Thanksgiving turkey is an annual chore, and usually it’s an annual bore, as well.

Your basic holiday turkey generally arrives overdone and tasting dull. This is because most people do not know how to properly roast the big bird. They prepare turkey the way their mothers always cooked it: roasted half a day, unto flavorless dryness, as if to ensure the poor turkey is indeed, well and truly dead.

But I’m here to tell you how to do it right. How to have everyone clamoring for more, more, more turkey, the best, most delicious, and absolute moistest turkey you have ever eaten in your deprived culinary life.

Rule numero uno: Take a tip from the chefs and brine the bird.

“Brining” is chef-speak for soaking a piece of meat in salted water.  These turkey tips came mostly from Kevin Garvin, executive chef at Neiman Marcus, with some additional info from the folks at Calphalon.

 You can buy big Ziploc-type bags specifically made for brining, but any extra-thick, securely zipped storage bag will work as long as it’s big enough. Ziploc makes “Big Bags” in XL (10-gallon) and XXL (20-gallon) sizes. I am thinking the XL bag will be big enough for my 14-pound turkey, but a 20- or 24- pound bird might need the 20-gallon bag.

If you bought a frozen turkey, it should already be thawing in the bottom of your refrigerator. On Wednesday evening, rinse the turkey and set aside the giblet package and turkey neck from the cavity. Place rinsed bird in the brining bag and fill the bag to cover with cool water, salted with 1 cup of dissolved kosher salt. Place the brining bag in a sturdy box and let it soak overnight in the fridge.

(If you totally forget to do this step the night before, you can do a quick brining soak of the turkey in the kitchen sink for 1 hour before roasting starts on Thanksgiving morning.)

Before roasting, drain brining water but do not rinse bird. Season the turkey inside and out with salt and pepper. (If you like turkey stuffed, this is the point at which you add the stuffing, while the bird is still in the sink.) Transfer turkey to a V-rack in a large, sturdy roasting pan. Rub the exterior of the bird with softened butter or baste with olive oil, and season again lightly with salt and pepper.

Roast about 20 minutes per pound, or four and a half hours for a 14-pound turkey.  Unstuffed turkeys can be roasted breast-side down for 45 minutes at 400 F.; then turn the bird over (rubber gloves are essential here), cover the breast with foil (shiny side out), and lower the oven temp to 325 F.

(NOTE: Roast a stuffed turkey breast-side up in a 325 F. oven, and cover the breast with foil for two-thirds of the roasting time, to prevent over-browning.)

Baste the turkey at each hour mark. You can use butter or chicken stock, or use the pan juices when enough collects.

Use a meat thermometer inserted into breast just above where wings attach, and remove bird when internal temperature reaches 160 F. (after 170 F., it will get dried out). Remove turkey from pan and set aside to rest on a large serving platter for about 30 minutes before carving.

I did this brining-the-turkey thing last year, for the very first time. And from my family’s reaction, you would have thought I had turned into Julia Child. Yet it wasn’t all that hard to pull off this miraculous bird. All I can say is, if I can do it, you can do it.

Because, although it’s a little more work, it’s well worth it when you see the turkey juices dripping down as you carve the breast meat. It’s doubly worth it when people dig in and begin moaning in ecstasy about this being the best, most flavorful turkey they have ever eaten. You will thereupon resolve never to make turkey any other way.

Once you brine the turkey, in fact, anyone who tastes the end result is not ever going to let you get away with making your Thanksgiving dinner any other way. 

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