Thanksgiving is my favorite American holiday – I fell in love with it ever since the first time I celebrated it in Mechanicsburg, PA in 1991. When it comes to the Thanksgiving dinner, I am a traditionalist, so the turkey I make is, well, very, very traditional.
serves: 15-20 difficulty: medium prep time: 6 hrs
- one large turkey. I usually get a 25-28 lbs one because I regularly have 15-20 people around the table
- store-bought brining mix or 1 cup of sea salt and 1 cup mixed dried herbs such as rosemary, thyme, herbs de Provence
- 1/2 cup herbs de Provence
- 1 cup butter
- brining bag
Start prepping the turkey the day before Thanksgiving.
The key to a juicy turkey is brining it overnight. The brining process causes the turkey to absorb liquid which helps keep the otherwise dry turkey meat moist.
First makes sure to take out the livers and the neck from the cavity of the turkey, and remove any plastic and metal pieces. Then rinse the turkey thoroughly inside and out. I do that in the sink.
I don’t shy away from buying a brining kit at the store. To prepare the brine follow the instructions on the kit packaging. Or if you are doing the brining mix yourself, add 2 quarts of water to a sauce pan, and bring to a boil. Add the sea salt and the mixed dried herbs, and simmer for 5 min. Let cool off completely to room temperature.
Place the turkey in the brining bag, add the brining mixture, and then fill with cold water to cover the entire turkey. Place in the fridge and keep overnight.
On Thanksgiving day, take the turkey out of the brining bag, and pat it dry. Season the turkey inside and out with sea salt and black pepper.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Melt the butter in the microwave, and mix with the herbs de Provence.
Then place the butter and herbs mixture in the freezer for 7-8 min. The goal is for the butter to harden to a consistency of paste.
You will spread that butter – herbs mixture between the skin and the meat on the breast side of the turkey. But to do that, you need to first separate the skin from the meat. Place the turkey breast side up on a work surface, and starting from the tail end, insert your hand under the skin. Gradually push your hand forward while being careful not to tear the skin. Move your hand all around the breast to completely separate the skin. Reach sideways with your hand to also separate the skin from the legs.
See the videos below hoe to do that.
Then scoop a handful of butter – herbs mixture with your hand, insert your hand under the separated skin, and spread the butter on the breast and leg meat. Buttering the meat is another crucial trick to keep the meat moist during the roasting. It also helps crispen the skin and give it a golden color.
Then stuff the turkey with stuffing that you have already prepared. You can stuff both the abdominal and neck cavities.
You can close the neck cavity by pining the flap of skin. The abdominal cavity you can close by tying the legs with kitchen twine.
Then truss the turkey with kitchen twine such that the legs and wings are tied to the body. The turkey should be a compact bundle at this point.
Place the turkey on a roasting rack breast side up, and put in a roasting pan. For a good measure, spread half a stick of butter on the breast.
Place in the preheated oven, and cover with aluminum foil. Roast for 3 hours. Then remove the aluminum foil for the last hour of roasting in order to allow the skin to crispen.
There are two myths of Thanksgiving turkey that I would like to bust:
- that basting the turkey keeps the meat juicy
- that you need to roast the turkey for 15-20 min per lbs
I do baste the turkey – but only 3-4 times during the last hour of roasting. The only thing that basting achieves is to give the skin that golden color. As you will see for yourself, the basting liquid just drips down the turkey skin and is not really absorbed by the meat to keep it juicy.
In my experience a 25+ lbs turkey still cooks to well done in 4 to 4 1/2 hrs. If the 15-20 min per lbs were true, that 25 lbs turkey would have to be in the oven for 6-7 hrs. After the first 3 hrs of roasting start checking the meat for doneness by inserting a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh away from the bone. You want the thermometer to read 165 degrees. At that point turn off the oven, and keep the turkey in it until ready to carve. A 25 lbs turkey would keep warm for another 3 – 4 hrs.
When ready to serve, remove all the kitchen twine and carve the turkey.
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