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Turkey advice

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This Thanksgiving I will be roasting a turkey for the first time in about 25 years. I am getting a 12 to 14 pound fresh (never frozen) free range turkey and I want to get it right! It is expensive for me and I can't afford to roast one for practice. I will cooking the stuffing seperately. There will be 12 people for dinner but only 5 will actually eat turkey - the rest are vegatarian or vegan.
I would like to serve the bird in the traditional way - whole on a platter but I would like moist breast and cooked dark meat. Help- I feel like a novice! Any suggestions would be great.

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  1. 1/4 up some citrus (oranges, tangerines, grapefruit), crush a few cloves of garlic, get a couple sprigs of rosemary, toss with lots of salt and pepper. Stuff the cavity of the bird with mixture. Rub the outsidde with salt and pepper. Cook the bird breastside down, flip towards the end to brown the breast. I baste with a butter,ginger, orange zest, whiskey mixture.
    note: I bbq my bird.

    1. I think the most important thing regardless of how you cook it is to get a thermometer. Most turkeys get overcooked and dried out. Get a thermometer so you can monitor its progress.

      1. Brine it, with or without seasonings. Guarantees moistness, even if you over cook by accident, and maximum flavor.

        11 Replies
        1. re: mcf

          agree 100% , brining is the only way to go. Dont waste your money buying one from Williams Sonoma or some gourment shop, its very easy to make your own.

          1. re: baldwinwood

            Can someone explain the thought of brining to me? It must work, it's recommended on every cooking show, however, soaking a bird in a salt solution seems counter productive to me. Doesn't salt pull OUT the moisture?

            I've always roasted mine by slicing apples, oranges and lemons and placing those in the cavities along with rosemary, thyme and seasonings. I also slide some lemon and rosemary under the skin. Thankfully it's always come out very moist.

            1. re: grnidkjun

              due to the osmosis property of turkeys evens out moisture in the water and the turkey then it brings in the salt. along with the salt you can add what ever types of seasoning you want such as sage or garlic.

              1. re: fabian3dg

                Thank you.. maybe I'll give it a try. :)

                1. re: grnidkjun

                  Think of it this way. Salt holds onto water. If you can get salt into the bird, that salt will hold onto water.

                  It also seasons it nicely.


                  1. re: Davwud

                    The salt actually denatures, or uncoils, the protein molecule strands, which then allow them to hold onto that moisture. And therefore, no need to baste! But make sure you air dry that skin (that's why I dry brine instead of wet brine) if you want it to brown & crisp up nicely.

                    1. re: Phurstluv

                      i've always wanted to to try dry brining. unfortunately, we just don't have the fridge space to do so. (i live in a condo)... so. every year, it is wet brining with ice cubes everywhere in a camping ice chest. it makes a huge difference.

                      try alton brown's brining formula. add herbs and spices (junipers) and citris peels to your brew.

                      1. re: jeniyo

                        I have no desire to try to wet brine a 14 lb bird! And the thought of cleaning the cooler out so it doesn't have raw poultry germs in it skeeves me out!! If I HAD to, I would use my husband's old beer cooler he used when he used to homebrew. Basically a modified garbage can. But, I've gotta say, the dry brine just works so well and is super convenient for me, I doubt I'll ever wet brine a bird again!!

                        Plus you can always rub & stuff with citrus, other herbs, which I do right before I roast. Comes out beautifully.

                        1. re: Phurstluv

                          If it's big enough, you can use the vegetable drawer in your fridge. Or if your bird is small enough.


                          1. re: Davwud

                            As long as there is sufficient room all around the turkey so the air can circulate.

                            1. re: Phurstluv

                              I buy a cheap styrofoam cooler for a couple bucks from the grocery store. Then toss it and the "turkey germs" out after I'm dont brining.

        2. Don't baste. Basting means constantly opening the oven door and letting all the heat out. It'll take longer to cook and dry out the bird.

          Also, separate the skin from the breast meat and slide some chilled butter tabs in there.


          1. In addition to brining, I roast my turkey breast side down for the first 2/3 of cooking. No basting and ensures moist breast meat. Good luck!

            1. Dry brining is much easier and less hassle than wet brining. Use about 1/4 cup kosher salt and rub all over the bird, and in the cavity. Set bird on a wire rack over a sheet pan in the coldest part of your fridge. Fine Cooking has the techniques spelled out if you want to look it up. I tried it several years back and it was the BEST TURKEY EVER. Everyone raved. Moist, juicy and skin browned up beautifully, since it was nice & dried out.

              Also, roast on the breast first, then turn over, breast side up, for rest of cooking time. PS - 12 - 14 lbs bird will leave you with A LOT of leftovers, if you only have 5 people eating it. Maybe you should go with a 10 lb one? And yes, a fresh bird makes all the difference, so don't get frozen or kosher, if you're dry or wet brining.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Phurstluv

                Kim Severson has a good piece on "dry brining" in this weeks NY Times:


                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Cool story. I think I would like that reporter! Too bad I can't stand her paper!!!

                  Anyway, interesting how they "dry brine" the bird, but then wrap it in plastic. They don't seem to let it fully dry out in the fridge, before roasting it. That is key to a super crispy & brown skin, to have it dried out . I don't know Zuni's recipe off hand, I use one from fine cooking, and it instructs you to refrigerate your bird uncovered overnight. I have done this dozens of times with whole chickens, even just chicken parts. And more times than most, it ends up in the fridge for more than 24 hours. And they're always moist, flavorful, with crispy browned skin.

                  The nice part about having a 14 lb bird is that it will be even more forgiving in this department. I plan to have it sitting in the fridge, getting air chilled & dry, for about 3 days. Will let you know what my guests, some of which are foodies, think!

              2. A few days ago, I was going over my Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit and they had an article that said if you roast your bird, breast side down for the first hour then turn it over and finish the cooking, you'll have a bird with a juicy breast. I haven't tried it yet but you can probably go onto their website and pull it up. Good luck

                1. Totally agree with the wet brine. However, if you like crispy skin it is essential to brine your bird for 24 hours (or whatever) and then to rinse, pat dry and return to the fridge (no brine) to dry for 24 hours to dry out the skin. Otherwise you'll have flabby, moist skin.

                  1. Last year, after trying every method under the sun, I used the Zuni dry brine method, took the turkey out of the bag the night before (18 hours total dry time), and then cheated a bit by rubbing an herb butter under the skin and over the entire bird. It was the most beautiful bird I've ever seen outside of a magazine. Beautiful, even deep chestnut color and skin so crisp I literally snapped a piece in half like a cracker.

                    The recipe is the top link under "Related."

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: adrienne156

                      how was the saltiness of the meat and gravy, especially compared to wet brined?

                      1. re: qianning

                        I've dry brined for many years in a row now, and do it even on whole chickens & parts that I roast. My birds or gravy never turn out too salty, and I'm especially sensitive to it when it tastes too salty.

                        1. re: qianning

                          A lot of people seem to be concerned about salt in the gravy and I didn't have a problem with it. You use one tablespoon per five pounds, so for me that means about 4 tablespoons total over the whole bird and while that may sound like a lot, it really isn't considering the size. The meat really seemed to absorb it and the gravy turned out very well.

                          1. re: adrienne156

                            phurstluv and Adrienne thanks for the input, would either of you, or anyone else, be able to compare dry brine VERSUS wet brine as far as meat & saltiness, to be honest, although I've wet brined for years, the one down side that I've found is a distinct saltiness to the meat and especially the gravy, I'm wondering if dry brining exacerbates or mitigates this tendency.

                            1. re: qianning

                              I only wet brine boneless pork. And I'm not usually making a gravy with pork. I dry brine just about any other cut of meat with a bone, and large roasts. The nice thing about poultry is that it seems to be able to handle the seasoning, as as adrienne put it, it's only about 1/4 cup of salt per bird, (that's how much I use, anyway) so the meat is nicely seasoned, and the salt does not seem to leech out into the drippings, it stays in the meat, enabling the protein molecules to absorb or retain more moisture and keeps it juicy.

                              Make sure it is kosher or coarse salt you are brining with not table salt, which will render it too salty to taste, b/c the crystals are much too fine.

                              1. re: Phurstluv

                                thanks for your input phurst, it really brought things home for me, as 1/4 of salt is way more than i would use on a turkey if not brining, so probably i'm just sensitive to salt at a lower level. That said I do use kosher salt for brining, and always use Julia Child's dry salt marinade for pork roast on the bone, but at a slightly lower salt to meat ratio than she reccommends..

                                does anyone know, is there a threshold level at which the dry brining doesn't work or otherwise goes kerfluey? I'm thinking of dry brining at a rate of say 1 tbsp/5-6lbs rather thar 1tbsp/4lbs.

                                1. re: qianning

                                  Nope, and that'll be fine. I think you will be happy with your bird at that ratio.

                            2. re: adrienne156

                              Sounds like a HUGE amount of salt to me. I have often wet-brined (use a food-grade plastic bag to line your cooler), so I really can't know how much salt actually remains in the bird. I have never tried dry-brining so I also don't know how much salt the bird retains. If I were not using either brining method, I would use about 2 teaspoons of salt for a 20# bird.

                              1. re: greygarious

                                in fact this is the question I am trying to resolve...how much salt does the turkey retain in dry-brining vs. wet brining. I have wet brined many turkeys and while I do it because it definintely helps solve the dry breast problem, it also definitely leads to a saltier meat and gravy, any saltier and it would be above my guests' and my threshold...so while dry brining sounds attractive, I just want to make sure I'm not going to end up with an even saltier bird.

                                1. re: greygarious

                                  If I were simply roasting the bird and not trying to cure it, I would definitely use less than 1 Tbsp. per 5 lbs., but 2 tsp. for 20 lbs. of turkey still sounds way under to me. I can see how that much would season the skin, but not the meat itself.

                                  Oversalted and spongy meat is the reason I decided to look for an alternative to wet brining. I also couldn't tell you how much of the salt actually stays on the bird, but one thing that is recommended over and over again on the SF board is the Zuni chicken, so obviously Judy Rodgers is doing something right. You could try a test chicken if you're unsure.

                                  1. re: adrienne156

                                    I have used the salt cure method on poultry, poultry parts, roasts & steaks for several years now. I have never had an overly salty occurence yet, and I am especially sensitive to it, my mom had us on a low salt diet for years and I can tell immediately when something is oversalted.

                          2. Saw all the suggestions about brining and agree in principle, BUT there is an easier way. Especially for a 12-14 lb. bird. Personally, I HATE dealing with raw poultry and wouldn't want to clean the cooler and other stuff after the preparation. Solution - buy a KOSHER TURKEY. The process of koshering is essentially the same principle as brining, but with a different purpose. To kosher meat, you soak and salt in a brining solution. The kosher purpose is to kill any bacteria and limit the amount of blood left in the meat. For example, I am buying a 14 lb. kosher fresh turkey at TJ's for $2.29/lb. Yes, kosher meat is more expensive, but the kosher process also has a higher quality standard, sick/diseased/marginal animals cannot be used. Just my 2 cents.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Diane in Bexley

                              Just don't freak out about the pinfeathers on a kosher turkey. They usually have them.

                              1. re: Samalicious

                                Sam, yes, good point. You do have to "groom" a kosher turkey but that just proves it is minimally processed and a far superior bird.

                              2. re: Diane in Bexley

                                You can buy a brined TJ's turkey, non-kosher, for $1.79/#, which would be $7 less.

                              3. Use one of those Reynolds roasting bags and cook it with the breast down and the last 30 minutes upright with the bag open to get some color on the breast. The breast won't be dry even without brining.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: monku

                                  Thank you for your suggestion. I did purchase the Reynolds roasting bag and wanted to know if using the roasting bag was a good method.

                                  1. re: classylady

                                    Yes I love using a roasting bag. I cooked a turkey yesterday. I made a herb butter to rub on and under the skin. Then I stuffed the cavity with cut up apples, onions, and celery. I also put pieces of onion, celery, and carrots in the bag along with the tablespoon of flour. The turkey was so juicy with a nice brown, crispy skin and I used the stock in the bag to make gravy. I've also put cut up lemons and oranges in the cavity with good results too. And the best part- no mess!

                                    1. re: classylady

                                      Oh and I don't cook it upside down or open the door at all while it's cooking. I just put it on the oven and forget it for a couple of hours.

                                      1. re: classylady

                                        I like using the roasting bag because it saves the hassle of basting the turkey and the cleanup after is quick. Yes, the bag is going to be open and you're going to get the juices in the pan, but you won't be scrubbing the roasting pan.

                                        Give the "breast down" method a try, you will never have a dry breast ever again. I originally saw it done on a Food TV segment at a restaurant that makes and serves many turkeys everyday.