Thanksgiving is right around the corner and it’s time to start thinking about the turkey. Gobble gobble! The recipe below is one of my favorites when it comes to cooking a whole turkey. The ingredients list is small, the steps are easy and the results are delicious! It’s a triple win.
When it comes to Thanksgiving turkey, there are many options. You can get fresh, frozen, free range, organic, and probably a whole lot of other types. So, what should you get? For me personally, I try to stick with a fresh, never frozen turkey. It’s a little more money than a frozen one but it usually ends up tasting much better. For this recipe, however, I went with a frozen bird. I was short on time and my local store had these on sale for $0.99/lb. Hard to pass on a good deal.
If you get a frozen turkey, be sure to put it in your refrigerator 4-5 days before your cook day. You want to give it plenty of time to defrost. The defrost time will of course vary based on the weight of the turkey so be sure to take that into account.
After the turkey is defrosted, rinse it under cold water, remove all the giblets from the inside cavity and be sure to save those. The bird is now ready for prep.
THE DAY BEFORE
To brine or not to brine, that is the question. I’m a firm believer in brining your turkey the night before. By soaking it in a salt water solution, you increase the moisture content of the meat which in turn means your finished product will be more juicy. No one likes a dry turkey.
The idea and science behind the brine is very simple. The salty brine water will be absorbed by the meat through osmosis. Remember that from grade school? In order for that to happen it will need some time. A good rule of thumb is 24 hours. This should give it plenty of time to get plump and juicy.
I keep my brine recipe very simple with only a few ingredients. All you’ll need is kosher salt, brown sugar and the seasoning of your choice for your turkey. I used the Citrus and Dill Rub from Big Green Egg.
And the measurements are very easy as well. For each gallon of water we’ll use 1 cup of salt, 1 cup of brown sugar and 1 tbsp. of the seasoning. Easy, right?
You can’t just mix all the ingredients, drop your bird in and hope for a Thanksgiving osmosis miracle. It will only work if everything is fully dissolved. And the best way to do that is to heat up the water.
Take a small pot, fill it with a quart or 2 of water, bring it to a boil and then add the salt, sugar and seasoning. Stir until everything is fully dissolved and you’re done! I brine my turkeys in a 5 gallon Yeti Loadout Bucket and it usually requires about 2.5 gallons of water to fully cover my turkey. Knowing that, I mix in 2.5 cups each kosher salt and brown sugar and 2.5 tbsp. of the seasoning in my pot of boiling water.
Before you transfer the hot brine to your bucket or container, it needs to cool down. Remember, the turkey will sit in this liquid for 24 hours and it needs be under 40 degrees Fahrenheit. You don’t want your turkey going bad on you. Wait for the liquid to cool down, pour it into your bucket, add a few cups of ice and the remaining water to fill the 5 gallon bucket halfway.
Drop your bird in the bucket, making sure it’s fully submerged. If you see it floating up, you can take a small plate and put it on top of the turkey to help weight it down. Cover the bucket and either place in your fridge, if it will fit, or in a cooler place with plenty of ice in the water.
Let the turkey sit in the brine overnight. Now is when science will work its magic on your Thanksgiving centerpiece.
It’s Thanksgiving morning and it’s time to get to work. Before we start with the bird we’ll get going on the turkey stock. If you don’t plan on making your own gravy you can skip this section. But it’s easy enough and you probably have all the ingredients that you might as well just go for it.
Take a big stock pot and fill it halfway with water. Drop the turkey giblets, neck and anything that was inside your bird in the water. Add 1 or 2 chopped onions, a few chopped celery stalks, a couple chopped carrots and a handful of fresh herbs. Thinks like rosemary, thyme and sage will work great. Turn the gas to medium and let this stock cook all day long. You might have to add a cup or 2 of water throughout the day to maintain the water level.
We’ll use this stock later in the day when making our gravy.
It’s time to get started on the turkey. For this recipe, I will be cooking it whole using a roasting rack and a drip pan. This method of cooking will give us the best final presentation and will also catch all those tasty drippings in the pan. It’s another win win!
Take your turkey out from the brine and rinse it thouroghly. It’s been sitting in salt water for 24 hours and we need to rinse that off. After it’s rinsed, pat it dry inside and out, and set in on the roasting rack in the pan. We’ll leave it at room temperature for an hour or so and allow it to come up closer to room temperature.
While the turkey is hanging out on your countertop let’s prepare the butter mixture. Start by finally chopping up more rosemary, thyme and sage. We’re looking for about 1 tbsp. of each . Take 2 sticks of UNSALTED butter (this is very important. The turkey doesn’t need anymore salt) and melt them in the microwave. Add the chopped herbs, 1 tbsp. of the seasoning and the butter mixture is ready. Melting the butter will make the application process much easier.
Before you pour the butter mixture on the turkey, take a few pieces of cold butter and stuff it under the skin over the breast. Then take the butter mixture and pour it all over the bird. Be sure to cover it thouroghly. You’ll notice that the butter will solidify as soon as it hits the turkey. This is what we want. The butter will stick and then melt as the turkey is cooking.
After the turkey is nicely buttered up it’s time to fill the cavity. I also keep it simple here. Fill it with 1-2 chopped onions, chopped celery, 1 or 2 carrots, 1 quartered lemon and more fresh herbs. And don’t overstuff it. Just fill it in nicely.
IT’S COOKING TIME
There are a lot of methods out there when it comes to cooking a turkey. The goal is the same, ensure the breast comes out tender and moist. It’s easier said than done for 1 simple reason. The breast meat cooks faster than the dark meat and what happens is the breast will be overcooked by the time the rest of the turkey is finished. But we have a trick up our slave. Yeah we do!
Take a 1 gallon ziplock bag and fill it with ice. Lay that bag right on the breast of the turkey and leave it there for 30 minutes. The ice will bring down the temperature of the breast meat so it can finish cooking at the same time as the dark meat. It’s an easy trick and one that works really well.
After 30 minutes remove the ice pack. The turkey is ready to hit the grill. For this cook I used my XL Big Green Egg. It was setup for indirect grilling with the temperature set at 325 degrees. Because of the shape of the grill and the heat flow inside, the time estimate is about 12 minutes per pound at this temperature. This is only a guideline and I’ll still monitor the internal temperature of the turkey.
Insert your meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and set the alarm for 162 degrees. That’s when we’ll start checking the internal temperature in other parts of the turkey. We’ll be cooking this guy to 165 internal and pulling it a few degrees shy of that. I like using the Thermoworks Smoke temperature alarm.
Don’t peak while the turkey is cooking! Let the grill do the work. There’s no need to baste either. We’ll trust the grill to do its magic.
When the alarm goes off, take your instant read meat thermometer and check the internal temperature in a few other spots in the breast and thigh. You’re looking for anything between 160-163. That’s a few degrees shy of 165 but that won’t be a problem. As the turkey rests off the grill, it will still come up in temperature a few degrees. Pulling it a few degrees shy of 165 will ensure it won’t overcook.
After the turkey is done, pull it from the grill and tent it loosely with foil. It needs time to rest! Now’s the perfect time to make the gravy.
Time to make that delicious turkey gravy. Start by taking the drip pan and pouring all the liquid out into a jar. Wait a few minutes and you should see the fat settle to the top. Remove and discard the fat.
Take your drip pan with all those burnt brown bits stuck to the bottom and put in on the stove. Crank the heat up and scrape the bottom of that pan. Toss in 1 full stick of butter and whisk it in the pan. Wait until the butter starts to brown and then add 1 cup of flour. Keep whisking until it’s all nicely combined. Add the pan drippings from the jar and keep whisking. If you need more liquid, you can use the turkey stock that’s been cooking all day. Keep the heat up on the pan until the gravy is your desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Here’s the secret ingredient. Remove all the meat from the turkey neck that was in the stock and chop it up with the rest of the giblets. Toss this into the gravy and mix it in. And just like that, our gravy is done!
By now the turkey is ready to be carved. The breast should be tender and juicy. Carve the turkey and serve with the gravy. Enjoy!
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Check out the full prep video on my Instagram page. Printer friendly recipe is below.
- 2.5 cups Kosher salt
- 2.5 cups Brown sugar
- 2.5 tbsp Dill and Citrus seasoning (or favorite turkey rub)
- 1 Turkey, defrosted 14-16 pounds
- 2 sticks Unsalted butter
- 1 bunch Fresh rosemary
- 1 bunch Fresh sage
- 1 bunch Fresh thyme
- 1 Onion
- 2 Celery
- 2 Carrots
- 1 Lemon
- 1 cup All Purpose Flour
- 1 stick Butter
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Pepper
- 1 Onion, halved
- 2 Celery, chopped
- 2 Carrots, chopped
- 1 bunch Fresh herbs: rosemary, thyme, sage
- Combine the brine ingredients in a small pot of boiling water
- Mix until the salt and sugar are dissolved
- Chill the liquid and add to your 5 gallon brining bucket
- Add cold water until bucket is filled halfway
- Insert thawed out and cleaned turkey (giblets removed and saved)
- Brine the turkey for 24 hours, ensuring the water temperature is below 40 degrees
- After the brine, remove the turkey and rinse it under cold water and pat it dry
- Place dry turkey in the roasting rack in the drip pan
- Let the turkey sit at room temperarutre for 1 hour.
- Start the grill and set it to indirect cooking at 325 degrees
- Melt the 2 sticks of butter in the microwave and add 1 tbsp each rosemary, thyme and sage
- Place a few pieces of cold butter under the skin of the turkey over the breasts
- Pour the butter mixture over the turkey, ensuring thorough coverage
- Place the onion, carrots, celery, lemon and herbs inside the turkey cavity
- Place turkey on the grill and roast until 165 degrees internal.
- Remove from the grill and tent loosely with foil
- Place the turkey neck and giblets in a stock pot of water.
- Add the onion, celery, carrots and herbs and simmer all day to make the stock
- Take the drippings from the drip pan and pour into a jar
- Wait for the fat to seperate to the top, remove and discard
- Place the roasting pan on the stove, set the heat to medium and scrape the bottom
- Add the butter and whisk until it starts to brown
- Add the flour and whisk until it starts to brown
- Add the liquid from the drip pan and keep whisking
- Remove the meat from the turkey neck and chop it along with the giblets. Add to the gravy
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Check out the Recipes page for other tasty ideas.