Updated: Feb 28
My husband's favorite food is turkey and mac 'n cheese. But when I met him, I had no idea how to cook a turkey. I had mastered my mac 'n cheese, but a turkey, not so much. It was a task that felt overwhelming because, growing up, cooking the turkey was a big deal. It was often the discussion of many heated debates, so I didn't even consider putting my hat into that ring.
When I met my husband, and he bragged about his mother's mac 'n cheese and turkey, I said, "Surely, she will do all the turkey cooking." But, Yahuah had other plans. We met in college in Lafayette, Louisiana, and never moved back to our hometown. That meant whenever he wanted this home-cooked meal, I had to roll up my sleeves and figure it out.
Now, not to brag or anything, but I grew up in a family known for its cooking. So I knew I had the basics down. I just had to overcome the intimation. Once I got over that, it was easy sailing. Since then, I have made many turkeys and have been asked to cook a few occasionally.
Below you will find my recipes for a savory citrus brine and turkey that I have used from time to time. But I enjoy changing my brine and a few ingredients now and then to suit my taste. For example, this brine is based on oranges and cinnamon, while the one I enjoyed recently was brined in a base of red wine and apples.
How to Cook a Turkey: The Brine
Before you roast your turkey, you should create a brine. A brine will give you the best results for flavor. The purpose of a brine is to produce a more tender and flavorful turkey. According to research published in the Journal of Food Science , the salt in the brine dissolves a bit of the protein in the muscle fibers, and allows the meat to absorb the brine and retain moisture during cooking (USDA).
½ cup Kosher Salt
2 Sliced Orange
½ cup Brown Sugar
30 ml/ 2 tbsp Peppercorns
30 ml/ 2 tbsp Rosemary
30 ml/ 2 tbsp Thyme
30 ml/ 2 tbsp Sage
30 ml/ 2 tbsp Clove
3 cloves of Garlic
2-3 Star Anise
3-4 Cinnamon Stick
2 quarts Apple Cider or Apple Juice
2 quarts of Vegetable Stock
1 gallon of Water
Ready in 18-24 hours
Preparation – Brine
In a large stock pot, place all ingredients. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve all salt and sugar. Bring the Brine to a rolling boil. Then immediately remove from the fire and cover with the lid. Let Brine come to room temperature (DO NOT add your turkey to hot Brine, it will cook the turkey).
Place thawed, uncooked turkey into the sizeable brining bag, and pour cooled Brine over the top of the turkey, including all ingredients cooked in the Brine. Seal the bag, and secure it with clips if necessary. Refrigerate the turkey and Brine for 18-24 hours.
Once brining is complete, discard Brine and brining bag.
How to Cook a Turkey
Now that you have made your brine and have brined your turkey overnight, you are ready to prepare your turkey for roasting. Here is what you should do.
Preparation - Roasting Turkey
Take the turkey out of the Brine. Rinse it thoroughly and pat dry. The dry skin will allow for the perfect golden brown color for the turkey.
Drizzle olive oil on the skin of the turkey and rub it in.
Once brining is complete, discard the Brine and brining bag.
Check the label and weight of your turkey for the cook time duration. It will depend primarily on the weight of the turkey.
Place turkey in a Slow Roaster (we have a 32Qt. Oster). I've found that cooking it in a Slow Roaster instead of an oven ensures that the turkey stays moist and falls off the bone.
Cook at 325 degrees. It will need to reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees.