table the turkey is cold, and I like to serve all my dishes nice and hot. Cutting the breast meat across the grain keeps the moisture and the heat in.
I never really shared my experiences in learning how to properly cook a turkey, and while I have never claimed to be a culinary expert, the end result is one that pleases those who sit at my table. A lot of people think there is so much work involved in preparing a Thanksgiving meal, but to me, the majority of the work is in the cleaning up. My point in writing this is to let anyone who finds cooking meals like this one intimidating is to not be afraid of the learning process.
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