Allow me to slice to the chase: brine your turkey.
If you have tried brining your Butterball in the past and were not convinced that the extra work was worth it, dip your wing in the water again, and if you have never set aside your Turkey Day headliner to soak overnight, do it.
Whether you are going to roast a bone-in breast for a small family, such as I have done for just my wife and me these past several Thanksgivings, or a twenty-pounder, this preparatory step will pay off and will preclude you from opening the oven every twenty minutes for the inconsequential baste.
Grab a sizable stock pot for a bone-in breast or buy a new Home Depot bucket or toss-away Styrofoam cooler for a big bird. Make sure that you have plenty of ice.
There, you are almost done.
In the two-plus decades that I have been preparing Thanksgiving dinner at our house, even before I became a "Briner," I had never understood the traditional trepidation that has long been attributed to roasting a turkey. Sitcom episodes that center on the holiday invariably invoke the alimentary leitmotif of the bird that is underdone, overdone, dry, or otherwise inedible.
In "National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation," Clark Griswold punctures a beautifully browned bird that pops like a desiccated basketball. In the hilarious British comedy, "Fright Night Dinner," the Goodman boys rue having to choke down their mother’s annual moistless execution, and the "Full House" male brain-trust set fire to their atrocious turkey.
Even those that never made it into the oven ended up on Monica’s head or hit the ground "like sacks of wet cement" all around Les Nessman.
It does not have to be this way.
No doubt, there is more than one way to make a turkey tender and tasty, and the marketplace and internet are stockpiled with kits and recipes.
Many years ago, I turned to TV’s most scientifically reliable culinarian, Alton Brown, and have not second-guessed him since on this holiday. His foolproof and straightforward ‘Good Eats Roast Turkey’ recipe is on the Food Network website and can be adjusted for the size of the bird in question.
Though Brown’s concoction calls for a gallon of vegetable stock, allspice berries, and candied ginger, simple substitutions with surplus staples can be made without altering the outcome: toss a bullion cube or two into the water, and for the allspice and ginger, just mix in equal parts ground cinnamon, ground cloves, and ground ginger, not much at all will suffice.
The key ingredients are the kosher salt and brown sugar, which should stick to a 2:1 ratio.
Once everything has dissolved and cooled to room temp, dunk the turkey and pour in the ice water. A stockpot can be tucked in the fridge; the five-gallon bucket or cooler needs to stay on a cold porch or in a chilly basement or garage. The ice will last for eight hours or so. Night, night, Mr. Turkey.
If you are roasting a whole turkey, the microwaved aromatics work perfectly and could not be easier. Anyone who is continuing to spin the Salmonella wheel by stuffing the raw fella’s cavity with stuffing, each year could be the one your luck runs out.
For our bone-in breast, I ‘pile’ the aromatics underneath the bird, which I then prop up in the roasting pan with bamboo skewers.
My only departure from Brown’s directions is his 500° roasting time for the first thirty minutes: too hot for my bird. I start mine at 425° for a half hour and then lower the temperature to 350° until a thermometer reads 160°.
Let Tom Turkey rest for fifteen minutes and then carve in thick, salty, juicy slices, a quarter-inch at least, because the thinner the slices, the sooner they will cool down and dry out.
You did it.
To all, my most sincere wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving with a reiterated hope that your family gathering this year is a small and local one.