With less than two weeks to go, it’s time to start your grocery list for Thanksgiving dinner. If you live in Las Vegas, that might even mean two Thanksgiving dinners. With friends and family that work all kinds of crazy casino shifts and schedules, we have a hard time fitting everybody in on the official day (or the same day, for that matter!).
With two Thanksgiving dinners to prepare on two different days, I’ll be headed to Albertsons for their buy-one-get-one free turkey deal. As usual, I will be using my fail proof dry brining technique to cook both turkeys. There’s no easier way to turn out a juicy, flavorful bird.
Brining works this way…soaking in a salt-water solution draws the moisture out of the bird initially but then is reabsorbed into the cells of the flesh, seasoning and moisturizing during the process. The salt works to make the turkey retain water as it roasts. The scientific name for this is diffusion and osmosis. I also feel that dry brining improves the texture of the meat (unlike wet brining). Dry brining is easier and far less messy than wet brining. The recipe and dry brining technique are straightforward. This is the method I use and I highly recommend it.
Dry Brined Roast Turkey
For a 12 pound whole thawed turkey (not Kosher which is already salted) you will need
½ cup kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoon granulated white sugar
(optional but definitely not needed-seasonings such as garlic, herbs, spices, citrus peel, wine, etc.)
Thaw, wash and dry the turkey with paper towels well. Combine the salt and sugar and gently work about a teaspoon under the skin of each breast and thigh as far as possible without tearing the skin. I carefully use the blunt end of a wooden spoon handle to gently separate the skin from the meat to reach way under the skin. Rub another teaspoon all over the outside of the bird and evenly sprinkle the remainder in the cavity.
Place in a large pan covered with plastic wrap (the pan you will be roasting the bird in will do) and refrigerate for 12-24 hours. A large plastic bag big enough to hold the bird will also work well.
To roast, rinse the bird well inside and out under cool water to remove the excess salt and dry the skin and cavity very well with paper towels. The dryer the skin, the crisper the skin will become. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine and tuck the tips of the wings under the bird. Rub the bird all over with softened butter. Place the unstuffed bird in a 350 degree oven on a rack and roast for 30 minutes.
After the first 30 minutes, lower the heat to 325 degrees then baste every 30 minutes with additional butter or pan drippings for approximately 2-3 hours or until the internal temperature taken in the thickest part of the thigh registers 155-160 degrees on a meat thermometer; juices from inside the cavity will have no trace of pink. Don’t rely on that pop-up thermometer that comes with your turkey.
Remove the turkey from the oven, place on a large platter, uncovered, to rest while you make gravy with the pan drippings. Resting allows the meat juices to redistribute and makes carving easier. The internal temperature will continue to rise about 10 degrees while it rests. This is called “carryover cooking”.
The chart below gives approximate cooking times but a meat thermometer is essential to assure that an internal temperature of 165 degrees is achieved for an unstuffed bird (the temperature should be taken in the thickest part of the thigh). Allow your turkey to rest, uncovered for 15-20 minutes before carving for easier carving and a juicier bird.
Roasting times are for a preheated 350 degree F. oven.
Approximate Roasting Times for Unstuffed Turkey
6 to 8 pounds……. 2-1/2 to 3 hours
8 to 12 pounds….. 3 to 4 hours
12 to 16 pounds…. 4 to 5 hours
16 to 20 pounds…. 5 to 5-1/2 hours
20 to 24 pounds…. 5-1/2 to 6 hours