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Brining a turkey is an easy way to give it plenty of flavor and to keep it moist while baking. This will be your new favorite Thanksgiving turkey!
As a food blogger you will probably be surprised to learn that I have never cooked an entire turkey. Over the last ten years I’ve made plenty of turkey breasts but there just hasn’t been an occasion to make a whole turkey.
Last year my family got sick a few days before Thanksgiving so we knew we wouldn’t make it to see our extended family for the holiday. I remembered I had earned a free turkey from the market so we ordered it, picked it up, and I came home to figure out how to roast a whole turkey.
I usually brine my turkey breasts before cooking them so I figured I could do the same for my whole turkey. The only problem was finding something big enough to brine it in.
what is brining a turkey?
Brining a turkey is used to enhance the flavor, moisture, and tenderness of the meat before cooking the turkey. It involves soaking the turkey in a mixture of salt, water, and other flavorings for a lengthy period of time, usually a day or overnight.
The basic process of brining involves submerging the turkey in a mixture of water and salt. The saltwater helps to break down the muscle fibers in the meat, allowing it to retain more moisture during cooking. The salt in the brine also helps to season the meat from the inside out.
- whole turkey, thawed (make sure to thaw it in the refrigerator prior to brining)
- cold water (the water must be cold so as not to cook the turkey at all)
- coarse salt (to enhance the flavor of the turkey and to retain the moisture during cooking)
- brown sugar (this helps to balance out the salty flavor and to help caramelize and brown the turkey)
- fresh cranberries (adds a burst of tart flavor)
- fresh oranges (this adds some acidity to the brine as well as flavor and aroma)
- fresh lemons (add acidity, flavor, and aroma)
- fresh herbs (use your favorite herbs to add flavor to the turkey)
- peppercorns (adds a spicy and peppery flavor to the brine)
One of the most important things to do before brining a turkey is to make sure it has thawed. You can buy a refrigerated turkey or else you will need to thaw your frozen turkey.
How do you thaw a turkey?
The safest way to thaw a turkey is to place the turkey on a tray or in a shallow pan to catch any leaks and then put it in the refrigerator. Make sure that you allow enough time for the turkey to thaw completely. The general rule is that it will take 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey to thaw so if you have a 10 pound turkey you will need to put it in the refrigerator at least 48 hours ahead of time. The turkey should be left in its original package while it is thawing in the refrigerator.
Once the turkey is thawed make sure to remove any innards from the cavity. They will most often be in a bag stuffed in the interior of the bird.
Place the turkey in a large turkey bag and then place in a stock pot or roaster. Slice the oranges and lemons and place under and around the turkey. Place the cranberries, herbs, and peppercorns around the turkey as well.
Put the sugar and salt on top of the turkey and cover the turkey with cold water. Mix to combine all of the ingredients and to start to dissolve the sugar and salt. Seal the bag and place the entire thing in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours.
Once it is done brining you will need to dump the water and remove all of the fruits and herbs. The turkey will need to be rinsed off so it does not taste like salt.
Can I stuff the turkey?
That is entirely up to you. While cooking the stuffing separately is generally considered safer, many people cook the stuffing inside of the bird. My family has always cooked ours inside the bird and the flavor cannot be beat. If you want to cook it inside the bird place it inside right before you put the turkey into the oven. Do not over stuff it as it will cause both the turkey and the stuffing to cook unevenly.
Stuffing is my favorite part of the meal. Our classic Thanksgiving day stuffing is a Vegetarian Stuffing. A great fall flavored stuffing is this Apple and Chestnut Stuffing. If you like adding meat to your stuffing then this Sausage Stuffing should go on the menu.
Once the turkey is ready preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Sprinkle the turkey with salt, pepper, and any other seasonings. Make sure to cook the turkey breast side up.
Turkey cooks around 13-15 minutes per pound so allow yourself plenty of time for the turkey to cook. When it is close to be finished cooking you can began basting it with butter and herbs if desired. This will add flavor and help the turkey to brown.
It’s important to let the turkey rest for 15-20 minutes before carving so that the juice redistribute throughout the bird.
This turkey was delicious. It was moist and packed with so much flavor both from the brine and from basting it at the end of cooking.
- 15 pound turkey
- 1 gallon (16 cups) cold water
- 1 c. coarse salt
- 1 c. brown sugar
- 1 c. fresh cranberries
- 2 oranges, sliced
- 2 lemons, sliced
- 1/2 c. fresh herbs
- 2 Tablespoons peppercorns, cracked
- Place the turkey in a large bag. Place the bag in a roaster or large stock pot.
- Place the oranges, lemons, cranberries, herbs, and peppercorns on and around the turkey.
- Put the sugar and salt on top of the turkey.
- Pour the water over top of the turkey and stir to begin to dissolve the sugar and salt. Make sure that the turkey is completely covered.
- Seal the bag and place in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours.
- When ready to cook the turkey preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
- Drain the turkey and rinse it well. Pat it dry with a paper towel and put it in a roasting pan breast side up.
- Roast for 3-4 hours, basting with butter and herbs the last hour of cooking if desired.
- Turkey is cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
- Remove from oven and allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes before carving.
Recipe adapted from Homemade Heather