With 20 Years of Cooking Experience I've Had My Share Of Battles With Whole Turkeys! This Article I Will Share My Techniques & Knowledge.
Finding The Perfect Turkey
Ideally, the "perfect" turkey depends on what you consider to be your standard. There are quite a few things to consider before choosing the best bird for the occasion. Things to consider are the class of turkey as well as the type which differentiates between fresh and frozen. Turkeys are categorized depending on their age. The age of the turkey also determines flavor and tenderness. Below are the age categories:
Fryer / Roaster- A small turkey about 4 to 8 lbs, usually no older than 4 months.
Young Roaster- A 4 to 9 month old turkey which has tender meat, smooth, soft skin. These are the popular turkeys used for roasting ranging from 8-24 pounds. This is my preference
Yearling- A 12 month old turkey also with tender meat, but not as tender or flavorful as a young turkey.
Mature/Old- 15 months or older with tougher meat, which makes it less desirablefor roasting.
The "type" of turkey depends on a few factors to say the least. Below i have listed the differences in type.
Turkey labeled "fresh" has never been chilled to below 26 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the point that turkeys begins to freeze due to size difference. Fresh turkey should not be consumed after the "use by date" which is usually 2-3 days after purchasing. Note that these turkey are usually a bit higher in price.
To be considered "frozen" a turkey must be cooled to a temperature of 0°F or below. Commercial companies use a flash freezing process called IQF or Instantly Quick Frozen that freezes turkeys to 0°F or below very quickly to ensure that the quality will remain at the same quality as the day it was originally frozen. This is a common practice in the food industry and is in no way harmful. This is the more affordable and popular purchased type. It should be noted that if using a frozen turkey, the thawing process is a few days depending on the weight. For every 4-5 pounds of weight, allow 24 hours to thaw refrigerated. I allow my turkey to thaw at least 3-4 days to be on the safe side.(I use 18-22 pound whole turkeys)
To Brine or Not To Brine
In my opinion, its a no-brainer. Brining turkey ensures that the meat is tender, moist and flavorful from the inside out.
Turkey does not have much fat, to prevent the meat from becoming tough and dry and no one wants dry turkey. In this case, the brine helps us avoid being the joke of the next 364 days.
A brine is a very basic solution of water and salt, and sometimes sugar. By soaking the birds in a flavorful, exquisite solution, we control the moisture of the turkey.
During brining, the turkey absorbs moisture, that assists during the cooking process and even after cooking it remains moist in the event of reheating. Brining allows the turkey to be seasoned inside out which i prefer.
Do not use turkeys labeled as “self-basting” “kosher” or “enhanced” for brining. Those have been in some way flavored previously and brining would result in an over-seasoned bird.
Below i will include my go-to brine that invites any addition to meet your own specific tastes.
Brine The Turkey
This ratio is for 18-22 pound turkey so adjust recipe if you are using a smaller bird.(cut recipe in half)
10 lemons, halved
48 bay leaves
2 bunch (8 oz.) flat-leaf parsley
2 bunch (2 oz.) thyme
1 cup honey
2 head garlic, cut through the middle sideways
1/2 cup whole black peppercorns
4 cups (20 oz.) kosher salt
4 gallons water or 2 gallons water & 2 gallons apple cider
Combine all the ingredients in a large pot, cover, bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and chill before using. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Pour the brine into a container large enough to hold the turkey, add the turkey, and refrigerate for 8-12 hours. The turkey may get too salty if its brined for more than 12 hours. If using the apple cider, a few extra hours will not hurt.
Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse with cold running water, pat dry with paper towels and let it rest at room temperature for over an hour. You know what time it is now.
Preparing The Turkey
Use a large enough roasting pan for the turkey you picked. If you do not have a meat thermometer you should get one unless you chose a turkey with the "pop up"indicator.
With latex gloves on, use your fingers to gently rub underneath the skin on the breast to separate the skin from the breast meat. Take your time as this is a crucial step to getting that crispy skin. Simply get underneath and rub side to side until you feel it is not directly attached to the meat.(do not tear the meat in any way, you simply want to create an air pocket between the meat and skin).
Set the oven for 325 degrees F. These times are not in any way optional. Always consider an extra 30 minutes or so cooking time in the case of doubt, but im here to tell you it is not needed unless the oven has been open many times which interrupts the temperature.
8-12lbs---------- 2 3/4 to 3 hours
12-14lbs---------- 3 to 3 3/4 hours
14-18lbs-----------3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
18-20lbs-----------4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
20-24lbs-----------4 1/2 to 5 hours
Roasting The Turkey
- 1 Each Whole Turkey 18-22 lbs, thawed & brined
- 2 Tablespoons Black Pepper
- 1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 1/2 Cup Dijon Mustard
- 2 Bottles Apple Cider
- As Needed Dry White Wine
- 4 Each Yellow Onion, Halved
- 1 Bunch Fresh Tyme
- 1/2 Bunch Fresh Parsley
- 1/4 Bunch Fresh Sage
- 6 Each Bay Leaves
- Heat oven to 450 degrees. In large roasting pan, add the cider and enough wine to fill the pan to a 1/4-1/2 inch depth. Add half the yellow onion, fresh herbs, and bay leaves. Rub the turkey with the dijon, kosher salt and black pepper on all sides. Stuff the remaining onion quarters and the lemon quarters into the turkey cavity. Brush the turkey skin generously with oil or melted butter. You can also use pan spray. This will help crisp the skin.
- Place turkey breast side up on a roasting rack. Set the turkey inside roasting pan. Transfer pan to oven and roast 30 minutes. Cover with pan sprayed aluminum foil. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of a leg or thigh reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees, about 3 1/2 - 4 hours with consistent basting every 40 minutes or so. Transfer turkey to a cutting station. Let rest for 30 minutes before carving.