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Since we introduced the brined turkey in 1993, we have tested dozens of techniques for producing the perfect Thanksgiving bird. Here’s what really works.
Big birds and small birds, kosher birds, and self-basting birds—with all of these choices, and more, on the market, how can the home cook make the right choice and then know how to make turkey properly? Our roasted turkey recipe allows for a brined or an unbrined turkey (we found you should never brine a kosher or a self-basting bird because it will become too salty) and for a turkey brined for four hours or overnight (the shorter the soak, the saltier the brine). It also provides timing and temperature guidelines for small (12- to 15-pound), medium (15- to 18-pound), and large (18- to 22-pound) birds (large birds get a hotter oven to start out, then a cooler oven to let them cook through without burning the skin).
We offer two brine formulas: one for a 4- to 6-hour brine and another for a 12- to 14-hour brine. The amount of salt used in each brine does not change with turkey size. If you’re roasting a kosher or self-basting turkey, do not brine it; it already contains a good amount of sodium. Rotating the bird from a breast-side down position to a breast-side up position midway through cooking helps to produce evenly cooked dark and white meat. If you’re roasting a large (18- to 22-pound) bird and are reluctant to rotate it, skip the step of lining the V-rack with foil and roast the bird breast-side up for the full time. If making gravy, scatter 1 cup each of coarsely chopped onion, celery, and carrot as well as several fresh thyme sprigs in the roasting pan at the outset; add 1 cup water to keep the vegetables from burning.
1. Dissolve 1 cup salt per gallon cold water for 4- to 6-hour brine or 1/2 cup salt per gallon cold water for 12- to 14-hour brine in large stockpot or clean bucket. Two gallons of water will be sufficient for most birds; larger birds may require three gallons. Add turkey and refrigerate for predetermined amount of time.
2. Before removing turkey from brine, adjust oven rack to lowest position; heat oven to 400 degrees for 12- to 18-pound bird or 425 degrees for 18- to 22-pound bird. Line large V-rack with heavy-duty foil and use paring knife or skewer to poke 20 to 30 holes in foil; set V-rack in large roasting pan.
3. Remove turkey from brine and rinse well under cool running water. Pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Tuck tips of drumsticks into skin at tail to secure, and tuck wing tips behind back. Brush turkey breast with 2 tablespoons butter. Set turkey breast-side down on prepared V-rack; brush back with remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Roast 45 minutes for 12- to 18-pound bird or 1 hour for 18- to 22-pound bird.
4. Remove roasting pan with turkey from oven (close oven door to retain oven heat); reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees if roasting 18- to 22-pound bird. Using clean potholders or kitchen towels, rotate turkey breast-side up; continue to roast until thickest part of breast registers 165 degrees and thickest part of thigh registers 170 to 175 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 50 to 60 minutes longer for 12- to 15-pound bird, about 1 1/4 hours for 15- to 18-pound bird, or about 2 hours longer for 18- to 22-pound bird. Transfer turkey to carving board; let rest 30 minutes (or up to 40 minutes for 18- to 22-pound bird). Carve and serve.
With a towel or potholder in each hand, grasp the turkey and flip it over, placing it breast-side up on the rack. Take care to protect your hands from hot juices that will run out of the turkey.
To take the temperature of the thigh: Use an instant-read thermometer, inserted into the thickest part of the thigh away from the bone, to determine when the leg meat is done.
To take the temperature of the breast: Insert the thermometer at the neck end, holding parallel to the bird. Confirm the temperature by inserting the thermometer in both sides of the bird.