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How to Cook Turkey with Tons of Flavor

Updated on October 17, 2009

Turkey may look pretty on a Thanksgiving platter, but looks are not everything. Turkey, all by itself, just does not have much flavor. And, unfortunately, many cooks destroy that tiny bit of flavor by overcooking and drying out their bird. Maybe that is because many of us are still using the same tired, worn out cooking methods our mothers and grandmothers, and their mothers before them used. Believe it or not, turkeys do not have to be cooked to 180 degrees, nor do they require basting. And, better yet, they can taste really good.

Flavor Your Turkey Photo by amandais via Stock.Xchng
Flavor Your Turkey Photo by amandais via Stock.Xchng

Turkey Brine

A really good turkey begins with brining. A basic brine is water, sugar and salt, but there is no reason not to bring a little more flavor into the mix. The flavors of rosemary, thyme, garlic, peppercorns, sage and parsley will soak deep into the turkey as it brines overnight. Use fresh herbs whenever possible, and only whole peppercorns. There is no need to chop the herbs, just throw in the stems. In a large container with a tight fitting lid, dissolve 1 pound of Kosher Salt and 1 pound of light brown sugar in a little bit of warm water. Stir in the fresh herbs. Add enough cold water to completely cool the brine mixture. Put the turkey, head first, into the brine. Cover with cold water and plenty of ice. You may need to weight the turkey down to keep it completely submerged. Brine overnight. Keep checking the ice levels to make sure the turkey stays cold and at a safe temperature.

After removing the turkey from the brine, you will want to rinse off any herbs that may be stuck to the bird and then dry it off.

Turkey Seasoning Rub

Mix together ½ cup olive oil with 1 tablespoon each: finely chopped rosemary, thyme, sage and parsley. Add 2 cloves minced garlic and the juice of half a lemon. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Whisk together and allow to sit for ten minutes before using. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

While the oil rub is developing its flavor, stuff the turkey with 2 lemons cut into wedges, 4 or 5 whole cloves of garlic, and a handful of the same herbs used in the oil rub. Again, there is no need to chop the herbs; they will be discarded after the turkey is roasted.

Using your hands, carefully loosen the breast skin of the turkey and rub a generous amount of the herb and oil mixture onto the breast meat. Work all the way up the breasts and as far down the sides as you can, being carefully not to tear the skin. Then use the remaining oil to rub the entire surface of the turkey.

Roasting Turkey

Place the turkey breast side down on a rack in a roasting pan and cook for 30 minutes at 500 degrees F, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees for the remainder of the roasting time. When the turkey reaches an internal temperature of about 140 degrees, turn the turkey over to allow the breast to brown. Continue roasting the turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Remove from the oven, tent with foil and allow to rest for 10 to 20 minutes before carving.


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