Monday, December 2, 2013

Thanksgiving Turkey

When we decided to host Thanksgiving this year, we knew we would have to cook a turkey. Maybe because of its shear size or the fact it is the centerpiece of the holiday meal, the turkey can be an intimidating thing to cook! Growing up, my family used to pass an external turkey roaster around between the three families that hosted Thanksgiving, and while it may have been from 1950 and looked as though it could have easily started a fire at any moment, the turkey always came out well! While we do not have this same roaster today, in order to keep our small oven open for other dishes, Nick and I ordered a roaster online.

Stuffed Turkey!

Even armed with our roaster, we were worried about a dry bird, so we knew we wanted to brine the turkey. Prior to ordering our bird from Whole Foods, we had looked up some recipes and were contemplating which recipe to follow. A few days while in Williams-Sonoma, we saw their jarred brine on the shelf and immediately grabbed it. This brine had most of the ingredients we had seen in other recipes, and at $13 was going to be way more cost-effecting than buying a ton of spices that we likely wouldn't use very often. After we got home we looked at some of the reviews and turns out this stuff is highly regarded and sought after by many, so we figured we made a good choice.

The Brine
On the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving, Nick started the brining prep by dissolving the blend in about a gallon of boiling water, letting it cool before pouring the liquid into a giant zip-lock bag and placing it in the refrigerator overnight.

So many spices!
On Wednesday morning (in the pouring rain!) Nick picked up the turkey, brought it home and placed it in the brining bag another gallon plus 2 cups of water and 6 cups of apple cider. Once it was all zipped up, we put it in a cooler filled it with ice and put it out on our deck to hang out overnight. Before we went to bed, Nick did flip it in order to ensure even brining.

At about 9:30 in the morning, Nick took the turkey inside, rinsed off all the brine, patted it dry and let the turkey come to room temperature.

Waiting for the next step!
We also followed my grandfather's roaster instructions, and while they weren't very detailed (the prep work basically consisted of "slather the turkey in butter") they seemed to have done the trick. Once the turkey was coated in two sticks of softened butter, we packed the cavity with our homemade stuffing. This was not the cleanest job, but well worth it!

Buttered and Stuffed!
The rest of Grampa's instructions (other than the butter) were to place the bird in a cold roaster with 2 cups of water (though we used turkey stock), turn the dial to 350 degrees for the first half hour and then turn it down to 300 degrees until cooked (a quick internet search gave us a better estimate on timing). We basted the turkey a few times throughout the cooking process.

In the turkey roaster
Where we ran into a bit of trouble was in the end. About 45 mins earlier than the estimated finish time, we popped the thermometer in the turkey and it read about 165, so it should have been done with a bit of resting on the counter. The one downside to the the roaster is that the top of the bird does not brown too well, so we placed it in a roasting pan, spread a little olive oil over the top and popped it in the oven to brown up. After 10 mins we took the turkey out, but the temperature on the thermometer was somehow reading 150 degrees! We have no idea what happened so we put it back in the oven for about another 10 minutes. My mom and I suggested to cut into it but Nick did not want to ruin it, so my mom reached back for an old wives tale and shook the leg, and since it moved easily it implied that the turkey was done. We took our chances...and it was done - phew!

Ready to carve!
Another Angle
My family also makes their traditional gravy using the drippings in the bottom of the pan. The key ingredients here - Wondra and my mom.  While whisking vigoursly, my mom generously shook the Wondra into the roasting pan with the heat on the oven set between 300-350 degrees. Once the gravy started to thicken we seasoned as necessary. If it gets too thick, you can just add a bit more stock. We actually added about a teaspoon of Bell's Seasoning to give it a bit more flavor.

Gravy Kit!
While I have no photos of the fully carved turkey, I can assure you Nick did a lovely job. Even though the instructional videos made it seem simple, the leg joint was way more difficult to pop out than he was lead to believe! Overall the turkey was flavorful and incredibly moist. Even better - it was warm when it arrived on the table!

While seemingly intimidating, we found that turkey was definitely doable. I am not sure if the brine, the roaster, or the butter made a huge difference, but now that we did it once and it came out well, I won't hurry to change anything just yet!

How was your Thanksgiving? What are your tricks to cooking a turkey?


  1. Looks like you guys did an amazing job with that turkey! My turkey trick: dad. But seriously, a good thermometer, salting or brining, and using foil as needed to keep it from drying out. I also made a turkey a few weeks ago with the legs separated and cooked in a different pan and it was a great way to keep the white meat from drying out.

  2. Your turkey came out beautiful! Sadly, I switched it up and used olive oil instead of butter on the outside, and the wings were black within about 30 minutes while the center was bright pink. We salvaged some turkey, but it was not my best.

  3. awesome job! so impressed. I am sure your guests were too!

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