A few weeks ago, I read that there was a need for an Instructable on roasting a turkey. So I beat feet to the store and grabbed a gobbler. Several days later, I found karencv's guide to roasting a turkey. Don't that beat all?
Despite this setback, I pressed forward. My technique uses a brine, which differs somewhat from Karen's recipe. Credit to Alton Brown of Good Eats for much of this recipe.
Why brine? A brined bird is juicier, and can be much more flavorful. The meat is amazingly tender--some people will defy that your bird is really finished cooking!
Step 1: Gather the Hardware
I follow AB's recipe fairly closely, with a few important differences. But basically, here's what you'll need:
oven capable of reaching 500F
1 medium-large roasting pan
1 5gal bucket, run thru dishwasher if possible
1 large pan
1 in-oven probe thermometer (with alarm, if possible)
heavy-duty aluminum foil
1 large ladle (helpful, not mandatory)
1 gallon pitcher (helpful, not mandatory)
tray or cookie sheet
knife or kitchen shears
Step 2: Gather the Software
"Software" is everything that can be cooked. This includes:
1 turkey (up to 16lbs)
various old vegetables* (carrots, onions, celery) to line bottom of roasting pan
*If you don't have old veggies, just get a rack for your roasting pan instead.
1 Cup kosher salt
1/2 Cup light brown sugar
1 gal *"stock"
*I made a combination of beef and chicken stock, and apple juice because it was what I had available. You can use these, as well as vegetable broth and other juices that aren't too sweet (i.e. don't use grape or Kool Aid :) The beef stock doesn't harm the flavor.
1/2 tablespoon black peppercorns (or same amount of ground if you have that)
1/2 tablespoon green peppercorns (optional, just add more black pepper if you don't have this)
1/2 tablespoon allspice berries (optional)
1 gallon water + ice
Aromatics (don't do this prep until the day of the baking!):
1 red apple, sliced (gala is nice)
1/2 med onion, sliced (yellow or white is good)
1 cinnamon stick (broken into smaller pieces)
1 Cup water
4 sprigs rosemary (fresh is best)
6 leaves sage (fresh is best, but I only had dry)
Step 3: Combine Brine
Combine all brine ingredients except ice water in a pot or pan and bring to a boil.
Stir to dissolve solids and then remove from heat.
Allow it to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until Thoroughly Chilled.
Step 4: Brine Yer Bird
With a fully-thawed bird, you are now ready to brine. You can do this the night before you plan to bake your bird.
The great thing about a brine is it doesn't make the meat taste salty. That's because the salted water (infused with your added flavors) will begin penetrating the meat as soon as you dunk it. After a few hours, the salt will reach equilibrium, meaning no more salt will be added to the bird from the brine. At that point, leaving the bird in the drink won't make it any saltier.
Clean your sink thoroughly. I use a product called Greased Lightning to remove any gunk. Then I use soap and water and finish with a light bleach spray to sterilize. Then rinse completely.
Set the turkey in the sink and open the sack up. At either end you'll find a bag of goodies. I freeze this and use it later for turkey broth. You can discard it if you prefer. Don't leave these bags in the bird!
Your turkey may also come with a wire leg holder to keep the legs together. It can be tough to remove, so be gentle.
Rinse the turkey inside and out.
Now for the brine...
Drop some ice cubes into the bucket to make it easier to set the turkey down.
Then place the bird in the bucket breast-down.
Pour in the brine. I used a ladle to keep down the mess.
Add ice and top off with water.
The cavity of the turkey should also fill up with brine, so you might have to jiggle the turkey to get it to fill up.
Cap the bucket and put it in a cool place for 6 to 8 hours.
Step 5: Ready to Bake...@ 500F!
Take your turkey out of the brine and discard the brine. Rinse the turkey inside and out, and then dry using paper towels inside and out.
Take this time to form the aluminum triangle to the breast meat. Set that aside.
Move the rack in your oven to its lowest position and set to 500F. That's right...500F.
For the aromatics...combine apple, onion, cinnamon stick, rosemary and sage in a microwave safe container. Add a bit of water and nuke it for 5 minutes on high while you do the next steps.
Break or roughly chop the old vegetables (celery, carrot, onion) and cover the bottom of your roasting pan. This keeps your turkey off the bottom of the pan. If you have a rack that fits the roaster, you can use that instead.
Add a little water to the pan (this step will prevent oil from burning during the 500F phase, and won't steam the bird at all).
Set the bird on a nonslip surface (in the roaster is ok, but I happen to have a plastic tray and paper towels instead). Trim off the neck and tail fat. These can go into turkey broth later, but will burn if not trimmed now.
Now lift up the wing and tuck it under (see pictures). This helps the gobbler sit in the roaster.
Coat the entire outside of the bird with canola oil. Don't be chicken--just use your hands like I did.
Use tongs to stuff the cavity with your steamed aromatics.
Bake your Tom Turkey for 30 minutes at 500F. This will make him brown up nicely! If you get any smoking, turn on your blower or open some windows. But you shouldn't if you added the water like I said ;)
Step 6: Remove, Probe, ReLoad...Eat!
After 30 minutes, the turkey is ready to come out...so he can go right back in.
Lower temp to 350F.
Insert the probe thermometer in the thickest part of the turkey breast. Be careful not to hit bone. If you do, just back out a little bit (don't make a bunch of holes!).
Set the thermometer to alarm at 161F.
Carefully cover the breast with the aluminum foil triangle...don't burn yourself!
Return the turkey to the oven, minding the probe cable--don't crimp it.
If you don't have a probe, a 14 to 16 lb bird will take about 2 1/2 hours to bake. Use an instant read thermometer to take the temperature of the thick part of the breast after that time. If it's at 160ish, pull it out.
Let the turkey rest for 15 minutes before carving. Do Not pull out that stupid popup timer before then!