holidays: a turkey run

Turkey Practice Run with a Chicken With Alton Brown's Brining Recipe

As you know, today is Wednesday, a day of the week we dedicate to a different country and its cuisine.  This week we have landed in Antarctica.  Because the fare of those living in Antarctica tends to be unappealing to us humans we have decided to dedicate this post to Thanksgiving preparation, namely, cooking a turkey.  But, before we launch into our sage advice about turkey preparation we would like to direct you to two websites:  Cool Antarctica and World Wildlife Fund.

At Cool Antarctica you can read some interesting facts, look at beautiful pictures and contemplate putting this destination on your bucket list.   At World Wildlife Fund you can read about their mission to protect nature and the beautiful creatures that are in danger, which includes one of our favorites, the Polar Bear.

OK folks, let’s talk turkey. Making a turkey is not as daunting a task as you may think. There is too much stress associated with the cooking of the big bird. Why is there stress? We have a couple theories: (1) many may be making a turkey for the first time. The stress associated with hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for the first time is worth of a few restless nights. After all it isn’t just about the turkey. There are side dishes and desserts. (2) Who cooks something that large during the rest of the year? Cooking a turkey that weighs 15-20 pounds is quite different than cooking an oven roaster chicken that weighs about 5 pounds. Or is it?

We contend that cooking that massive bird is not much different than cooking a small chicken. The best piece of advice that we can give you is to plan, plan, and plan! If you have a solid plan you will not fail. This is why we find Alton Brown’s recipe for brining and cooking a turkey, by far, the best out there for it is fool proof. Trust us.

But, before we get to Alton Brown’s recipe lets discuss a trial run or shall we say a “chicken run”. Part of a good plan begins with practice and as the saying goes, practice makes perfect. If you have never made a turkey having a trial run should not be an option. It should be a mandatory part of your Thanksgiving plan.

Yes, you will be doing this with a small chicken, but you will get the feel for the process, the timing (just multiplied with the turkey) and the coordination it takes to pull off the Thanksgiving feast. You have to eat dinner right? Well, make a wonderful chicken dinner with all the trimmings about 10 days before the holiday, following the same recipe for your turkey and for your sides, just in smaller portions.

Having a trial run will not cost you an arm and a leg. Roaster chickens are inexpensive and you will need all the same ingredients for the actual turkey. Think of it as doing some preliminary Thanksgiving shopping, which will actually make your major shopping trip that much easier.

Turkey Practice Run with a Chicken With Alton Brown's Brining Recipe

Obviously we needed to adjust the measurements and times for the trial run. Please note the changes in parentheses; these will be the adjustments to use for the “Chicken Run”. Also, one of the best ways to assure success is to pre-read all recipes prior to actually making them. Thanksgiving is a good time to remember all those grandmotherly quotes. Here are some of the most important ones to keep in mind:

1. Keep it Simple (Stupid) K.I.S.S.
2. Haste makes waste
Failing to plan is planning to fail.
3. Practice makes perfect.
4. Patience is a virtue (that most of us don’t have!)

We’d love to hear some of your grandmother/mother quotes. What a fun way to entertain your guests, too. Start a list of quotes and ask your guests to add their favorites. If done anonymously you can guess who wrote what quote.

Alton Brown’s Fool Proof Turkey

Ingredients

1, 14 to 16 pound, frozen young turkey (1, 5 pound oven roaster chicken)

For the brine:

1 cup kosher salt (1/3 cup)
1/2 cup light brown sugar (3 tablespoons)
1 gallon vegetable stock (1 quart)
1 tablespoon black peppercorns (1 teaspoon)
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries (1/2 teaspoon)
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger (1/2 teaspoon)
1 gallon heavily iced water (1 quart)

For the aromatics:

1 red apple, sliced (very small apple or half a normal sized apple)
1/2 onion, sliced (1/4 onion)
1 cinnamon stick (1/4 stick)
1 cup water (1/4 cup)
4 sprigs rosemary (1 sprig)
6 leaves sage (2 leaves)
Canola oil

Directions

1. 2 to 3 days before roasting:
Begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees F.

2. 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.

3. Early on 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.

4. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.

5. Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.

6. 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.

7. Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting.

8. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.

NOTE: For the “Chicken Run” preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Follow the same guidelines with the exception of time. The chicken should finish cooking in 1- 11/2 hour. If you don’t have a thermometer, buy a simple one. It is worth the money. If you can, buying the oven roaster chicken with the plastic popper that alerts you that the chicken is finished.

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12 comments

  • November 17, 2011 at 10:46 am //

    The turkey looks delicious! Man, Antarctica’s been on my bucket list, hopefully, someday…

    • November 17, 2011 at 2:34 pm //

      You are too young for a Bucket List!!!

  • November 17, 2011 at 1:36 pm //

    Delicious! I’ve read several times about Alton Browns method of making a turkey and have made one very similar to it…it’s delicious! Happy Thanksgiving!

  • November 17, 2011 at 1:45 pm //

    So so delicious!I am a little scared roasting turkey. Never did it before.

    • November 17, 2011 at 2:33 pm //

      You can do Anh, if I can do it (Marie) you can, I got this recipe from Camille, and brining as complicated as it sounds, I’m doing it for the first time this year. I’m going to use a roasting bag for the brine in the fridge though.

  • November 17, 2011 at 2:13 pm //

    This looks like a stellar turkey! Roasting meats is super delicious and now I really can’t wait until Thanksgiving!

  • November 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm //

    We’ve brined our turkey a couple of times and in both cases the results were fabulous, but I’m not convinced it’s worth the trouble. :) My husband made me promise NOT to brine the turkey this year, so we’ll see if he likes just roasting it better. I’m going to have to be satisfied with pictures of Antarctica because it’s just too cold for me! It’s beautiful, but this old body likes it warm. :)

  • November 17, 2011 at 8:18 pm //

    This looks like a perfectly roasted bird :) I love the skin just a tad crispy!

  • November 17, 2011 at 9:59 pm //

    Thank you so much for all the advice! I’m hosting a very small Thanksgiving (just 3 people) so I’m just using the Butterball turkey breasts (that way I don’t have to deal with all the gross innards), but this is such great advice for when the day comes for me to make the real, full, thing!

  • November 18, 2011 at 2:50 am //

    I agree with the others: the turkey looks fantastic! I love the combination of aromatics you’ve used for it too!

  • November 19, 2011 at 12:32 am //

    I used Alton Browns recipe for my turkey last year. BEST TURKEY I have ever made. It was so simple and perfect! Great post! I love all the advice.