Published November 18, 2011 - Last Updated January 22, 2021
When this time of year rolls around, it seems like everybody is on a quest for the perfect roast turkey. Thanksgiving wouldn’t seem complete without a gorgeous, golden turkey on the buffet. To our modern perspective, turkey and Thanksgiving are inseparable, but in reality, this tradition didn’t begin until the eighteenth century. The first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621 featured roast deer, duck, and other waterfowl– no turkey. While not much is known about the earliest Thanksgiving dinners, a few descriptions have survived. According to the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, “one description dated 1784 mentions drinking and eating in general and implies that pigs, geese, turkey, or sheep were served.” It seems that if you’re wanting a historically accurate Thanksgiving meal, turkey is optional. But that won’t stop most Americans from serving a turkey at their Thanksgiving feast.
Today, I thought I’d share with you the roast turkey that I make every year for Thanksgiving. I can’t claim credit for the original version of this recipe; it was created by Alton Brown from the Food Network’s show Good Eats. Alton’s roast turkey recipe is wildly popular, with good reason. I’ve been making and adapting this turkey recipe for the past four years. Each year, I make a few adjustments to the aromatics and the brine. Today I’m sharing with you the version I made last year, which was terrific. The brining and cooking process is basically foolproof, as long as you plan ahead and make sure your turkey is defrosted in plenty of time for an overnight brine. The brine is important, particularly for the breast meat– it adds moisture and flavor to the turkey. So don’t skip it, even if it seems like a lot of work. It’s actually a simple process, as long as you have some upper arm strength to heave that turkey in and out of the brining bucket.
Alton’s directions are pretty clear; I’ve provided step-by-step pictures to keep you on track, and given more details where needed. I have taken a few liberties with Alton’s original recipe, changing the spices in the brine and adding herbs and garlic to the aromatics. Creativity is half the fun in my kitchen.
If you’re using a kosher turkey, the meat will already be soaked and salted, so you do not really need to brine it at all. If you want to brine a kosher bird then cut way back on the salt (or eliminate it completely), since the turkey meat will already be salty. I usually choose an organic un-brined bird, not kosher, and brine it myself. Even if you’re using a kosher bird, you can still use the aromatics and roasting method outlined below– just skip the brine!
Alton suggests heating the meat to 161 degrees… I usually take it out at 165 degrees. Don’t let it heat above 165 or the breast meat will start to dry out. Other than that, everything should be pretty self explanatory. A lot of people are afraid of roasting turkey, particularly those that have never done it before. Never fear! If this is your first time cooking turkey, this tutorial should keep you right on track. Enjoy!
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Thanks for stopping by! I am fascinated by the story behind the food – why we eat what we eat, how the foods of different cultures have evolved, and how yesterday’s food can inspire us in the kitchen today. Read more...