The Perfect Turkey

Thanksgiving might be my favorite holiday. At my house, we have several traditional dishes that we only make for Thanksgiving - Grandma Dot's stuffing, Corn Pudding, Cranberry-Citrus Jell-O - but we never had a special family recipe for the turkey. We cooked it according to the tag that comes with the bird, or sometimes a daring relative would try something completely new (once even on the grill...) and it was always a bit of a gamble. 

One year, while interning in Florida, I couldn't come home for the holiday. The other interns and I decided to have a "Misfit Thanksgiving" and everyone would bring a dish that was special to them. I was in charge of the turkey.

Thanksgiving turkey is a BIG DEAL. I mean, it's the star of the show, so to speak, and it can be downright anxiety inducing! I turned to Alton Brown and his scientifically proven roast turkey recipe as seen on the "Romancing the Bird" Episode of Good Eats.

The results were SPECTACULAR! The bird comes out perfectly seasoned, the meat is moist and the skin is beautifully brown and crispy. My family has adopted this as our go-to recipe and we use it every year. I even set up my laptop in the kitchen so we can all watch the episode together as we cook (it's as much of a tradition now as those 70's stop-motion Christmas films #burgermeistermeisterburger).

The recipe is a bit involved, but the end absolutely justifies the means. Try it and you'll never worry about the bird again!

The Perfect Turkey Recipe (from Alton Brown)
1 (14 to 16 pound) frozen young turkey

For the brine:
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger
1 gallon heavily iced water

1 red apple, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water
4 sprigs rosemary
6 leaves sage
Canola oil


Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.

Early on in the day, or the night before you'd like to eat:
Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse 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. Insert a probe thermometer into the thickest meat of the breast.

Make a large triangle of tin foil and butter one side. Mold the triangle to the (still cold) turkey breast like you are making a suit of armor for the turkey. Set this "turkey triangle" aside somewhere safe where it will maintain it's shape, and out of the way so it won't contaminate other food.

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. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.

Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Open the oven door and gently place on your pre-molded turkey triangle to cover the breast meat and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Cook until your internal thermometer reaches 161 degrees F.

Allow the turkey to rest for ten minutes so that the juices can redistribute, then carve and enjoy!

I don't always brine the turkey (gasp!). If I have the space/time, I will - and it's totally worth it - but it is not absolutely necessary. Simply following the cooking instructions and (most importantly) implementing the tin foil "turkey triangle" is the key to a perfect bird every time.

A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.

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