Sure, you’ve heard of brining a turkey before but maybe it always seemed like too much work to bother with. Wrong. The process of soaking your Thanksgiving bird requires time, yes, but not a whole lot of effort. And it’s totally worth it for the juicy, flavorful bird you’ll serve up come Thursday.
As proof, we give you Ree Drummond‘s apple cider-brined turkey. Her simple recipe calls for heating a whole lot of water, apple cider, brown sugar, orange peels and few essential herbs and spices. Then all you need is a very large stockpot, one of these plastic brining bags, or even a big ol’ plastic bucket will do just fine, to place the solution in with the bird. You’ll also need to clear out a decent amount of space in your fridge for the next 16-24 hours.
While it really is that simple, there are a few things to keep in mind before embarking on your first bringing experience. Drummond recommends always using a fresh turkey, never frozen, since the frozen kinds often already carry a higher sodium content. She also stresses soaking the meat in cool water for 15 minutes after taking it out of the brine if you plan on making gravy from the drippings. “This soaking process will decrease the likelihood of too-salty gravy,” she says.
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But if you follow the directions below — even if you accidentally overcook your bird a tad — you’re bound to produce the best turkey in Thanksgiving history.
Ree Drummond’s Apple Cider Roast Turkey
3 large oranges, plus 2 tbsp. orange zest, divided
4 rosemary sprigs, stems removed, plus 3 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary, divided
3 cups apple cider
2 cups packed light brown sugar
¾ cup kosher salt
3 tbsp. tricolor peppercorns
5 garlic cloves, minced
5 bay leaves
1 (20-lb.) whole fresh or thawed frozen turkey
1 cup salted butter, softened
1. Prepare the brine: Remove peel from oranges in large strips. Reserve oranges for another use. Combine orange peels, rosemary leaves, cider, 2 gallons cold water, sugar, salt, peppercorns, garlic and bay leaves in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Remove from heat, and cover. Cool completely; chill 2 hours.
2. Remove turkey from packaging. Remove interior bags. (If you plan to make gravy with giblets, place bag in refrigerator, and chill until ready to use.) Rinse turkey under cool water; place in a plastic brining bag or a very large stockpot.
3. Pour brine over turkey. If brine does not cover turkey, add additional water to cover. Seal bag or cover pot; chill 16 to 24 hours.
4. Remove turkey from brine; discard brine. Thoroughly rinse turkey under cold water. Fill sink with water; place turkey in sink. Soak turkey 15 minutes. Pat dry.
5. Preheat oven to 275°. Truss turkey; place breast-side up, on a wire rack in a large roasting pan. Cover tightly and completely with heavy-duty foil (including bottom edge of roasting pan). Roast turkey in oven 3 hours and 30 minutes (about 10 minutes per pound).
6. Remove turkey from oven; increase temperature to 375°. Remove foil; set aside. Stir together butter, chopped rosemary and orange zest. Rub all over turkey skin. Insert a meat thermometer in the turkey thigh near the hip joint. Roast, uncovered, until thermometer reads 170° and juices are no longer pink, 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours, basting every 30 minutes.
7. Remove turkey from oven; cover with foil until ready to serve. Reserve pan drippings for gravy (recipe follows).
Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 5 hours, plus brining
Turkey giblets, reserved from turkey
Roasted turkey pan drippings
⅓ cup (about 1½ oz.) all-purpose flour
1 qt. reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 ½ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. kosher salt
1. Remove giblets from bag; place giblets in a small saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium; boil until fully cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove giblets, and set aside; reserve water in saucepan.
2. Pour pan drippings through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a measuring cup to equal 1/4 cup; discard solids. Place strained drippings in a medium saucepan; heat over medium-high. Sprinkle flour over drippings; cook, whisking constantly, until mixture forms a paste. If the paste is too thick or clumpy, add additional pan drippings, 1 tablespoon at a time. If paste becomes too greasy, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, whisking constantly, until deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.
Makes: 4 cups
Active time: 20 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes