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Nov 26, 2011 09:06 AM

Your favorite no-brine recipe for roasted whole turkey

Assuming that some people will be cooking whole turkey again in a month, there should still be interest in cooking methods. I know I'm flying in the face of most "expert" opinion, but brined turkeys have always tasted inferior to my unbrined one, IMO. There hasn't been much on this forum from the no-brine crowd, so I'll describe one way I've done an unbrined turkey in the past, and I'd love to hear others.

I think the most important factor for a yummy bird is the bird itself. I've never used a turkey that's been frozen. Everyone understands that w/ chicken freezing breaks down the cell walls causing the meat to lose flavorful juices. Why should it be otherwise w/ turkey? I believe that pre-basted turkeys and brining turkeys originated to compensate for the lost juice in frozen birds. So I've always bought my bird where I can order a fresh one that arrives the day before I'll cook it, presumably recently slaughtered. This usually means a "free-range", veg-fed turkey, but I don't know if that or the freshness is responsible for the superior taste and texture.

I no longer make my turkey the best possible way. The one I cooked that way was my first bird, I was using a borrowed vintage cookbook, I didn't cook one for a number of years after that, and I no longer remember the exact times & temperatures. To my best recollection, I rubbed the bird everywhere I could reach, under & over the skin, inside & out w/ a mixture of powdered poultry seasoning mixed w/ a smaller amount of quality white garlic powder, but I didn't put an excessive amount anyplace. I lightly salted the skin and cavity only. I placed the bird unstuffed on a shallow roasting rack in a pan, and sadly, I can't remember if it was breast up or down. Then I took an unbleached flour sack lintless towel, saturated it w/ melted butter, laid it over the bird and put the covered turkey in a preheated oven. I'd gotten a simple seasoned bread, butter, celery & onions dressing ready, w/ very little broth made by boiling the giblets in minimal water, which I placed it in a casserole dish and left it in the refrigerator during the early part of cooking the turkey. I hadn't planned on making gravy, probably b/c back then I didn't know how. As soon as the turkey started producing juices, I started basting that towel at regular intervals. Whatever juice I didn't need to keep the towel moist, went into the dish of dressing. At some point when it was moist enough, I put the covered casserole of dressing in the oven w/ the turkey, and at another point in time specified by the recipe, I removed the towel to let the skin get crisp. I salted the small amount of juices produced during the later part of the roasting and poured it over the sliced turkey before serving. As I said, that was the best turkey I've ever made, and even in my exhausted, stressed out, newbie cook state, I truly enjoyed it.

I've produced many quite nice turkeys since then (usually butter rubbed, breast down, foil tented), but how I wish I knew how to do the flour sacking one w/o risking setting the kitchen on fire.

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  1. I make a very straightforward turkey which always comes out moist and juicy.
    I buy a local, recently killed fresh turkey. I bring it to room temp for 1.5 hours. I stuff it with a simple cornbread onion and pecan mixture., no sausage, then roast it on a rack in a shallow pan breast up, with cheesecloth imbued with a stick of unsalted butter covering the breast. I put carrots and onions in the bottom of the pan, sprinkled with a small amount of olive oil or butter. I do not truss.
    I preheat the oven to 425 and put the bird in at that temp for half an hour.
    I turn the heat down to 325 and baste only once with butter after an hour.
    It is cooked in about 12 minutes to the pound ( thigh at 165)
    I make gravy from stock which cooks as the turkey does with the neck, giblets and onions, and the pan drippings, including the veggies from the pan blended in with stick blender, and flour.
    It is wonderful everytime, moist, juicy and flavorful because the bird had flavor to begin with.

    4 Replies
    1. re: magiesmom

      The technique sounds very similar to my first turkey recipe using cheesecloth instead of flour sacking! It's reassuring to read that the cloth doesn't catch fire even though it's in the oven a long time before it's basted. So grateful you've told me the timing for this method of cooking a stuffed bird. How long before the turkey is finished do you remove the cloth?

      The gravy sounds lovely. Ain't immersion blenders the bomb?!

      With the exception of using my favorite chestnut, part whole wheat bread stuffing (w/ onions & a little apple, ground coriander seed, and savory, s&p), I think I'll do next year's turkey your way.

      1. re: Stein the Fine

        I usually take it off about an hour before I think the turkey will be done. I forgot to take it off at all this year and it was lovely nonetheless. And I think the breast was even more moist ( perhaps more moist than the dark meat, actually) so I think I will do it that way from now on.

        1. re: magiesmom

          Or you could split the difference and take it off 1/2 hour before the expected end of cooking. Thanks again.

          1. re: Stein the Fine

            I'm going to just leave it, as I think that it was perfect. And I would prefer not to open the oven as I believe the bird appreciates the even heat,
            But I do not think there is only one way to do anything.

    2. BN Ranch heritage bird, 16.5 pounds, rubbed with around 6 tbsp. salt inside and out, let sit in fridge overnight, trussed, roasted unstuffed at 350 for two hours. Best turkey ever. Looks weird when you take it out of the fridge, but the air-drying makes for great crisp skin.

      1. Roasted with indirect heat and smoked with hickory chips in a Weber kettle BBQ.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Antilope

          Sounds like it takes some advanced BBQing skills.

          1. re: Stein the Fine

            I too use cheesecloth saturated with butter and chicken stock - however, this year I want to try leaving it to air dry in the fridge overnight - anyone know if then putting cheesecloth on top will negate the effect of the air drying?

            1. re: Athena

              no, the cheesecloth does not make it less crisp. maybe less dark, minimally.

        2. The last few years I have been really happy with a recipe from the Cotton Country Cookbook, which I may have learned of somewhere on these boards, but can’t remember.

          Have been doing this recipe with fresh turkeys purchased at Costco near Thanksgiving time, some of which I have then frozen and later baked. Either way we always get juicy breast meat, flavorful, well seasoned, and best part-- nearly all of the prep is done 48 hours ahead.

          In my version, a 20 lb turkey is liberally covered with a paste, of about – ¾ cup mustard powder, 1½ t black pepper, 1 ½ T vinegar, 1 ½ T Worchester sauce, 1 T Morton Kosher salt, ¼ to 1/3 cup EVOO stirred together to a thick paste. Adjust oil or even add a tiny bit of water to get a thick paste that will spread easily and stick well to the dry turkey skin, without sliding off. Place turkey in the roasting rack and pan to be used, thickly cover the entire turkey with the paste, wrap tightly with plastic and then foil. Store in fridge for 48 hours.

          On roasting day, remove from fridge a few hours ahead to warm up. Discard plastic and foil. I put a few onion quarters in cavity, cover the breast with 5 slices of bacon, and drape with cotton flour sacking soaked liberally with EVOO. Tie the legs with twine if desired. Add about 2 cups of stock or water to roasting pan. Bake at 325 till tests done.

          There is no basting and no need to remove the cloth until the turkey is out. Let rest as usual before slicing and the carver gets to nibble on crispy bacon. (Any actual flavor of mustard is rather delicate after roasting) Just watch to make sure roasting pan does not go dry and burn.

          The drippings are good and not too salty to use, but since I make gravy ahead of time, I usually pour the drippings in with the carcass, cover with water, to make a huge vat of stock. This year I left the stock pot cooking all night, just barely below a simmer and it worked out great.