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How to Brine and Roast a Turkey

[Editor’s note: We reprise this excellent how to from 2009 for two reasons. One, it’s a perennial favorite. And secondly, we’re proud to include it a new compilation title from Make: books, Make: Like the Pioneers, a collection of pieces that first appeared in Make: magazine and Make: online that offer guidance and tips on the basic homesteading skills our great-grandparents took for granted. They might just help save you in the event, say, of a zombie attack. With this recipe, at least you’ll eat well — before you’re eaten.]

Now that Halloween is over, I feel like the holiday season is ready to begin. I love all the cooking and baking that happens this time of year, but most of all I love how the family gatherings always end up in the kitchen. I’m going to help you get ready for the first big one: Thanksgiving.

I’m lucky that as a young bride, my mother-in-law gave me some excellent tips when it was time for me to host my first Thanksgiving. I especially appreciated her tips on how to roast a turkey. She introduced me to brining, something I had never before heard of, but I knew that the turkey I had eaten at her home was the best I’d ever had, so I followed her advice. Here is my twist on the brine recipe she first gave me as well some great tips for roasting a flavorful turkey. Anyone who’s ever eaten my turkey says it’s the best they’ve ever had. And it’s all thanks to my mother-in-law. I’m lucky to have such a sweet one!

The leftover turkey carcass from this recipe makes the best homemade turkey broth, so be sure to save it for those post-Thanksgiving leftovers.

Herbed Brine

16lb turkey
3 c kosher salt
1 c brown sugar
1½ tsp pepper
4 bay leaves
4 stems fresh thyme
3 stems fresh sage
1 Tbs minced garlic
1 gallon boiling water
8lbs ice cubes

Thanksgiving Brinespices
Step 1: Stir the salt, brown sugar, pepper, bay leaves, thyme, sage, and garlic together in a large stock pot. Add 1 gallon of water. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and allow the mixture to steep for 25 minutes. Stir in enough ice to bring the brine amount up to 2 gallons (2 gallons = 32 cups).
Note: If your pot is not large enough, you may have to allow the brine to cool and add the additional amount when pouring the brine into the bag in the following step.

Thanksgiving Turkeyinbrine
Step 2: Place the turkey in a large zip-top bag. I recommend the Ziploc Big Bags (size large). Put the bagged turkey in a clean cooler. Pour the brine over the turkey, in the bag, making sure the breasts are fully submerged. Zip the bag closed. Place the cooler in a cool place, such as your garage, and allow the turkey to soak in the cold brine for 12–24 hours.
Use gel packs or bagged ice around the zipped bag inside the cooler, if necessary, to keep the brine below 40°F. (Adding more ice directly to the brine would only dilute it.)
After the brining process, transfer the turkey to a roasting pan and discard the brine.
Note: For a smaller turkey you may make less brine; however, be careful to do so with the original proportions of ingredient still intact. Too much salt will leave you with an incredibly salty turkey. Also, birds less than 10 pounds will likely not need to soak for the full 24 hours to achieve the desired results.

Garlic Herb Butter

8 Tbs butter, softened
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tsp fresh thyme leaves
3 tsp fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
½ tsp black pepper

Thanksgiving Herbedbutter
Step 1: Combine all the ingredients in a bowl.
Thanksgiving Rubwithbutter
Step 2: Rub the butter all over the inside of the turkey cavity. Lift the skin covering the turkey breast meat and rub butter on top of the meat. Place the skin back down. Continue with roasting instructions below.

Roasting the Turkey

(For a 14–16lb turkey)

Step 1: Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place a V-rack in your roasting pan. Place the turkey, breast side down, on the V-rack. Pour 2 cups of water in the bottom of the pan.

Thanksgiving Turkeyprepped
Step 2: Place a quartered carrot, celery, and onion inside the turkey cavity if you aren’t stuffing it. An un-stuffed turkey will cook faster. If you are stuffing the turkey, do not tightly pack it in.
Step 3: Tie the legs together using kitchen twine. Fold the wing tips under the turkey. Drizzle olive oil or melted butter on the outside of the turkey, if desired. Roast for 90 minutes.
Step 4: Remove the turkey from the oven and turn it breast side up.
Tip: It helps to have a big wad of paper towels in each hand so you can easily flip it without slipping or burning yourself. Baste the turkey with pan drippings. Add an additional cup of water to the pan. Roast the turkey for an additional 40–65 minutes or until the meat thermometer inserted in the breast registers 160-165°F and the leg/thigh registers at about 170°F. Check to make sure the pan drippings and water have not completely evaporated, causing the herbs to burn. If the turkey begins to brown too much before it has reached the correct temperatures, cover it with foil.
Step 5: Transfer the turkey to a platter and allow it to rest for 20 minutes before carving. Use this time for any last minute preparations. This is the perfect time to put the rolls in the oven, make gravy or a salad, or set the table.