I am toying with brining my turk this year. It is a frozen bird weighing in at about 18 or so lbs. Can anyone tell me what they have done that has achieved good results. For some reason I am skeptical even though I have known others who have done it.
It is not a butterball... it is not fresh... it is just a frozen bird of modest background. It probably needs help beyond my current cooking powers.
I've been doing this for many years now, and it's always successful. I've tried heritage birds and free range ones, but I keep going back to whatever is on sale. I keep telling myself that I should prefer the fancy fowl, but, though I can taste a slight difference in flavor, I don't really prefer the designer turkeys.
I make a very simple brine of salt, sugar, and a few tablespoons of lemon and orange zest. For every quart of water, I add 34 grams of salt and 10 grams of sugar. This is a little less salt than some recipes call for, but then you can use the drippings for gravy without having to dilute them too much. I don't add herbs, as I like a very clear turkey-y (if that's a word) flavor. You can add any herbs you like, but I stay away from onion and garlic in the brine as I feel they give the turkey an "unfresh" flavor. (I do use lots of both when roasting, though.) An 18 pound turkey will need about 4-6 quarts. I brine about 24 hours. Much longer may result in changes in texture. Rinse the bird well, and dry thoroughly. I then cover it loosely with a dish towel and let it dry for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator. This is not really necessary, but I find it helps crisp the skin. I then season it inside and out with a little bit of salt and a lot of pepper. I roast it unstuffed, though I put a handful of parsley and other assorted herbs in the cavity at this time. I also usually start the bird breast side down, and flip it over after the back has become golden brown. I baste occasionally (when I think of it) with unsalted broth (from the giblets and assorted chicken parts collected over the previous few months) and now and then paint the skin with melted butter. The skin turns a lovely deep gold and crisps up beautifully.
Best of luck to you, and I hope this helps.
The basic proportions for brine are 1 cup kosher salt to 1 gallon water. You can add sugar, herbs, other flavors etc. but the salt/water are what do the work. Make sure the brine is chilled when you put the turkey in, and that that brine solution covers the turkey completely. The turkey may float in this, you can weight it down with a ziploc bag filled with ice or water.
Once the turkey is brined and air-dried, prepare as usual but taste the drippings before putting them into your gravy in case they are very salty.