Brine that Bird!
The best way to get
flavorful poultry, regardless of how it is prepared, is to start with a
brine. Brining adds moisture and flavor to poultry and helps to keep it
from drying out. A turkey can be a serious investment in time so you
want to make sure it is perfect, especially if you're entertaining.
Whether you grill, smoke, fry, or roast your turkey, you should use a
What Size of Turkey will I need to buy?
Plan for about 3/4 pound for every adult person and 1/2 pound for
children 12 and under but not including babies.
properly brine a turkey you need to start the night before you plan to
cook. You will need at least 10 to 12 hours (plan on 1 hour per pound of
turkey), a container large enough to hold your turkey and enough brine
to cover it. You'll also need salt, water, sugar, seasonings, and enough
room to refrigerate it. A large stainless steel stock pot or even a 5
gallon clean plastic bucket would make excellent containers.
Whatever container you choose the turkey needs to have enough room to be
turned so it should be big. Both Reynolds (Oven Roasting Bag for
Turkeys) and Ziploc (XL Storage Bag) make very large food safe sealable
bags that are great for brining.
Now let's get to the turkey. The turkey should be cleaned out,
completely thawed, and should not be a self-basting or Kosher turkey.
Self-basting and Kosher turkeys have a salty stock added that will make
your brined turkey too salty. A fresh turkey works best, but a
completely thawed, previously frozen turkey will work just as well.
To make the brine, mix 1 cup of table salt in 1 gallon of water. You
will need more than 1 gallon of water but that’s the ratio to aim for.
One way of telling if you have enough salt in your brine is that a raw
egg will float in it. Make sure that the salt is completely dissolved
before adding the seasonings you like, making sure not to add anything
that contains salt. Brines can be spicy hot with peppers and cayenne,
savory with herbs and garlic, or sweet with molasses, honey and brown
sugar. Whatever your tastes are, you can find a large number of brine
recipes on the internet.
Sweetening the Brine:
Sugar is optional to any brine, but
works to counteract the flavor of the salt. While you may choose a brine
without sugar, I do recommend that you add sugar (any kind of "sweet"
will do) to maintain the flavor of the turkey. Add up to 1 cup of sugar
per gallon of brine. Like the salt you need to make sure that the sugar
is completely dissolved.
the turkey in a container and pour in enough brine to completely cover
the turkey with an inch or two to spare. You do not want any part of the
turkey above the surface of the brine. Now you put the whole thing in
the refrigerator. Making enough room in the fridge
is the hardest part of this project. The turkey should sit in the brine
for about 1 hour per pound of turkey. Brining too long is much worse
than not brining enough so watch the time. If you live in a cool
climate, it is ok to sit the turkey in your brining bucket (plastic is
good as long as it is spotlessly clean) outdoors or in a cool garage.
Keep it Cool!:
Don't have room in the refrigerator? Try a cooler. A cooler big enough
to hold your turkey makes a good container for your turkey and brine.
The cooler will help keep it cool and allow you to brine your turkey
without taking up precious refrigerator space. If the weather is cool,
but not freezing you can put the whole thing outside until you need the
turkey. If the weather is warm fill a half gallon milk carton with water
and freeze it. Place this in the cooler with the turkey and brine and it
will hold down the temperature during the brining process.
you are ready to start cooking your turkey, remove it from the brine and
rinse it off thoroughly in the sink with cold water until all traces of
salt are off the surface inside and out. Safely discard the brine and
cook your turkey as normal. You will notice the second you start to
carve your turkey that the brining has helped it retain moisture. The
first bite will sell you on brining turkeys forever, and after you've
tried this you will want to brine all your poultry.
|MINIMUM COOKING TIMES FOR TURKEYS
Oven at 325°F or 160°C
||Hours of Cooking
|6 - 8 Lbs
||2.5 - 3.5 Kg
||2 ¼ - 2 ¾ hrs
|8 - 10 Lbs
||3.5 - 4 Kg
||2 ¾ - 3 hrs
|10 - 12 Lbs
||4.5 - 5.5 Kg
||3 – 3 ½ hrs
|12 - 16 Lbs
||5.5 - 7.5 Kg
||3 ¼ - 3 ½ hrs
|16 - 22 Lbs
||7.5 - 10 Kg
||3 ½ - 4 hrs
|* The very best way to ensure proper cooking is
to use a meat thermometer
Roast Turkey with Country Ham Stuffing and Giblet Gravy
For the Stuffing
3 cups 1/2-inch cubes of day-old homemade-type white bread
3 cups 1/2-inch cubes of day-old whole-wheat bread
3/4 pound boneless cooked or uncooked Smithfield or other country ham, cut into 1/4-inch
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
2 onions, chopped
4 ribs of celery, chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves or 2 1/2 teaspoons crumbled dried
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme, crumbled
2- to 14-pound turkey, the neck and giblets (excluding the liver) reserved for making
turkey giblet stock
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups water
1 cup turkey giblet stock or chicken broth
For the gravy
1 cup dry white wine
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups turkey giblet stock, including the reserved cooked neck and giblets
Don't forget to take out the giblets that are
in a litle pouch
inside of the bird before you cook it!
fresh sage leaves for garnish
Make the Stuffing:
In a shallow baking pan arrange the bread cubes in one layer, bake them in a preheated
325°F. oven, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are golden, and
transfer them to a large bowl. In a large skillet sauté the ham in the butter over
moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it is deep red
and the edges are crisp, and transfer it with a slotted spoon to the bowl. To the fat
remaining in the skillet add the onions, the celery, the sage, and the thyme, cook the
mixture over moderate heat, stirring, until the onions are softened, and transfer it to a
bowl. Toss the stuffing well, season it with salt and pepper and let it cool completely.
The stuffing may be made 1 day in advance and kept covered and chilled. (To prevent
bacterial growth do not stuff the turkey cavities in advance.)
Rinse the turkey, pat it dry, and season it inside and out with salt and pepper. Pack the
neck cavity loosely with some of the stuffing, fold the neck skin under the body, and
fasten it with a skewer. Pack the body cavity loosely with some of the remaining stuffing
and truss the turkey. Transfer the remaining stuffing to a buttered 2-quart baking dish
and reserve it, covered and chilled.
Spread the turkey with 1/2 stick of the butter and roast it on a rack in a roasting pan in
a preheated 425°F. oven for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F., baste the
turkey with the pan juices, and drape it with a piece of cheesecloth, soaked in the
remaining 1 stick butter, melted and cooled. Add the water to the pan and roast the
turkey, basting it every 20 minutes, for 2 1/2 to 3 hours more, or until a meat
thermometer inserted in the fleshy part of a thigh registers 180°F. and the juices run
clear when the thigh is pierced with a skewer. During the last 1 1/2 hours of roasting,
drizzle the reserved stuffing with the stock, bake it, covered, in the 325°F. oven for 1
hour, and bake it, uncovered, for 1/2 hour more. Discard the cheesecloth and string from
the turkey, transfer the turkey to a heated platter, reserving the juices in the roasting
pan, and keep it warm, covered loosely with foil.
Make the Gravy:
Skim all of the fat from the roasting pan juices, reserving 1/3 cup of the fat, add the
wine to the pan, and deglaze the pan over moderately high heat, scraping up brown bits.
Boil the mixture until it is reduced by half. In a saucepan combine the reserved fat and
the flour and cook the roux over moderately low heat, whisking, for 3 minutes. Add the
stock and the wine mixture in a stream, whisking, and simmer the gravy, stirring
occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the reserved cooked giblets and neck meat, chopped, and
salt and pepper to taste, simmer the gravy for 2 minutes, and transfer it to a heated
Garnish the turkey with the sage leaves and serve it with the gravy and the stuffing.
Gourmet - November 1991
Cooking a Frozen Turkey
Yikes! You forgot to thaw
the turkey and it is countdown time to the big dinner. Can you cook a
frozen turkey? The answer is yes and safely so .... BUT it will take
longer and plan for 25 minutes for every pound of turkey to be cooked.
The following is a procedure for cooking
a 12-to-13-lb. frozen turkey.
Start 5 to 5 1/2 hours before you want
to serve the cooked turkey. Set the oven temperature at
325ºF. It is much better that the turkey be done 30
minutes before mealtime than to rush and serve an
undercooked turkey. Remove the wrapping from the turkey
and put the turkey on a rack on a pan that has been
covered with foil to make cleaning easy (Fig. 1). You
can also cook the turkey in a covered roasting pan if
you have one.
Put the turkey in the oven. Do not
worry about the bag with the heart, liver, etc. in the
neck cavity or the neck in the center of the turkey.
They can be removed during cooking, after the turkey
thaws. There will be Salmonella spp. and Campylobacter
jejuni on the turkey. However, because it is frozen,
there is no drip, and transfer to hands or counter is
not a significant risk.
Cooking the turkey on a shallow pan on
a rack assures even cooking. Cooking in a pan with sides
shields the bottom of the turkey from heat, and the
cooking on the bottom will be non-uniform.
In the first 2 to 2 1/2 hours, the
legs and thighs get up to approximately 100ºF. The
breast, about 1 inch into the flesh, is still at the
soft ice point, about 25ºF. At this point, begin to
monitor breast temperature with a tip-sensitive digital
thermometer as it thaws. You may also use a dial roast
thermometer. Insert it into the breast, because it is
the slowest cooking part.
After about 3 1/2 hours, the legs and
thighs will be around 150 to 160ºF, and the breast,
about 40 to 50ºF. The bag of heart, liver, etc. and the
neck can be removed at this time, to be made into stock,
At 4 1/2 to 5 hours, the turkey is nicely
cooked. Check the temperature. The leg and thigh should be tender and at
a temperature of 175 to 185ºF, while the breast will be moist at a
temperature of 160 to 170ºF. The pop-up timer (if there is one) should
have popped. Cooking turkeys to these temperatures is adequate to assure
the reduction of Salmonella and Campylobacter jejuni to a safe level.
This is an excellent way to cook turkey.
Actually, cooking a turkey from the frozen state has
benefits over cooking a thawed turkey. Cooking can be
done in a roasting pan, but it is unnecessary. If one
thaws a turkey in a home refrigerator, there is a
significant risk of raw juice with pathogens at high
levels getting on refrigerator surfaces, other foods in
the refrigerator, countertops, and sink, thus creating a
hazard and a need for extensive cleaning and sanitizing.
The second benefit is that, because
the breast has greater mass, it takes longer to thaw.
Therefore, the thigh and leg are well cooked and tender,
while the breast is not overcooked and dried out. The
breast will cook to a juicy 160-to-165ºF endpoint
Cooking turkey from the frozen state
produces an excellent, juicy, tender, and safe product.
There is no need to remember to thaw the turkey four
days ahead of time, and cooking a frozen turkey
minimizes risk of pathogen cross-contamination from
juices from the raw bird.
To assure a quality and safe
turkey, monitor the final temperature with a
tip-sensitive digital thermometer, and always wash your
hands before touching and handling the cooked turkey.
If you want to do something special - try
cooking a Turducken