This year, we had a 20 pounder and I decided to do my own brining. I definitely think it was worth the extra hassle. The meat was juicy and flavorful and I believe that it definitely made a significant difference.
Last year, I bought a pre-brined turkey from Trader Joe's and I think this year was better, though it is difficult to remember and compare against something I had a year ago. Even if it wasn't, brining is not difficult, so I'd rather not pay more for the pre-brined and do it myself.
I used Alton Brown's brine recipe and used the same tips and tricks I used last year to get a nice juicy bird with perfectly browned crispy skin.
Here's a recap. The night before, brine the turkey. I put the turkey and brine in a gigantic brining bag and stuck the whole thing in the fridge overnight.
(adapted from Good Eats)
- 1 cup of kosher salt
- 1/2 cup of light brown sugar
- 1 tbs of black peppercorns
- 1 1/2 tsp of allspice berries
- 1 1/2 tsp of chopped candied ginger
- 2 gallons of water
- Heat 1 gallon of water and mix the rest of the ingredients in until the salt and sugar are dissolved.
- Let the mixture cool. I made mine 2 nights before and chilled it in the fridge overnight. If you don't have time to chill the mixture, add lots of ice to bring the temperature down (take that amount of liquid out of the 2nd gallon of water if you do).
- The night before, put the turkey in a large brining bag and pour in the mixture along with another gallon of water.
- Make sure the turkey is fully submerged and that the cavity is filled with the brining liquid instead of a big air bubble.
- Place the brining bag in a large pan (I used the roasting pan) to catch leaks and refrigerate it overnight.
- Vegetable oil
- Lemon zest
- Aromatics (such as onions, apples, lemons, oranges, etc)
- Take your brined turkey out of the fridge.
- Dump all the brine down the sink and rinse the turkey well (be sure to get both the inside and the outside)
- Carefully use your fingers to separate the skin from the meat whereever you can reach (mostly the breast).
- Either pat the turkey dry, or put it on the baking rack in the roasting pan and place it in the fridge for a while to dry out the skin.
- Flip the turkey so that it's on the baking rack, breast side down.
- Place a bag of ice inside the cavity, resting against the breast and another bag of ice underneath the turkey breast.
- Let the rest of the bird come up closer to room temperature while icing the breast. Since the breast tends to cook faster than the dark meat, this will help the two reach the perfect temperature at the same time, resulting in perfectly cooked and juicy light and dark meat.
- Mix the oil, finely chopped rosemary, minced garlic and lemon zest together in a bowl.
- Remove the ice bags from the turkey.
- Slather the mixture all over the outside of the turkey and underneath the skin in the areas that you were able to separate it from the meat.
- Generously salt and pepper both the inside and outside of the turkey.
- Stuff the turkey with the aromatics.
- Place one probe thermometer in the deepest part of the breast without hitting the bone and another in the deepest part the leg and the body, without hitting the bone.
- Put the turkey into a 500 degree oven for 30 minutes until the skin is crispy and browned.
- Cover the breast with foil and turn the oven down to 350 degrees and cook until both thermometers reach 161 degrees.
- Take the turkey out and tent it while letting the turkey rest for at least 15 minutes.
- Carve the turkey and serve it to your hungry guests!