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Brining and Roasting a Turkey

This is a blog post from five years ago, but with Thanksgiving on Thursday, many of you might need a refresher on how to brine and roast a turkey:
It’s almost that time folks. Are you ready to roast that big bird or are you running from the task quicker than you can say turkey trot?  To all of you with trepidation in your soul at the thought of tackling this job, fear not — I have one word to help you achieve success — and it rhymes with fine. No, it’s not wine — although a glass of chardonnay or pinot noir for the cook never hurts. The word folks is brine. Since the first time I brined a turkey years ago, I have never looked back. It’s a fail-proof way to ensure a moist, flavorful turkey, even if you forget to baste it and even if you roast it a little longer than required.
Mix salt, sugar, herbs and spices with water and bring to a boil.
Dump the brining mixture over the turkey and add ice cubes (unless you have a refrigerator large enough to contain the large bucket). Let it sit overnight.
Roast the turkey over a bed of celery, carrots and onions and with some whole heads of garlic strewn all around the pan. Baste occasionally.
I leave the carving to my dad, but it’s the same way you would carve a chicken. Remove the legs, thighs and wings, then remove each half of the breast in its entirety from the carcass.
Cut the breast in slices and place all the meat on a serving platter surrounded with the whole roasted heads of garlic.
gobble, gobble!
Turkey Brine
(Makes enough for up to a 24 lb. turkey)
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 gallon water
2 T. black peppercorns
1 T. allspice berries
1 onion, sliced
1 large bunch sage
6 bay leaves
ice cubes
The day before (or night before) you want to cook the turkey:
Using a 5-gallon bucket, line it with a plastic bag. Put the salt, sugar, onion, herbs and spices in a pot on the range with only two cups of water taken from the one gallon of water called for in the recipe. Bring to a boil and stir everything to blend the flavors. Remove from the heat and add some ice cubes to cool it off, plus about half of the remaining water. Put the thawed turkey in the plastic bag in the bucket and add the water and herb mixture. If the bucket needs more water to cover the turkey, add it now.
Since I can’t fit the bucket into my refrigerator, I always place it outdoors on the deck, adding ice cubes to the water to make sure it stays cool. It’s never been a problem here in New Jersey in late November, and sometimes it’s gotten so cold that the top layer of water has frozen.  I don’t want to take any risks though, so I always add the ice cubes. Twist the top of the bag and secure it closed. To keep squirrels or birds from pecking into the bag during the night or before it goes into the oven, place a flat baking pan on the top and weigh it down with something heavy. Let it sit overnight and soak.
The next day, drain the turkey from the liquid before roasting.  Pat dry, then place your hand between the skin and the breast meat and spread some butter inside with some sage leaves. Alternately, make an herb butter, mixing some softened butter with minced sage, rosemary or other herbs.
Roasting Method
 
After rubbing butter between the skin and the breast meat, place the turkey in a pan that has a bed of celery sticks, carrots and onion chunks. Take several whole heads of garlic and slice a shallow slice off the top. Spread them in the corners of the pan. If you’re not stuffing the turkey, place some onion chunks, fresh herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary or thyme or a combo) and a couple of lemons that have been halved, in the cavity. Rub the outer skin with a stick of butter that’s been softened. Roast turkey according to timetable below, basting occasionally. If the breast starts to get overly browned, make a tent with aluminum foil and cover loosely. If wings get overly browned and the rest of the turkey still needs cooking, wrap the wings in aluminum foil. The total roasting time will depend on whether the turkey is stuffed or not.
Here are the roasting times recommended by the USDA. If you’re checking with a meat thermometer, the USDA says the turkey is safely cooked once the thickest part of the breast and thigh reach a minimal internal temperature of 165 degrees. Full roasting instructions from the USDA are here.

Timetables for Turkey Roasting
(325 °F oven temperature)

Unstuffed
4 to 8 pounds (breast) 1½ to 3¼ hours
8 to 12 pounds 2¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds 3¾ to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4½ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4½ to 5 hours
Stuffed
4 to 6 pounds (breast) Not usually applicable
6 to 8 pounds (breast) 2½ to 3½ hours
8 to 12 pounds 3 to 3½ hours
12 to 14 pounds 3½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 4 to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4¾ to 5¼ hours