I just roasted my very first turkey and I couldn't be happier. It was a complete success (if I do say so myself) because my brother (AKA: the Turkey Expert) helped me every step of the way. Now I feel it is my duty to share the secrets of the turkey with you so that you can master this seemingly-difficult-but-actually-simple task as well. Even if you are an admitted stooge in the kitchen, I promise you that you will be able to pull this off.
Let's get right to it: The biggest secret to making a turkey is brining. Yeah, I didn't know what that meant either until the Turkey Expert explained it to me. Brining a turkey means you let it soak in salt water before cooking it. If you follow the recipe below, you will be creating a delicious-smelling concoction of water, salt, and spices that your turkey is going to sit in for days. I guess another secret to cooking a turkey is not expecting to cook it the same day you buy it (but apparently everyone knows that? I certainly didn't...).
I should also mention the tools of the trade you are going to need before getting started. You will need a large stockpot with a lid (big enough to hold a frozen turkey in addition to 2 gallons of brine), a roasting pan, and a probe thermometer. If you don't know what these items look like, do a Google search to become familiar with them and find out where to buy them.
One more caveat is that I cannot give out the exact recipe the Turkey Expert shared with me. That is staying a secret family recipe for now (I think all families should have a few of those, don't you?). What I can tell you is that his "secret recipe" is based on Alton Brown's already published recipe on how to cook a turkey—the Turkey Expert just made a few tweaks to it. So what is listed below is Alton Brown's recipe with a few tweaks to it (just not all of them that the Turkey Expert does to his turkey). You will get a very close approximation of the delicious turkey I was able to enjoy and, trust me, it will be the best turkey you have ever tasted.
Without further ado, here is your game plan for mastering a roasted turkey this season.
Things You Will Need:
A 14-16 lb. turkey, frozen
A large stockpot
A roasting pan
A probe thermometer
Ingredients for the brine
Ingredients for the aromatics
Ingredients For The Brine:
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 ½ teaspoons allspice berries
1 ½ teaspoons chopped candied ginger
1 gallon cold water
Ingredients For The Aromatics:
1 red apple, sliced
½ onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water
4 sprigs of rosemary
6 sage leaves
1. Combine all of the brine ingredients except the cold water in the stockpot and bring to just boiling over medium-high heat. Stir while it is heating up to make sure the salt and sugar dissolve. Once the mixture boils, turn it off and remove from heat. Add the cold water and several ice cubes to bring the mixture down to room temperature. If you don’t wish to use ice cubes, you can just let the stockpot sit for a while until it reaches room temperature.
2. Once the brine is room temperature, unwrap your frozen turkey and place it in there. Cover the stockpot with a lid and place it in your refrigerator.
3. Check the turkey after 24 hours to see if you can remove the neck/package of innards from the inner cavity (turkeys vary…mine only had a neck inside but some have a package of organs in there as well). If the turkey is still frozen rock solid and you are unable to remove the insides, place it back into the brine to sit for another 12 hours before checking again. Once you are able to remove the neck/package of innards, place the turkey back in the brine and wait 24 hours for it to fully thaw.
→ Side Note: You can make delicious turkey stock or soup out of the neck/package of innards. Look up recipes online so you don’t waste these tasty ingredients!
4. Once your turkey has thawed, take it out of the brine and place it in a roasting pan. Pat it dry with paper towels. Move the shelf in your oven to the lowest level possible and remove any additional shelves. Preheat the oven to 500° Fahrenheit. While your oven is preheating, create an aluminum foil “tent” to fit over the breasts. Do not put the aluminum foil tent over the breasts just yet though (this is for later).
5. Combine the first 4 ingredients of the aromatics in a microwave-safe container and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add this concoction to the inside of the bird along with the rosemary and sage. Use canola oil to liberally coat the skin of your turkey.
6. After your oven has preheated, throw your turkey in there! Cook it at 500° F for 30 minutes without the aluminum foil tent. Afterwards, reduce the heat to 350° F and place your aluminum foil tent over the breasts. Cook your turkey until the thickest part of the breast reads 161° F on your probe thermometer. This will take about 2-2 ½ hours for a 14-16 lb. bird. Rely on your probe thermometer to tell you when the turkey is done rather than the time. This will ensure you don’t under or over cook it.
7. Once your turkey has finished cooking, let it rest at least 15 minutes before carving into it. Serve to your guests and wait for the look of astonishment on their faces when they realize you can roast a turkey better than they can.☺