Good ol’ Abe Lincoln is an historical figure for a lot of reasons but many might not realize that he was responsible for the nationalization of Thanksgiving in 1863. Alexander Hamilton proclaimed that “No citizen of the United States should refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.” Turkey did not become the center of the Thanksgiving table’s attention until after 1800; historically, fish and venison were served.
Evolution on how to prepare the turkey as changed over time, as well. Here are a few variations of how to prepare the prized bird:
1. Roasting is the most traditional method, however, here are some reminders and tips for perfecting this technique:
- Cook the turkey breast-side down to create a tender juicy turkey.
- Use the ratio of 2-2 ½ cups stuffing per pound of turkey if stuffing within the bird.
- Use a meat thermometer inserted in the breast area, this way you will be assured that your turkey is cooked to the proper temperature.
- If cooking ahead of time pop the bird in the oven the following morning on low heat and be sure to use lots of broth to keep moist.
2. Slow Cooker is for more than just chili. The only downside is that you will be limited to a medium size turkey because of crock pot size. Pour broth over continuously as it cooks on low for 7-8 hours. The broth is already in the bottom of the pot- convenient for making your gravy!
3. Brining is my Dad’s way of preparing and I have to say I am hooked! Most brines are composed of salt water with added herbs and spices. The salt water mixture helps keep moisture in the bird but also allows for the spices to penetrate the meat. Let your turkey sit for over 24 hours in your brine of choice.
4. Brown bag it is the “old school” version of steaming your turkey. The advantage of the brown paper bag over the Reynolds cooking bag, is that the paper breathes as the turkey roasts. In the Reynolds bag, the turkey steams, giving it a different flavor.
5. Smoking isn’t just for ribs! Enjoy a choice of a spiced rub, then let the bird sit in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours. Place in the smoker for typically 2 ½ hours (additional briquettes might be needed to thoroughly cook the bird.) Play around with the flavor of briquettes for even more flavor.
6. Deep frying has increased in popularity due to its resulting moist and rich flavored turkey. Be sure the bird is thoroughly thawed or you will see a great volcanic eruption on Thanksgiving.
Alton Brown’s Brined Turkey
- 1 (14 -16 lb) whole turkey, frozen
For the Brine
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1 gallon vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger
- 1 gallon water, heavily iced
For the Aromatics
- 1 red apple, sliced
- 1/2 onion, sliced
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 cup water
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- 6 leaves sage
- canola oil
Two to three days before roasting begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees F.
Also, combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.
The night before you’d like to eat combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed. Cover and refrigerate (or set in cool area) for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.
Place the bird on rack of roasting pan and pat dry with paper towels.
Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey’s cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.
Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.