“That’s the ultimate goal of most turkey recipes: to create a great skin and stuffing to hide the fact that turkey meat, in its cooked state, is dry and flavorless. Does it have to be that way? No.”
Everyone knows that the traditional main course to eat on Thanksgiving is a turkey. But I didn’t grow up that way because my dad hates turkey. We enjoyed a ham, instead. Why does he despise all things turkey? Because it often is so dry and hard to swallow. Turkeys can cost a lot of money to buy, especially if you get one that’s been raised organically or the like, so it’s a shame when it comes out of the oven just being okay.
We have a recipe that has become a family favorite and it will make the turkey melt in your mouth. One year we actually persuaded my dad to let us prepare poultry and when he consented to trying a bite, he announced with surprise, “It tastes like ham!”
So what’s the secret? Brine smoking and slow cooking. Here’s what to do:
In a sterile cooler that will hold your bird, mix the following together till dissolved:
1 gallon water (we use spring or filtered water with no chlorine),
1 c. pickling salt
1 c. brown sugar
1 bottle (3.5 oz). liquid smoke (about 1/2 c.)
(It is likely that you will have to double this recipe, depending on the size of your bird. Pick a cooler that is just barely bigger than your bird, so the brine will cover the turkey.)
Place your bird into the liquid. If it floats to the top, sometimes we stick a small bowl or something on top to push it down when the lid closes. Leave for 48 hours. The salt deters bad bacteria from growing, but try to keep the lid closed once you have everything in there . When done soaking, rinse the turkey and thoroughly pat dry. Place breast side down in a baking pan with sides and bake at 350° for 1 hour, and then 225° for approximately an equal number of pounds as hours. When your poultry is properly baked, pull it out and let the flavorful fowl sit a few minutes before cutting.
If your experience is like ours, you’ll find your turkey has a moist, sumptuous, smoky flavor with meat that falls off the bone.
• Liquid smoke is usually found in the same aisle as Worcestershire and BBQ sauce.
• You will need to count back the number of hours required from cooking from when you want to eat. Often this will mean getting up in the night to start your bird. It will be worth it!
• You will also need to count back the days required to brine it, including the number of days to thaw. If you thaw it in the fridge, this could be close to a week.
• If you have a really large bird, there is a point where you don’t keep adding hours for pounds. For example, we often raise a 24 pound turkey–we don’t need to cook it for a full day! 15-16 hours is usually the max.
• Your bird might have the internal temperature of being fully cooked before the recipe time is complete, but keep going to get the soft, juicy, fall-off-the-bone meat.
• You can also use this recipe for chickens or fresh/green hams and bacon that haven’t been cured.
• With chickens, the number of cooking hours at 225° should be slightly less than the number of pounds. Example: 4 pounds, 3 hours.
• If you make gravy from the liquid in the pan, taste it before you add salt, as the brine is salty already.
• Because of the brine smoking and long, slow cooking, this bird will be so tender and falling apart that it won’t have the gorgeous look of crispy, brown skin that your typical bird will have. But it will taste better!
So try something new this Thanksgiving and if you are like us, you’ll never go back to dry turkey. Enjoy!