The Best Thanksgiving Turkey (with Apple Cider Glaze)

2016-11-16

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There was nothing more that I looked forward to than the special turkey on Thanksgiving when I was a kid.  My momma made the best and juiciest turkey you’ll ever eat. There is an art to cooking a perfectly cooked turkey.   Much like anything that taste good, one must believe and master techniques, before you can cook from your heart.

There are a lot of ways to cook a turkey and different techniques can come into play, but we can all agree that the turkey must be moist and perfectly cooked.  This happens when you pay attention to the temperature of the bird and correct preparation before roasting.  Let’s look at all the things that you will have to pay attention to, to achieve a delicious bird.

Chances are you are going to the grocery store and getting a frozen bird.  Which is perfectly fine, so that is what we will be focusing on.  Alot of frozen birds come already brined or injected with a salty solution.  I tend to stay away from this, but if its all you got, then it’ll have to do.  I tend to choose frozen birds with no injections or pre-brined.

Brining

This step is absolutely a must!  You cannot skip this part!  Wet brining the bird reduces cooking times at well as keeping the meat nice and juicy.  Follow the recipe for the brining solution below.  This can be made ahead of time since it needs time to cool down to at least room temp before using it.  If for some reason you cannot wet brine, due to space etc…you can try dry brining which works as well.  All you have to do is cover the turkey with some salt and refrigerate it.  The salt will draw moisture out of the turkey, the moisture combine with the salt, and the salty moisture will go back into the bird after 24 hours or more.  Be sure you rinse and pat dry after your brining process.

Prep Work

After the Brining Process, wash the bird inside and out.  Pat dry with some paper towels and if you are not going to be roasting for a day or so.  Put it in the refrigerator uncovered.  You’ll want the skin to dry out somewhat so it’ll have no trouble browning in the oven.  If you are roasting that day,  wash the bird, pat dry and leave it out on the counter with a fan blowing on it so its dry out the skin while coming down to room temp before roasting.  Whatever you do, you’ll want the turkey to come down to room temp before roasting.

Oil It Up Baby

After you tie up your bird and make sure its dry, brush vegetable oil all over the turkey. Yes vegetable oil.  This is the only way to even brown it!  Butter, although delicious, has water in it and it will not be optimal for even browning.

What Pan Do I Use?

Don’t go fancy! I personally use a turkey rack on top of a larger shallow baking sheet.  This is optimal for browning and even cooking all around the bird.  You can use those big turkey roaster but it doesn’t provide optimum circulation.

Roast It Breast Side Down or Use Breast Shield

You probably didn’t even know that this is something that people debate over.  The reason why people argue about this is because of the differences of cooking temps for white meat and dark meat.  Dark meat takes longer to cook and doesn’t dry out as fast.  White meat cooks faster and drys out faster. Also to take into consideration,  not all ovens are the same.  Most heating elements are place in the bottom oven while some are place at the top…so what gives?

When you are placing the turkey on the rack,  put in breast side down.  This will shield the breast from getting cooked faster than the thighs.  You’re going to want the thighs to get a headstart.

When roasting, crank the the temp to 450 degrees, turkey breast side down for 25 minutes.  After the 25 mins,  take the turkey out of the oven, and flip it breast side up ( Use gloves).  Lower the oven temp to 350f and finish cooking the bird.

If you don’t want to flip the bird, you can start with the breast side up but cover only the breast section of the turkey with tinfoil ( This is not my preferred method but it works.)

Temperature Control

The key to a moist turkey is watching the temp. of the the bird.  Don’t rely on a time table because every oven is different and not all the same.  Some run hotter and some run cooler.  In addition, based on the size of the bird and prep,  not everyone is going to have the same starting internal temp.

The easiest way to have full control of the temp of the turkey is to get yourself a pen or probe thermometer.  I like using a probe thermometer where I can stick the probe in the deepest part of the turkey breast while the readout is outside the oven.  I like doing this because then I don’t have to keep opening the oven to check temp.

All too often people forget that the turkey keeps cooking even after you take it out of the oven.  The USDA says that the safe temp for internal temp is 165f.  If you take out the turkey right at 165f. , that turkey is going to keep cooking to higher than 165f.  The internal temp will probably be at 175 at least by the time you are ready to eat it, which yields an over-cooked turkey.  This is the part where most people get it wrong.

If you want the ending internal temp to be at 160f to 165f,  you need to take the turkey out earlier.  I like taking the turkey out when the internal temp of the breast meat is 150f.  Let it rest for a half hour to 45 minutes, and the internal temp will be perfect I assure you.

To Baste or Not to Baste…That is the Question!

Ok look, we’ve probably heard a lot of people constantly basting their turkey, so we automatically think that it is the right thing to do right?  Well it actually depends if your want super crispy skin or not.  Some things to keep in mind about basting:

  1.  Basting requires you to open your oven, dropping the cooking temp of your oven.  Your bird will take longer to cook.
  2.  Basting often yields a softer texture to the skin.
  3.  Basting does not make your turkey more juicy or more flavorful, because the baste does not penetrate to the deep fibers of the meat.

Unless you want a softer texture on your skin and want to add deeper flavor to the skin, then go for it!  Turkey doesn’t have to have crispy skin for it to be delicious.

I prefer not basting the turkey, but instead roasting the turkey with regular vegetable oil brushed all over so it can achieve a nice golden color.  In the last hour or so,  I like to glaze the turkey for a nice sweet finish.  This way you get the color and the flavor of a perfectly roasted turkey…all while not having to constantly open my oven.

Resting Period

You must let the turkey rest for at least an hour.  For turkeys bigger than 15lbs, and hour is more appropriate.  This resting period is essential for the redistribution of the juices while bring the turkey’s internal temp rises to its target temp of 160f to 165f.  Remember, you are taking out the turkey when the internal temp is 150f.

Ingredients

  • BRINE:

  • 1/2 brown sugar
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 Gallon Apple Cider
  • 1 tbsp Black Peppercorns
  • 1 tsp all spice berries
  • 1 Gallon Ice water
  • AROMATICS

  • 1 Red Apple, Sliced
  • 1/2 White or Yellow Onion
  • APPLE CIDER GLAZE

  • 2 cups Apple Cider
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter

Method

Step 1

This recipe is for a 12-16lb Turkey 2-3 days before roasting, Thaw out the turkey in the fridge

Step 2

Combine all the BRINE ingredients in a large stock pot over and bring to a broil. Make sure sure everything is dissolved. Remove from the heat, let it cool to room temp and then refrigerate for later use.

Step 3

24 hours before you'd like to eat, combine the brine with the iced water in a smaller cooler or 5 gallon bucket and submerge the thawed turkey into the container. The brine should cover the turkey whatever container you use to brine. Refrigerate or set in a cool place. Flip the turkey half way through the brine time

Step 4

An hour before roasting, remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry. Let the turkey sit on the rack for about an hour so it can come down to room temp. If you have a small fan, blow air on the turkey while it's coming down to room temp. This will dry out the skin so it will brown beautifully in the oven. During this time make the Apple Cider Glaze by combining the apple cider and the brown sugar into a sauce pan over medium high heat. Allow to reduce by half, and then add butter. Set the glaze aside.

Step 5

Liberally coat the entire turkey with vegetable oil. Place all the aromatics into a bowl including the water and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Place the steeped apples and onion into the cavity of the turkey. Tuck in the wings and tie the legs with butcher twine,

Step 6

Preheat the oven at 475 degrees. Flip the turkey breast side down and roast for 30 minutes, uncovered.

Step 7

Turn down the oven to 350 degrees, take the turkey out of the oven, and using heavy duty gloves, carefully flip the turkey breast side up. Stick the probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and set the thermemeter alarm to go off at 150 degrees. A 14-16 lb bird should take about 2.5 hours to roast to this temp, but be sure to always go off of your thermometer instead of a set time frame.

Step 8

1.5 hours into roasting, apply the Apple Cider Glaze, in another half hour apply another coat of the glaze.

Step 9

Once the thermometer hits 150 degrees, take the turkey out and set on the counter. Make sure the thermometer is still in place and wrap the turkey in tin foil. Let it rest for about one hour, before carving. During this time the temp will continue to rise and then fall to redistribute all the juices. Watch the temp during this time. Wait until the temp peaks and then fall before carving.

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