Whew! I did not poison myself, and the turkey was good. In preparation for the official Thanksgiving Day Turkey, I roasted a practice turkey, which I named Test Subject # 1 (AKA Steve). I have never roasted a turkey, so the practice turkey was necessary for primarily two reasons: (1) to ensure that the official Thanksgiving Day Turkey is flavorful and delicious and (2) to make certain that I don’t poison my family with salmonella. Here’s how it turned out.
The first step in the turkey roasting process is to gather all the essential turkey-roasting tools. So, my first trip was to K-Mart, where I purchased a digital probe thermometer – thankfully on sale, but still more expensive than the turkey – and a 5-gallon bucket for brining. Having the right tools is essential. If you buy a cheap thermometer, then don’t expect accurate results. You get what you pay for!
Next stop, my favorite place: Publix. Publix is a wonderful everyday grocery store; it is well-stocked and has a friendly, helpful staff. For the brine you need kosher 1 cup salt, ½ cup light brown sugar, 1 gallon vegetable stock, 1 TBSP black peppercorns, 1.5 TSP allspice berries, and 1.5 TSP chopped candied ginger (which I could not find, so I bought powdered – it worked just fine). For the aromatics (i.e. the things you stuff inside of the bird) you need a red apple, a white onion, cinnamon sticks, rosemary, and sage. And, of course, you need a turkey; I purchased a 14-pound fresh young Publix brand turkey (at $.69/lb, a great bargain!).
With the bird in hand, I proceeded to make the brine. The brine-making process is super-simple. I combined the brine ingredients in the above proportions and brought them to a boil in a large stock pot. Then, I boiled the brine for a couple of minutes, stirred, and let it come to room temperature, then chilled. To clarify, the brine chilled, not me. I was working to clean up the kitchen (I clean as I cook – a good habit to adopt, by the way; it helps you to be more efficient in the kitchen).
Once the brine was cold, I poured it in a big bucket along with 1-gallon of heavily iced water. I took the innards out of the turkey (very gross, by the way – in my mind I went to a beautiful non-gross faraway place). Then, I dunked Steve in the brine – fully immersed, just like a baptism. I cleaned out a spot in my fridge for the bucket, and the turkey brined overnight.
The next morning I took Test Subject # 1 (AKA Steve) out of the brine and rinsed inside and out with cold water, then put the turkey on a roasting pan. For the aromatics I microwaved 1 sliced red apple, ½ sliced onion, and 1 cinnamon stick in 1 cup of water for five minutes, then stuffed the aromatics into the bird, along with 1 sprig each of rosemary and sage.
With the turkey properly brined and stuffed, I stuck the probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast meat, and put the turkey in a 500 degree oven for 30 minutes to brown. After 30 minutes, I reduced the heat to 350 degrees and put an aluminum foil “turkey triangle” over the breast meat, so it would not over-cook. Once the turkey temperature reached 120 degrees, I removed the turkey triangle to make sure the entire turkey would brown evenly. At 161 degrees – which is approximately 2 total hours of roasting time – I removed the turkey from the oven. I captured the thermometer at 158 degrees – almost done!
The turkey then rested under a tinfoil tent for 15 minutes. This step is essential to complete the carryover cooking process, and for the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. Below you can see the end result: a perfectly roasted turkey. I was very pleased to have accomplished both objectives. First, the turkey was sufficiently flavorful. Frankly, I am not a big fan of turkey to begin with, but this cooking method produced a very good-tasting bird. Next time I will probably extend the brining process for another three hours to ensure even distribution of flavor throughout the meat. Second, I succeeded in not poisoning myself with salmonella. The bird came out of the oven at 161 degrees and eventually rose to 168 (due to the carryover cooking process). I believe that the optimal end result temperature for poultry is 165 degrees, so I at least got it pretty close.
I always give credit where credit is due, and the above process is faithful to the Alton Brown turkey cooking process, which I recommend. It is simple and straightforward, and I am living proof that a first-time turkey cooker following his method can produce a delicious turkey that will not kill everyone with salmonella.