Thanksgiving II: The Recluckening
October 19, 2012 11:16 AM   Subscribe

I need to make the best turkey you've ever tasted this Thanksgiving. My pride is at stake here, people. Help me!

So last year I brought one of two turkeys to a large Thanksgiving potluck. Mine was clearly inferior. It wasn't BAD or anything... but the other guy's was better. This year we're both bringing the turkey again and I MUST BE VICTORIOUS.

Give me your tips and suggestions. I don't care how crazy or traditional, it just has to be a whole turkey (no turkey breasts, no turduckens).

And yes, I fully intend on doing a test turkey of my own beforehand... this is serious, people.
posted by showbiz_liz to Food & Drink (46 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
This Epicurious recipe is all you need right here.

Unfortunately, I am now in charge of Thanksgiving forever, according to my mother-in-law.
posted by peep at 11:20 AM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I get a bunch of fresh herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary) and chop them up into pieces.

I soften a lot of butter (maybe two sticks worth) to room temperature until it's basically just goo.

I mix those herbs into that butter.

I spread the herbed butter out on some plastic wrap, cover with plastic wrap, and smooth it down so that I have a nice, evenly thick (about as thick as a "pat", whatever that is) sheet of herbed butter.

I refrigerate that and slice it into little blocks when it's hard.

On the turkey, I make tiny slits in the skin all over, and shove my herbed butter squares in there until the entire turkey has a layer of herb butter surrounding it. Like a little coat of deliciousness.

Roast that turkey.
posted by phunniemee at 11:22 AM on October 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

My brother swathed his in bacon before roasting it last year, with positive results....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:23 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

The most important variable is the quality of the bird. Don't go heirloom for a mainstream crowd though - there is too little white meat. Go with a free range conventional bird that is fresh slaughtered and brine it.
posted by JPD at 11:23 AM on October 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

The simpler the better.

First of all, get a fresh turkey (not frozen) and if you can manage it, organic, free range (but regular fresh will do.)

You want a nice juicy bird, so I like using the Reynolds Roasting Bags. Use a bit of flour in the bag. Loosen the skin on the bird and rub a simple mix of salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika under the skin, in the cavity and on the skin. This will make a nice, crispy skin. Tasty too!

Don't stuff the bird.

Bake at 325, about 20 minutes per pound unti the internal temperature is 165. Then rest it.

I've cooked turkeys ever since I was 17, and they always come out delicious using this method. I'm sure someone will brine one, fry one, or in some other way cook one taking all kinds of time and trouble, and it will be better, but damn it, this is my favorite.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:23 AM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Gordon Ramsay's roast turkey recipe* is pretty special.

How to video: 1, 2.



*Because he is British the theme is Christmas, not Thanksgiving. But hey.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:24 AM on October 19, 2012

Brining is really not that much extra trouble and it results in a much tastier bird. The hardest part is clearing out fridge space for the bucket. I've used Alton Brown's recipe.
posted by Wossname at 11:27 AM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Roasting is the only option? Because the best turkey I've ever eaten was deep fried. Smoked turkey runs a very, very close second. I took a smoked turkey to a potluck and it was annihilated.
posted by jquinby at 11:28 AM on October 19, 2012

I won with this recipe:

It was the first turkey I'd ever made. It was definitely labor intensive--work starts a few days before T-Day.
posted by thebazilist at 11:29 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have brined with a brine made up of about 1/3 cup of salt, a head of garlic peeled and crushed, 4 fresh bay leaves crushed and crumpled, 12 cloves, 12 juniper berries crushed, per quart of apple cider. Heat just a bit, cool, and then brine the turkey for 24 hours (if you get a frozen turkey, thaw the turkey in the brine, in the fridge).

You may need to double or more the recipe to submerge, that's the ratio.

Then wet smoke the turkey, using the remaining brine in the liquid.

It will redefine Thanksgiving turkey, ruining all subsequent conventionally roasted turkeys for them for forever.
posted by straw at 11:32 AM on October 19, 2012

Get a never-frozen turkey. Wrap in bacon. Bake until done, you can baste once if you really want to.
posted by effigy at 11:34 AM on October 19, 2012

Alton Brown's turkey recipe is amazing. We've made it a few years in a row now and it's always turned out perfectly.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 11:37 AM on October 19, 2012 [8 favorites]

2nding Alton Brown's turkey. The recipe in his first book is even simpler.
posted by COD at 11:43 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: But... if you wrap it in bacon the skin doesn't brown, and the bacon winds up soggy on one side. I tried that with chicken once. Never again.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:44 AM on October 19, 2012

posted by Danf at 11:48 AM on October 19, 2012

I've had mixed success with brining (I blame myself), and great success with the "stick as much herb butter under the skin as possible." My mom's recipe calls for a full pound but I've never been able to get that much in there. I also rub down all the skin with butter.
posted by muddgirl at 11:54 AM on October 19, 2012

Another vote for Alton Brown’s recipe.
posted by Sabby at 11:56 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you do brine I also suggest a night uncovered in the fridge post brining to allow the skin to crisp up better in oven.
posted by JPD at 12:02 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Once more for Alton. I honestly don't think you can go wrong with that recipe.
posted by ronofthedead at 12:03 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Food Lab on Serious Eats: Turkey 101. Listen to Kenji. It's actually very similar to the Alton method.

Brine overnight, pre-heat the oven to a high temperature (500F) and then bring down, cook the breast to a lower temperature than the USDA recommends (ideal temperature for perfectly moist breast meat is around 145°F), use an oven thermometer to make sure the breast isn't overcooked, and make sure that you let the turkey rest afterwards. Starting at a high temperature and then bringing it down ensures that the legs and thighs cook faster while the breast cooks slower.
posted by kathryn at 12:03 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wrapping in bacon is a technique called barding. Here's ATK's directions (same recipe different site). The trick being to remove the bacon and crank up the heat for the last 30 minutes.

Barding and brining both turn out good birds. But the absolute best turkey is Deep Fried Turkey.
posted by zinon at 12:04 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh! Be sure, if you do follow Alton's recipe, including the brine, that whatever kind of turkey you get (fresh, frozen, organic, etc.) is not already brined. Many are these days.
posted by ronofthedead at 12:04 PM on October 19, 2012

My husband and I deep-fried a couple of store-bought turkeys, and they were pretty darn good (for being cooked in an old beer keg filled with peanut oil). Then we moved on to pastured turkeys, and 1) brining, and 2) smoking them. HOLY BIG BIRD, brining is magic, and so is smoking them all afternoon. This may require more equipment than you have, however, so, agreed, concentrate on starting with good meat and submerging it in a good brine.

Our pasture-raised turkeys have very, very little fat (as in, not much at all to skim off when it's stock-making time) and the drumsticks are tougher than I'd like. But they're awesome, especially if you like the smoked flavor. I'll consult with my brine-maker and let you know what he uses. Time and brine are your friends here, as is a meat thermometer.

Five more poults born this morning!
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:12 PM on October 19, 2012

I just read a Martha Stewart trick that sounded interesting:

Soak an appropriately-sized piece of cheesecloth in softened butter plus whatever herbs and seasonings you favor (she also added wine.) Let it firm up somewhat if necessary and drape on top of your turkey while it bakes. It also makes basting more effective because the liquids don't just run off immediately. I suppose you would remove it for the end of roasting to get a crispy skin.
posted by dahliachewswell at 12:12 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

My Mom makes the best turkey...All she does is massage it with Wesson Oil and sea salt, and cooks it very slow, 325....have to gauge the time by the weight but they are usually in the oven 5-6 hours, covered with foil till the last 90 minutes.... tender, simple, really good...
posted by pearlybob at 12:16 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have a Weber kettle BBQ? One year we taste-tested smoked vs. deep-fried vs. BBQ turkey, and BBQ was the clear winner. Moist, smoky (especially if you put a foil sachet of soaked applewood chips on the coals), incredible mahogany brown skin, cooks quickly, plus your oven is free for all the other things.
posted by ottereroticist at 12:20 PM on October 19, 2012

I join in recommending Alton Brown's recipe.

If you happen to have a sous vide setup, I was very impressed with my results last year.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:31 PM on October 19, 2012

Keep notes on what you do, and compare the results for decades running.

There are a lot of tweaks that can be performed to improve the result. Here are some of ours:

Have a thermometer in the bird, don't rely on a pop-up timer. Have an externally visible oven temperature thermometer in the oven, don't rely on the stove-top control knob. Use these to conform to your chosen recipe.

Thaw the bird in advance, with towels over the breast area. If the bird if thawed, put an ice pack over the breast area for a while. When it goes in the breasts are cooler, less likely to get over done.

Halfway through, flip the bird upside down so the juices flow into the breast.

I would trust Alton Brown for a general procedural recipe.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:51 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

The bourbon brined turkey was by far the best Thanksgiving turkey I have ever had. I don't recall which specific method we used, but it's all over the internet. Here's Oprah's method.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:53 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

1) brine (careful that you don't get the brine too salty, adjust the brine to taste. I've ended up with terribly salty birds by following recipes without also tasting. The alternative is to push lots of salted, soft butter under the skin before roasting.

2) put some aromatics in the cavity (onion, garlic, lemon, thyme, black pepper), but no stuffing

3) rub skin with butter and place cheesecloth over it (several layers) - baste over the cheesecloth during roasting and the skin will be gorgeously and evenly brown after cooking (remove cheesecloth after cooking)

4) in the bottom of your roasting pan, put several carrots, stalks of celery and quartered onion pices and fill with an inch of water. This will make the most delicious gravy base. Remove veggies after roasting - their work is done.

5) roast on a rack and flip 1/2 way through cooking

6) rest the bird for at least 20 minutes before carving. I tent with foil and cover with a bathtowel, but that will make your skin less crispy, but your bird stays warmer. The alternative is to carefully remove the skin and then tent.
posted by quince at 1:13 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Inject the turkey with butter and spices, then brine, and then fry.
posted by gregr at 1:20 PM on October 19, 2012

My way is very simple, and pretty damn delicious. Basting never worked well for us and was a waste of perfectly good wine and butter, so we have resorted to Bacon.

1. Roast Turkey upside down, filled with stuffing for half the baking time. (ensure's dark meat is cooked through)

2. Flip (this is a Procedure with my family since it's usually a 20lb bird)

3. Cover with bacon. Continue roasting. Make most amazing gravy in the world with the drippings.

Since the Bacon is only on the turkey for about 2 hrs, it doesn't completedly dry out, and it becomes this amazing shell of perfectly cooked bacon over the turkey. I use a regular meat thermometor to test the temps after the recommended cooking time. and let rest for no less than 20 mins before carving. We also roast low and slow at 325 degrees.

(If we plan well enough a head of time, we brine the turkey overnight. but since recently, the turkey involves me taking it on a bus, I haven't bothered)
posted by larthegreat at 1:26 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

The best turkey I ever had was deep fried, and it wasn't particularly close.

Although deep frying a turkey is not a small task, and there is a slight risk of a massive grease fire if you're not careful, but damn the turkey was done perfectly, juicy and incredibly flavorful with the skin crisped just right.

And I want my turkey to taste like turkey, not bacon. Not that bacon doesn't taste excellent.
posted by Sphinx at 1:29 PM on October 19, 2012

If you cover your turkey with bacon, it doesn't usually impact the taste- the gravy is where you get the hint of bacon.
posted by larthegreat at 1:30 PM on October 19, 2012

The best turkey I ever ate was butterflied, then soaked in lime and salt overnight.
Then it was cooked on a grill over a slow wood fire under a California Oak, near the beach, next to a tent.

Hubby tried to reproduce it the next year by grilling it over coals in the backyard and it was still pretty awesome. But the first time is the best for lime and salt fire grilled turkey.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:46 PM on October 19, 2012

I have brined. dry brined and done standard roasting with much basting. Things I have learned:

* Brining does produce a juicy bird
* brining for roasting or smoking works well
* you can fit a 35 lb. turkey in a five gallon, clean, new paint bucket from the hardware store
* Alton Brown and the LA Times brining methods work solid
* You will need refrig space if you plan to dry brine. I live in MN so leaving the wet brining bucket in the garage actually made sense so did leaving bottles of beer to chill in the Minnesota snow so YMMV;
* For regular roasting -- if you want to cheat on that Mahogany all over sheen is to use soy sauce (not the cheap crap) over the skin. A touch of soy sauce pairs well with butter so you can still baste with butter without the soy clashing
* I like the smoking of turkey because it frees the oven completely but the best Thanksgiving is the well planned one this means, no new recipes unless tested or so blindingly easy it won't freak you out if it all goes pear shaped.
posted by jadepearl at 2:10 PM on October 19, 2012

I use a Cook's Illustrated recipe that involves brining and butterflying the bird. If you care about presentation at the table or having stuffing inside the bird, this is not for you. I don't, and nobody at dinner let it stop them from stripping the carcass clean.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:47 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

My BFF used Alton Brown's method last year. I've always brined, but this was AMAZING.
posted by MeiraV at 5:09 PM on October 19, 2012

I'm with Ruthless Bunny. I don't do anything more fancy than using the roasting bags, and my turkeys always come out moist and luscious. The skin doesn't get crispy, but that's not a downside for me. So simple, and so fantastic.
posted by lemniskate at 5:49 PM on October 19, 2012

Dark meat in a turkey is done at a higher temperature than the white meat. This is why cooking the turkey upside down can help, because the oven is hotter at the top than the bottom, so the bottom of the turkey cooks more. But there is another way, and here is how I do it.

Take the defrosted turkey out of the fridge about an hour and a half before you want to start cooking it. Put it upright on something that will conduct heat away, like a stone countertop or a heavy cooking sheet. Get a 1 gallon ziplock bag. Fill it with ice. Add a bunch of salt, and seal it. Place the ice bag on the turkey breast on top. Let the whole thing sit for an hour or so. You want the breast to be much cooler than they bottom, where the dark meat is - about 20 degrees cooler. This way, the breast will cook more slowly and be ready about the same time.

About 10 minutes before cooking, remove the ice pack, rinse the turkey, salt the cavities with coarse salt and stuff it. Place it in a roasting pan. Cover it with slices of thick bacon, all over the body and along the legs. Over that, put a layer of food-grade cheesecloth. Pour 1/2 to 1 pound of melted butter over the cheesecloth. Place in oven and roast. Baste every 30 minutes for the first hour, every 20 for the second, and every 15 after that. About an hour before you expect it to be done, take it out and remove the cheesecloth and butter-basted turkey-fat soaked bacon. Put it back in uncovered. Give the bacon to the people you like the best.

Baste every 10 minutes for the last hour. Take it out the second it gets to 160, if not a touch before.

When carving, take the turkey apart to get the breast meat as shown here. I normally carve with a sharp paring knife.
posted by procrastination at 6:10 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

This recipe for miso-rubbed turkey is my go-to. It's delicious, and not overly salty, despite what you'd expect.
posted by cowboy_sally at 6:17 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had big success with the Martha Stewart recipe. The cheesecloth covering makes it the most beautiful presentation ever. You don't need to make room in the fridge for a brine bucket, use an ice chest instead and add a bag of ice to the brine the night before. Close it up airtight and it will easily last overnight. If the chest is old, use a trash bag for the turkey and brine and cover with the ice. I have done this, it works great.
posted by raisingsand at 7:00 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

This turkey recipe from British chef Antony Worrall Thompson was one of the best Thanksgiving dinners I've ever had. We used cream cheese, not ricotta. A very rich experience. (Note: that web page has several recipes, I'm only referring to the top one.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:07 PM on October 19, 2012

Forget what everyone else says. The gold standard is Cook's Illustrated High Roast Turkey. Crispy skin, moist flesh, and two hours of cooking time! It does require three days of prep time to brine but it's well worth the brine time.

CI is behind a paywall, but Lifehacker has a copy of the recipe.
posted by rednikki at 10:10 PM on October 19, 2012

My wife has made this bacon wrapped turkey recipe with great success (it has already been requested for this year's dinner). She also likes the recipe in Barbara Kafka's "Roasting".
posted by maurice at 7:16 AM on October 20, 2012

The most important variable is the quality of the bird. -- JPD

QFT. Sourcing is important. It can push costs way up, but in the end, a free-range bird that's never been frozen will have a lot more natural moisture and flavour than a factory-farmed, overbred, defrosted creature.

If your pride is truly at stake, find a turkey farmed in your area. Talk to a good butcher or two or several, or better yet, visit the farm. Ask what kind of lifestyle and feed their turkeys have: room to roam = muscles = meat. A turkey free to browse for food will eat more interesting stuff and, ultimately, taste better than a turkey fed only commercial feed. Are the birds processed on site or driven to a slaughterhouse? How long are the turkeys hung after slaughter? Hanging improves tenderness and flavour; the farm I order from in the UK slaughters on site and hangs for two weeks.

A good bird does away with a lot of the need for things like bacon and herb butter. You can scale right back on flavour enhancers if your turkey tastes like a turkey ought to.
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:30 AM on October 26, 2012

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