Years ago, dreaming of a career in Culinary Art, I never missed an episode of Martha Stewart Living. Nowadays, of course, I am working full time in the Culinary Industry, having earned my degree and spent years as a Chef, Chef Instructor and Baker. I still remember those MSL shows with fondness, and in particular, one which featured Virginia-born, James Beard Award-winning Chef Chris Schlesinger.
On the show to demonstrate how to best cook a Thanksgiving turkey, Chef Schlesinger recommended brining the bird for many hours or days before roasting it. Brining was a new technique for me, and I was eager to try it. I've been using this method every year since then with unfailing success.
It is a somewhat challenging method, as it requires planning, space, and strength, but it virtually guarantees juicy, flavorful turkey, which will not be dry, even if you over-bake it.
Here is what you need:
3 cups Kosher salt
1 quart of cheap, bottom shelf whiskey
Large, watertight, food-grade container
First, remember you must thaw your turkey safely. If it is frozen, place it in the refrigerator and allow it to thaw for ONE day per every FOUR pounds of bird weight. So if your turkey is 12 pounds, allow 3 days to thaw.
Once your bird is properly thawed, gather your supplies. I picked up a cheap, food-safe plastic container at my local Restaurant Supply house, but you can use a large pot or even a cooler. (Be sure to wash these containers with hot water and soap before storing them for the year) Hardware store plastic bins are generally not made from food-safe plastic, so its better to go with food grade containers. (Restaurant Supply houses are open to the public and are wonderfully cheap places to buy kitchen supplies. There is at least one in every city).
Place the turkey in the container and fill with cold water until the bird just barely floats. Store in the refrigerator, or in a cold room which maintains a temperature of no warmer than 41 degrees, but no colder than 30 degrees. Because I live in a colder part of the country, I usually store the container on my back porch in the shade. Because it is going to be above 40 degrees today, and tomorrow, I'm starting the brining process with ice, and ensuring the temperature never gets above 45, using an Instant-Read thermometer.
This is the part that requires strength; a container of 12-18 pounds of turkey, and filled with water can be dreadfully heavy. Just go slowly and carefully, and you should be fine. I find that 3 days in the brine works best for a turkey weighing between 12-18 pounds. Rotate the turkey every day to ensure all sides are exposed to the bring. On Thanksgiving, bake according to recommended times. I find http://www.butterball.com/calculators-and-conversions is an accurate and easy calculator to source your baking times from. Generally, however, a 12-18 pound unstuffed turkey should take 3- 3 1/2 hours.
There are as many ways to cook your Thanksgiving turkey as there are moms and grandmoms. This is only one of them. I think you'll find that it is simple, easy and delicious! Happy Thanksgiving!!