Best daggum Turkey Recipe ever
Last year, The Chronicle Food section cooked 28 turkeys to find the best method of producing a plump, juicy bird. Our favorite -- by far -- was the turkey that we brined before roasting.
To be sure nothing had changed, we retested the recipe this year and loved the turkey just as much. We also tested another brined version, touted by Cook's Illustrated magazine, where the turkey is removed from the brine and left uncovered in the refrigerator overnight before roasting. That technique is supposed to produce an even crisper skin, but we found the differences between the two turkeys to be insignificant.
Brining produces an incomparably juicy turkey, with wonderful flavor and texture. If you don't have room to brine the turkey in the refrigerator, use an ice chest. Place the turkey and the brine in a double-layer food-grade plastic garbage bag such as Glad brand; bags made from recycled material may not be safe to store food. Smoosh out all the air pockets, close the bags and pack in the chest with ice. The bird will happily -- and safely -- brine away.
Brining works best with a 12- to 16-pound unstuffed turkey roasted at 400 degrees. If you need to serve more people, it's best to roast two smaller turkeys. However, if you do choose to brine a bigger bird, figure that a 20- to 22-pound brined turkey may take 3 1/2-4 1/2 hours to cook. The oven temperature should be the same (350 degrees) as for the unbrined Big Bird instructions that follow.
Here's how to brine the turkey, along with a re-cap of the best way to roast an unbrined turkey, the best way to roast a large turkey, and the best way to barbecue a turkey -- all unstuffed. We found it's best to bake the stuffing separately, but for the best way to roast a stuffed turkey see the chart elsewhere on this page.
In all cases, roasting times may vary depending on the temperature of the turkey when it goes in the oven, the accuracy of the oven thermostat, and how many times you open the oven door (each time the door is opened, the oven temperature drops 75 degrees).
To be sure it's done, the turkey's internal temperature should be 165 degrees at the thickest part of the thigh. When pricked with a fork, the juices should run clear. Before carving let the turkey rest 20-30 minutes after taking it outof the oven; the internal temperature will continue to rise several degrees.
You can make gravy from the drippings of a brined bird according to the accompanying instructions.
BEST WAY BRINED TURKEY
This is the Food staff's favorite turkey. Brine the turkey for 12 to 24 hours, using the accompanying recipe for the Chez Panisse brine.
Before roasting, rinse and dry the turkey well, and roast according to the directions for the Traditional turkey below, but do not sprinkle the turkey with salt.
Start checking the internal temperature after about 1 1/2 hours of roasting time. If the legs begin to overbrown, cover them loosely with foil. Roast untilthe internal temperature measured in the thigh reaches 165 degrees, about 2-2 3/4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread 2 tablespoons of softened butter over the skin and sprinkle 4 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground pepper over the skin and in the cavity. Tuck the wing tips under, truss the legs and place the turkey on a v-shaped rack in a roasting pan. Tent the breast with foil and place the turkey in the oven.
After about 1 hour, remove the foil and baste the turkey with 1/2 cup chicken stock. Re-baste it with pan drippings and more stock, if desired, every 20 minutes.
Roast the turkey until the internal thigh temperature reaches 165 degrees, 1 3/4-2 1/4 hours.
BEST WAY BARBECUED
Brine the turkey according to the accompanying recipe, then rinse and dry the turkey well. Rub the skin with 2 tablespoons of softened butter and sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoons of pepper on the skin and inside the cavities.
Prepare a covered grill with a charcoal fire, centering an aluminum or metal drip pan directly under the grill and arranging the coals on either side. Soak applewood chips as directed on the package, then sprinkle a handful over the hot coals.
Place the prepared turkey on the grill, close the cover and cook the turkey until the internal thigh temperature registers 165 degrees, about 2 1/2-3 hours.
Add additional coals and soaked chips as needed to maintain an even temperature and smokiness. Cover the turkey with aluminum foil if it begins to overbrown.
BEST WAY BIG BIRD
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 20- to 22-pound turkey as directed for the Traditional bird, but double the amount of softened butter, salt and pepper. Roast and baste (using about 1 cup of stock) according to the Traditional directions. Cover the legs with foil if they begin to overbrown.
Roast until the internal thigh temperature registers 165 degrees, about 3 1/2 hours.
CHEZ PANISSE'S TURKEY BRINE
- 2 1/2 gallons cold water
- 2 cups kosher salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 bay leaves, torn into pieces
- 1 bunch fresh thyme, or 4 tablespoons dried
- 1 whole head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
- 5 whole allspice berries, crushed
- 4 juniper berries, smashed
INSTRUCTIONS: Place the water in a large non-reactive pot that can easily hold the liquid and the turkey. Add all the ingredients and stir for a minute or two until the sugar and salt dissolve. Put the turkey into the brine and refrigerate for 24 hours. If the turkey floats to the top, cover it with plastic wrap and weight it down with a plate and cans to keep it completely submerged in the brine. Note: You may halve or double the recipe. The important thing is to prepare enough brine to cover the turkey completely. To roast: Remove the bird from the brine and drain well. Pat dry. Follow the accompanying Best Way Brined Turkey instructions for roasting.
BRINED TURKEY GRAVY
INSTRUCTIONS: Pan juices from a brined bird may be saltier than from an unbrined one, so you may not want to use all of them. Strain the pan drippings from the turkey roasting pan into a freezer-proof container. Cool the drippings, then freeze them so the fat will rise to the top and harden. Meanwhile, combine equal amounts of unsalted butter and flour (about 1/2 cup of each). Cook this roux over medium heat, stirring, until it begins to look grainy, about 3-4 minutes. Heat about 3 1/2-4 cups of turkey stock or chicken broth or equal amounts of water and stock in a sauce pot. Whisk in a bit of the roux and bring to a simmer to thicken. Add more roux, whisking, until the gravy thickens as desired.
(You may not need all the roux; any leftover can be refrigerated or frozen for later.) Remove the pan drippings from the freezer and discard the hardened fat off the top. Add the drippings to the gravy, a tablespoon at a time, to balance the seasonings. Add herbs, wine or pepper to taste, as desired.