Our goal in this article is simple: To help you and your family achieve a juicy, succulent, out-of-this-world tasting turkey; the centre piece of most Thanksgiving & Christmas dinners and other special occasions.
We start with a quality certified organic turkey, humanely raised without the use of antibiotics and growth hormones. We then take the turkey, pamper it in a salty bath, stuff it with a classic stuffing if your heart so desires, and massage it with an herbed butter before roasting it to perfection.
We’ve also discussed “spatchcocking” the turkey, which drastically reduces cooking time as well as ensures even cooking in all parts of the bird.
Our team at The Healthy Butcher put together the following two videos, which summarize the entire article. If you would rather read the instructions, continue below the videos.
Sizing your Turkey
To figure out how big of a turkey you need (in pounds), multiply the number of guests by 1.3, then round up. For example: For 11 guests, your turkey should weigh 15 lb (11 x 1.3 = 14.3). Keep in mind that if you’re buying a fresh turkey from The Healthy Butcher, or another quality butcher shop for that matter, you may have to suck it up and buy a turkey larger than you need for the one dinner. Why? Small farmers that grow quality turkeys usually grow them only for the holidays and use these occasions to sell larger birds. But don’t fret, buying a larger turkey means more leftovers. Freeze the extra cooked turkey and you’ll have quick dinners for some time; the options are endless – stir-fry dishes, pizzas, fajitas, chilis, sandwiches, salads and soups are only a few.
Although brining isn’t mandatory, it certainly is the key to achieving The Perfect Turkey. Yes, it involves a little planning and a little extra work. Trust us, it’s worth it. The brine not only brings out the turkey’s flavour, but is vital for juiciness and texture. The brine we suggest is composed predominantly of salt. The salt you choose is very important. A good quality sea salt or Kosher salt works better. And the finer the salt, the less you need.
½ cup Kosher salt
½ cup sugar
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 bunch fresh sage
3 tablespoons black pepper corns, coarsely ground
2 Bay leaves, torn into pieces
1 head of Garlic, cloves separated and peeled
Instructions for Brining
Clean the turkey by removing the giblets and any pin feathers. Rinse well under cold tap water. Heat 2 litres of water in a pot, add all brine ingredients into the water, and stir until the salt and sugar are fully dissolved. Chill the brine mixture in the fridge. Add another 3 litres of cold water to the brine.
For the steeping, you can use a deep roasting pan, casserole dish, or other container big enough to house the turkey and place it in your fridge. Or, if you’re like most people and don’t have such a container in your arsenal, use two strong, brining bags or white plastic bags (not made of recycled materials), and put the turkey with the brine in the doubled-bag. Then, you can place the bagged-and-steeped turkey in a cooler with a significant supply of ice to ensure the turkey stays cold. The goal in either method is to submerge the bird completely, therefore add more water if needed. If you’re using a roasting pan and the turkey is not completely submerged, turn the turkey every few hours and cover with plastic wrap each time. If you’re using the bag method, squeeze out as much air as possible and close each bag separately. Make sure to place a bag of ice or other weighted object on the top of the turkey to ensure it stays submerged and does not float to the top.
Brine for up to 24 hours for very large birds (20 pounds and up). Avoid over-brining which will result in a salty bird; overnight for 8 hours works perfectly for most turkeys. Before seasoning or stuffing, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse with cold water, and dry with paper towels.
Seasoning, Stuffing and Gravy
There is no shortage of stuffing and gravy recipes in cookbooks and on the Internet. But what it comes down to is this – if you are going to stuff The Perfect Turkey or make a gravy, we recommend following the recipe that your Mom uses, your Grandma uses, or the one your Aunt Fill-in-the-name uses year-after-year. Seriously, turkey at Thanksgiving is a comfort food- use a recipe that closely resembles what you associate stuffing and gravy to taste like during this occasion. That recipe will yield the best results for you and your family. Be sure to stuff the turkey right before cooking (not the day before) to avoid the growth of bacteria in your stuffing.
We do, however, strongly suggest the following buttering your turkey. You can make a herb butter by blending the following ingredients in a food processor:
8 tablespoons (one stick) softened unsalted butter
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped shallot
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 tablespoon chopped sage
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon
Before cooking your turkey, slide a small rubber spatula between the skin and the breast meat to separate them. Use a spoon and your fingertips to spread about half of the herb butter evenly over the whole breast area. Rub the remaining butter all over the outside of the bird. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty!
Season the inside of the cavity with salt, pepper, and two quartered onions.
Pre-heat your oven to 325ºF (163ºC). Higher temperatures may toughen protein and cause shrinkage. Although not essential, a cup or two of stock added to the bottom of the roasting pan increases moistness. A thermometer is essential for accuracy in cooking a large turkey.
Roast the turkey, breast-side up, until a thermometer inserted into the thigh reads 165ºF (74ºC) for an unstuffed turkey or 175-180ºF (80ºC) for a stuffed turkey. (See roasting chart below for approximate roasting times). Yes, we know that 165ºF doesn’t jive with other recipes you’ll find which call for 180-185. At 180º, you will have an overdone and dry turkey. At 165ºF, turkey is moist and succulent. A temperature of 165ºF is enough (actually 160ºF is enough) to kill contaminants, including salmonella. Plus, keep in mind that the internal temperature will continue to rise several degrees while the turkey is resting for the recommended 20-30 minutes before carving. A stuffed turkey, unfortunately, requires a higher thigh temperature to ensure the stuffing has reached 165ºF – check this with your thermometer as well.
For larger birds (i.e. 15lbs and up), cover the entire pan with a loose tent of aluminum foil for the first 1½ hours, then remove to allow the turkey to brown.
Basting the turkey is always a good idea, but limit the number of times you open and close your oven (once an hour is sufficient). Opening the oven will alter the length of cooking time. Remove turkey when cooking is completed and let stand 25 minutes to allow the juices to set.
Approximate Fresh Turkey Roasting Times @ 325ºF in a Conventional Oven
(every oven is different – convection ovens will reduce the time needed – use this table as a planning guide only; measure the thigh temperature 45 minutes before the estimated time in the table and gauge at that point how much more time your turkey will need.)
And enjoy the leftovers as much as the dinner! Check out our Leftover Sandwich Recipe!