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The Way I Make Turkey

Here's how I cook a turkey. It is a compilation of several sources. Including, but not limited to the following:
Alton Brown's Recipe - here
How to cook a thanksgiving turkey - here

  • 1 turkey - yeah, I know, really, really obvious...
For the Brine
  • 1 gallon of vegetable stock
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tablespoon allspice berries (optional)
  • 1/2 tablespoon chopped candied ginger (optional)
  • 1 gallon heavily iced water
  • a container to hold all all of the above. A 5 gallon bucket or a contractors cooler will work nicely. 
For the Turkey
  • butter
  • rosemary (optional, highly recommended)
  • thyme (optional, highly recommended)
  • salt
  • pepper
For the Aromatics (optional)
  • 1 red apple, sliced
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 6 leaves sage
  • red potatoes
  • white potatoes
  • onions
  • carrots
  • Roasting Pan
  • Meat thermometer (the kind that can be left in the meat while cooking.)
  • Aluminum foil

Thaw the Turkey
If your bird is frozen, thaw it out. There are many articles on thawing a turkey. I won't go into it here. Find a safe method to do so. Hint: The refrigerator is a good bet.

Prepare the Brine
The brine can be created a couple days before cooking the turkey. It needs to be cooled to room temperature and refrigerated before adding the turkey to it.

Add the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries and candied ginger to a large pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve the solids. As soon as it boils, remove from heat and allow to cool. When the mixture has cooled to room temperature, place in the refrigerator.

Soak the Bird
Do the the night before the turkey is to be cooked / served.
Add the brine to the 5 gallon bucket. Remove the innards from the turkey and place it in the bucket, breast side down. Add the additional gallon of iced water. Flip the bird over about halfway through the soak time. Set this in a cool area or refrigerate for 8 to 16 hours.

Prepare the Bird
Preheat the oven to 475° F. This is not a typo. Our goal here is to "seal the bird" to help keep it juicy and to brown the skin nicely.

Chop and/or dice the vegetables. Place them evenly on the bottom of the roasting pan. Lightly salt & pepper the vegetables to taste.

Remove the turkey from the brine. Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.

Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels. Use your hand to gently separate the skin from the breast meat. Start at the end where the legs are. Do not remove the skin.

Melt some butter and rub it directly on the breast meat under the skin.

Optional, but highly recommended- Place some sprigs of rosemary & thyme between the skin and the breast meat. You don't need too much, a couple of each will do.

Lightly Salt and Pepper all the skin on the outside. This will help make the skin crisp!

Optional - Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey's cavity along with the rosemary and sage.

Take some aluminum foil and shape it over the breast meat. Leave a bit sticking up to use as a handle. Remove from the turkey and set aside.

Insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast meat. Make sure that it does not touch any bones. If it does, the reading will be inaccurate.

Place the roasting pan (with the turkey in it, of course) into the 475° F oven, legs in first. From this point on, do not open the oven door for any reason. The cord from the meat thermometer should reach to the outside of the oven.

Cook the bird at 475° F for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how brown and crisp you want the skin to be.

After the initial 20 to 30 minutes has elapsed, cover the breast meat using the aluminum foil that was shaped earlier and drop the oven temperature to 250° F. Cook at this temperature until the meat thermometer reads at least 161° F.

Figure about 20 minutes for each pound of turkey. Start this timer as soon as you drop the temperature of the oven.

Approximate cooking time chart:
Turkey Size Time @ 475° F Time @ 250° F Total Cooking Time
10 pounds 20 minutes 200 minutes / 3 hrs, 20 min 3 hrs, 40 min
11 pounds 20 minutes 220 minutes / 3 hrs, 40 min 4 hrs
12 pounds 20 minutes 240 minutes / 4 hrs 4 hrs, 20 min
13 pounds 20 minutes 260 minutes / 4 hrs, 20 min 4 hrs, 40 min
14 pounds 20 minutes 280 minutes / 4 hrs, 40 min 5 hrs
15 pounds 20 minutes 300 minutes / 5 hrs 5 hrs, 20 min
16 pounds 20 minutes 320 minutes / 5 hrs, 20 min 5 hrs, 40 min
17 pounds 20 minutes 340 minutes / 5 hrs, 40 min 6 hrs
18 pounds 20 minutes 360 minutes / 6 hrs 6 hrs, 20 min
19 pounds 20 minutes 380 minutes / 6 hrs, 20 min 6 hrs, 40 min
20 pounds 20 minutes 400 minutes / 6 hrs, 40 min 7 hrs

Pull the turkey out of the oven and let it rest on the counter for 20 minutes. Do NOT pull out the probe for the meat thermometer yet. Keep the bird covered while it is resting. Use foil, a large mixing bowl, or the top of the roasting pan.

After the bird has had a chance to rest, pull out the meat thermometer and carve. Don't forget to pull out the vegetables from the bottom of the pan and put them in a bowl to serve.