For all of you who are making the big Thanksgiving turkey or thinking of making the turkey or dreaming of making the turkey, this one’s for you–the OBB turkey that people fall in love with year after year.
We know that Thanksgiving is not the time when people generally go and start experimenting with other peoples’ recipes. One of the reasons why we do what we do is because we feel like we can express love to those we care about through food and food-related traditions, and those food-related traditions are never stronger than during the holiday season.
There are some common complaints out there about turkey. First, it can be dry and flavorless. Second, it can taste gamey. Third, if it’s not overcooked, you run the risk of under-cooking the turkey, especially when you’ve got large quantities of light and dark meat involved.
The solution? Brining the turkey overnight and then injecting it (literally – using one of these) with chicken broth, butter, and garlic for flavor and moisture, then using an oven bag to ensure that it’s evenly cooked and moist. The result? A super-flavorful, super-moist Thanksgiving turkey.
Ingredient and Supply Notes
- Bucket – You’ll need a 5-gallon bucket (or something similar). I bought this one at Walmart in the paint department and as you can see it’s labeled safe for food. Even if it’s not labeled as such- I don’t stress too much about it.
- Thermometer– You’ll also need an accurate meat thermometer that can be inserted into the turkey and left there while it’s roasting in the oven. Our very favorite is this Chef Alarm from Thermoworks, but there are lots of affordable options on Amazon as well.
- A Turkey Injector- You can find them in the small cooking tools aisle of a department or grocery store, or I have this Grill Beast one and it is THE best I’ve ever used.
- Pan– A heavy roasting pan.
- Roasting Bags – you can find turkey-size disposable roasting bags in the grocery store, usually near the foil and zip-lock bags.
- Nitrile Gloves – If you’ve been around awhile, you know I always have a box of nitrile gloves in my kitchen. They make working with raw meat much easier. If you are squeamish about handling a large, raw turkey, these are a must!
- Fat Separator – While not 100% necessary for cooking the turkey, you will want a fat separator (like this OXO Fat Separator ) to help separate the cooking juices, which makes making the gravy a breeze!
- Size Matters– When it comes to your turkey, bigger isn’t always better. Or ever, actually. A big turkey is super impressive, but I wouldn’t buy a turkey larger than 12-14 pounds; if you need more turkey, just buy another one or buy a bone-in breast. Bigger turkeys are older turkeys, meaning their meat is not as tender and often more gamey. Also, it’s more difficult to properly cook a a very large turkey; if the outside is perfect, the inside may not be quite done.
- Time Matters – The other thing you’re going to need is lots of time, especially if you’re buying a frozen turkey. Even if they tell you that your turkey will be defrosted in a couple of days in the fridge, I would give the turkey a week in the fridge to thaw or about 1 day for every 4 pounds.
Ready? Scared? Don’t be! The thing I love MOST about this recipe is that it’s nearly fail-proof.
How to Make the Best Thanksgiving Turkey
Step 1: Brine the Turkey
The day before you roast your Thanksgiving turkey, make sure your turkey is thawed. Open the packaging and remove all the insides. This means you’ll have to check the body cavity and the neck cavity because that is where the pieces are usually hidden. If you’re planning on using the giblets and the neck to make gravy, rinse them off and refrigerate them in a Ziploc bag. Otherwise, discard them. Rinse the turkey inside and out and let it drain.
To a very large stock pot, add 1 gallon of chicken stock. That’s 4 boxes/cartons or 8 normal cans. OR if you can find these jumbo cans it’s a little less than 3 of those.
Bring this mixture to a boil and then let it cool to room temperature.
When the brine mixture has cooled, place the turkey in the 5-gallon bucket and cover it with 8 cups of cold water and 8 cups of ice. Then pour the cooled brine mixture over it.
Then cover the bucket with a lid (you can get the lid at the same time and place that you get the bucket) and place it in a cold place. If it’s cold outside, you can keep the bucket outside–a tight-fitting lid should keep the yummy smells inside and animals away. If it’s VERY cold outside, you could keep it in a cold garage. If it’s not cold at all and you’re wondering if winter will ever happen, you can keep it in one side of a sink or in a bathtub and then regularly pack it with ice so it stays cold. If you have an ice maker, it probably won’t be sufficient for your icy needs and you’ll probably have to go buy bags of ice from the grocery store. This is a small price to pay for deliciousness. Brine the turkey for 24 hours.
Now…because I used the roasting bag, I roasted my turkey according to the times and temperatures on the roasting bag packaging. This meant 350 for about 2-2 1/2 hours. So when you’re ready to begin roasting your turkey, preheat the oven according to the temperature on the roasting bag box.
Step 2: Make an Herbed Butter rub
Soften a stick of butter and mix it with a tablespoon of freshly chopped sage.
Grab some of the sage butter with your hand and rub it all between the turkey breast and the skin. It helps to pop your butter in the microwave until it’s part-way melted.
If you can get your hand between the skin and the dark meat of the turkey, more power to you–the more sage butter under the skin, the better. You will probably not use all the sage butter under the skin. Rub the rest of it on top of the skin and all over the bird.
Step 3: Inject the turkey
In a blender, combine about 2-3 cloves garlic, 1/2 cup chicken broth, and 1/4 cup melted butter until completely smooth. Retrieve your flavor injector.
This part is kind of fun. Suck up the mixture into the syringe and then insert it all over the turkey–in the breast, in the thighs, everywhere. This particular syringe I have is no joke. Stainless steel and super strong. It also comes with 2 different tips depending on what type of marinades you are using.
Step 4: Stuff the Turkey with aromatics
Slip any remaining rosemary and thyme under the skin of the turkey. Now is a great time to transfer the turkey into your roasting bag (according to the directions on the roasting bag, although there’s, like, a 99% chance they’re going to have you shake some flour around in the bag first). Chop a few apples, onions, and some celery
Step 5: Roast the Turkey
Roast the turkey according to the directions on the turkey bag until the meat thermometer registers 165 in the breasts and 180 in the thighs. My 12 pounder took about 2 hours, maybe a bit more. Remove from oven, cut the bag off the turkey, and then let it stand, tented with foil, for about 15-20 minutes so the juices can redistribute and the turkey will remain moist after slicing. Serve with all your favorite Thanksgiving goodies!
If you want your turkey skin extra browned and crisp, slip the bag off about 30 minutes before the turkey is done (and turn on the convection oven if you have one). That crisps and browns the skin really well while still keeping the meat tender and moist.
This Thanksgiving turkey has become a family tradition in thousands of homes across the country. I’m so glad that so many of you love it as much as I do!
Other Holiday Menu Items You’ll Love
Hands-down the best Turkey for the holidays! Tender, juicy, flavorful results every time!
1 5-gallon bucket and lid (like a brand-new paint bucket and lid, washed well)
A reliable oven-safe meat thermometer
Flavor injector/meat syringe
Turkey roasting bags
Heavy-duty roasting pan
TURKEY AND BRINE
1 turkey, no larger than 12-14 pounds
1 gallon chicken broth
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
1/2 cup brown or white sugar
1 cup kosher salt
5–6 cloves smashed garlic
1 tablespoon dehydrated onion
1 large sprig fresh thyme
1 large sprig fresh sage
1 large sprig fresh rosemary
1 handful fresh parsley
8 cups cold water
8 cups ice
3/4 cup salted butter, divided
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1/2 cup chicken broth
2–3 cloves garlic
1 apple, chopped in half
1–2 small onions, chopped in half
4 stalks celery, cut into thirds
- About a week before you begin brining your turkey, place it in the refrigerator to defrost.
- The day before you roast your turkey, combine the chicken broth and the remaining brine ingredients (through the parsley) in a very large stockpot. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Remove the packaging from the turkey. Remove the neck and giblets (be sure to check both the body and neck cavities) and reserve for later use if desired. Rinse the turkey in cool water and then place it in the 5-gallon bucket. Add the cold water and the ice cubes, then add the brine mixture. Stir to combine. Cover with the lid and then place in a cold place for up to 24 hours.
- When you’re ready to roast your turkey, preheat the oven according to the directions on the roasting bag packaging (usually 350 F). Soften 1/2 cup butter and mix it with 1 tablespoon fresh sage and set aside. Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it in cool water, and place in the roasting pan. Use your hands to loosen the skin over the breast. Spread handfuls of the sage butter between the breast and the skin, rubbing any excess over the outside of the skin.
- In a blender, combine 1/2 c. chicken broth, 2-3 cloves garlic, and 1/4 c. melted butter until completely smooth. Use the flavor injector to inject the mixture all over the turkey.
- Slip any remaining rosemary and thyme sprigs under the skin.
- Stuff the apple, onion, and celery into the cavity of the turkey. Insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey breast and then place the turkey into the roasting bag and roast until the thermometer registers 165 according to the roasting bag directions. When you’ve reached 165, remove the turkey from the oven and cut the bag away from the turkey. Allow it to stand for 15-20 minutes before slicing to allow the juices to redistribute and keep the turkey juice.