Table 36 Cigars Chef's Table Roast TurkeyI’m a big eater.  I mean big.  As such, Thanksgiving is a holiday that has always been extremely close to my mostly cholesterol clogged heart.  When I was younger, it was about gorging on whatever came close then laying on a couch and turning into a football-watching zombie.  Now, it is about cooking all morning then gorging on whatever comes close and lying on a couch and turning into a football-watching zombie.

As this Thanksgiving approaches, I wanted to share with you what I have found to be the best way to prep the main event of the meal: the turkey.

No recipe here.  Not really.  Just a preferred technique.  I know many people experiment with all kinds of cooking methods for their birds (My brother-in-law smokes a mean turkey), but for me simpler usually means better.  So, I just roast it.  The key to my method is in the brining process.  This means advanced planning and some extra time, but it is worth it.

To prepare the brine, you need three basic ingredients: water, salt, and sugar.  A ratio of one gallon cold water to one cup salt and one cup sugar is pretty standard.  You can really use any type of sweetener (sugar, brown sugar, honey, whatever).  For my turkey, I just use plain granulated sugar.  Combine 12 cups of the water with the salt and sugar in a stock pot and bring to a simmer.  This would also be the time to add any flavorings.  I add 2 bay leaves, a palmfull of black peppercorns, a lemon cut in half and squeezed, and a couple of tablespoons of dried thyme.  Simmer briefly.  Turn off the heat and add the rest of the “water” in the form of 4 cups of ice.  This helps bring the brine down to a safe temperature.  I’ve heard of people using a frozen turkey in the same way, but I wouldn’t try it.

I then remove the giblets from a thawed turkey and give the whole bird a solid rinse.  It goes into a large turkey roasting bag which I have layered in the bottom of a large stock pot (if you don’t have a stock pot big enough you might have to get creative: a small cooler, large bucket?).  I then pour the brine over the top and tie off the bag.  Do this the day before and refrigerate (make some room).

When you are ready to cook, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse the bird thoroughly, and pat it dry with paper towels.  I then stuff it with a diced up onion and a couple of oranges that I’ve cut up.  It then goes into a roasting pan on a rack. (Note:  Most of the turkeys in your grocery store will come pre-trussed with that little metal or plastic clip.  If this is not the case, then you will need to tie the legs together with some kitchen string.)   A quick rub down with olive oil, salt, pepper, and some dried thyme (go easy here), and it is ready to pop into the oven.  Here is where the next trick comes.  Start off with the oven at 400°F for the first 20-30 minutes of cooking then lower the oven to 350°F for an hour.  Finish the turkey at 275°F for as long as it takes for the internal temperature to reach 160°F.  This method eliminates the traditional 15 minutes per pound cooking time, but that’s pretty much a load anyway.  So are those pop up thermometers.  To do this right, you really need a probe-style thermometer that you can insert into the thickest part of the thigh, preferrably one that has an external read out so you don’t need to keep opening the oven to check the temperature.  If you’re worried about under-cooking the bird, realize that the turkey will continue to cook after being removed from the oven.  If you are still concerned, go ahead and cook it to 165°-170°F.  The beauty of brining the turkey is that it helps keep even a slightly over-cooked turkey nice and moist.

After removing the turkey, let it sit.  And sit.  I mean a good 20-30 minutes.  Then carve and enjoy.

Making a stand out turkey definitely takes some time, but the satisfied groans of your friends and relatives will make it worth it.


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