I remember the first time I ever cooked a turkey. Luckily, it isn’t one of those first-timer experiences that involves a fire truck or inedible food. It was pretty uneventful, for the most part. And the turkey was edible and appeared to be enjoyed by all, whether they were lying or not does not matter to me. What really sticks out in my mind was the turkey before it was cooked. I had never seen one before, much less touched it. I had no clue what to do or where to start.
So naturally, I asked my Grandma, who lived nearby and came early on Thanksgiving to offer help where needed. I took the turkey, still wrapped, and plopped it in the sink. I cut the plastic wrapping off and stared at this really, really, huge chicken-looking thing. Back then, touching raw meat made me squeamish and I would always where rubber gloves to touch raw chicken or mix ground beef for meatloaf. This was one of those times that called for gloves. However, being that I never stocked elbow-length gloves, I had to settle for some that would not protect my meat-squeamish forearms.
I looked over at my grandma, and asked “Now what?”. She looked at me and said “How should I know?”. I’m all “Um, what?! How do you not know how to cook at turkey at your age?! No offense.”. I learned something new about my grandma that day. She managed to go her entire life never having to cook a turkey. I was in shock. How does that even happen? I still don’t know. She must have been surrounded by lovely people, that’s all I can figure out. So there we were, two turkey novices, staring at a raw turkey and wishing it would magically cook itself. But no, I had to get all personal with that thing, sticking my hands in places that turkey would rather I hadn’t and pulling out things that made me want to gag. At least I didn’t have to carve the beast.
What, you don’t dress your turkey with grapes? Psh, that’s how the cool kids do it.
And now here I am, 8 years later, with no less than 6 turkeys under my belt (possibly more, I’m not really counting). I have always had turkey success, and I no longer require gloves to touch meat, and this year, I decided to change things up a bit. I’ve never been a huge fan of turkey, simply because it’s not as moist and flavorful as ham. I mean turkey vs. pig, of course the pig is going to win! But I didn’t want some hunk of cured, sugary meat for Thanksgiving this year, so I researched different methods for cooking turkeys. When I was buying the turkey at the store, there was a display for a “brining” solution, and that was new to me, I had never heard of it. I looked at the ingredients and quickly put it down. Brown sugar was pretty high on the list, no thank you.
I went home and started researching about brining. Come to find out, this is exactly what I was looking for, I just didn’t know it existed. So if you are like me and new to this whole “brining” concept, it’s this: You soak the fresh turkey in a salt water solution for 18-24 hours, rinse, then roast. So simple and it makes a huge difference in the end result. I couldn’t even believe how much more flavor my turkey had this year, not to mention it wasn’t dry like cardboard, not even the white meat! Color me shocked, I am never preparing a turkey any other way.
If you happen to be on a Whole30 during Thanksgiving (or whenever you’ll be eating this turkey), leave the honey out of the brine. It will taste different but still great!
Brine (for a 20 lb turkey, adjust as needed for your size bird)
- 2 gallons Water
- 4 cups Apple Juice or Apple Cider, no sugar added, just fruit juice
- 4 leaves stems Fresh Rosemary, only
- 3 Tbsp Oranges, peel only -or- 3 Minced Orange Peel
- 1 1/2 cups Sea Salt
- 5 cloves Garlic, minced or sliced
- 1 cup Honey
- 3 Tbsp Peppercorns
- 5 Leaves Bay, whole
- 1 lb Free-Range Fresh Turkey, 15-20
- 1 Yellow Onion, quartered
- 1 in Orange, cut half
- 1 in Lemon, cut half
- 2 Celery Stalks, cut into thirds
- 4 Tbsp Grass-Fed Butter or Ghee
- Combine all ingredients in a large stockpot. Stir and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and cover the pot. Allow to cool completely
- Place your turkey into a large brining bag (or pot, if you can't find a bag) and cover with the brine solution. Refrigerate for 24 hours (or 12 hours if using a thawed frozen turkey).
- When your 24 hours is over, remove the turkey from the brine. Discard brine.
- Submerge the turkey in a sink of fresh, cold water. Allow to sit in clean water for 15 minutes to remove excess salt from the outside.
- Remove turkey from clean water and pat dry.
- Preheat oven to 325°F. Place turkey in a roasting pan (or an a rack in a large pan), breast side up.
- Put 2 tablespoons of butter/ghee under the skin on each turkey breast. Flip the turkey in the roasting pan to be breast side down. Put the onion, orange, lemon, and celery in the cavity. Lace up the cavity to keep the produce in there when you flip it.
- Roast for 40 minutes, basting with pan juices at 20 minutes and 40 minutes.
- After 40 minutes, flip the turkey breast side up. Continue roasting according to the time chart that came with your turkey (about 15 minutes per pound). Internal temp (of thigh meat, stay away from the bone) should read 170F when the turkey is done.
- Remove from oven and let rest 20-30 minutes before carving.
** Leave the honey out of the brine if you want to make this Whole30 compliant