Thanksgiving Q&A 2016
Question: I’ve always eschewed “dry” brines, as I don’t have confidence that I can spread the salt evenly under the skin, and, also, I don’t want too much sodium in the final product. With wet brines and chicken I’ve learned that about one hour of wet brine is about right to balance, for me, juiciness and taste. What do you think an equivalent wet brine time would be for a 13 pound turkey? Three hours? Less? More? Thanks. – Warren, via eMail
Short answer: For the low end of brining a turkey, brine for 4 hours. (On the high end – I usually let it go overnight.)
Long answer: When I wet brine a turkey, I cut back on the ratio of salt to water. With chicken, I brine with a ratio of 1/4 cup (1 1/2 ounces) of Diamond Crystal kosher salt to 1 quart (32 ounces) of water. For a turkey, I cut that ratio in half – 1/8 cup (2 tablespoons, 3/4 ounce) of salt to 1 quart of water. Reducing the brine strength lets me brine the turkey longer, so the brine has time to penetrate deep into the thick turkey breasts. Also, I like the convenience of overnight brining. Everything I can do the night before Thanksgiving is good – it’s one less thing I have to worry about in the rush on Thanksgiving day.
(This question about wet brines inspired last Thursday’s recipe: Rotisserie Turkey stuffed with Herbs.)
Question: So what is the best way to “wrap” a turkey for the rotisserie? I used to put an ice packet on the breast to cool it and so the turkey could get done at all the same time. But with a rotisserie, I’m not sure that evenness is possible or obtainable. – Commenter Gary
Answer: An ice pack on the breast is a great idea for the rotisserie! I pull my turkey out of the refrigerator an hour before cooking, and put a gallon zip-top bag full of ice on the breast while it rests and I get the grill ready. (More details here.) Now, if you leave the ice pack on while you’re cooking? That definitely won’t work on a rotisserie. But that’s OK – icing the breast before cooking is enough to even out the cooking between the breast (Which we want cooked to 160°F, no more) and the legs (Which are best at 175°F to 185°F, if not higher).
As for trussing the turkey, see my Turkey Trussing Video for how I wrap up the bird so it doesn’t flop around on the rotisserie.
Question: What do you think about cooking a turkey sous vide for Thanksgiving? – Commenter Justin
Answer: Sous Vide, and its precision temperatures, is perfect for cooking a turkey. You can cook the legs at a high temperature until they are tender and shreddable, then drop the temp in the Sous Vide and cook the breasts at the exact temp to keep them juicy.
I’ve wanted to try Sous Vide Turkey since I watched Chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, co-owners of the famous Modernist restaurant Alinea, cook Thanksgiving together in this video [YouTube.com].
Unfortunately, being the Rotisserie guy means my family expects things from me – one of them is a grilled turkey. (I even bring my Weber kettle in the trunk when I’m visiting for Thanksgiving, just so I can give them their grill-smoked turkey.) I’ve never had a chance to go full-on modernist Thanksgiving.
When I finally get to go mad food scientist, the first place I’ll turn is friend-of-the-blog Jason Logdson at AmazingFoodMadeEasy.com for How To Sous Vide Turkey instructions.
There are lots of other good resources, too. As you mentioned in your comment, Kenji Alt has done it at SeriousEats.com, and Grant Crilly of ChefSteps.com teamed up with Meathead Goldwyn of AmazingRibs.com for a Sous Vide/Grilled turkey.
Question: I’m planning to follow your basic dry brine turkey recipe; grilling with my Weber kettle rotisserie. My question is, what do you do for your gravy? Will the pan drippings from the dry brine bird be too salty? Any suggestions would be appreciated. – Commenter Andy
Answer: So, I have a couple of different thoughts on this one.
Thought the First: I use the drippings from brined turkey in my gravy all the time. I know this bothers some people – they say the drippings come out too salty – but I don’t notice that at all once it is mixed in with the rest of the gravy. (That said, to be safe, don’t add salt to your gravy until after you’ve added the drippings, and taste as you go when you do add the salt.)
Thought the Second: I rarely use the drippings from my Weber Kettle in gravy. Why? Ash. I almost always wind up with charcoal ashes in the drip pan in my kettle grill. (Adding the batch of coals after an hour to keep the grill going seems to knock ashes all over the place.) That said, check out the drippings – if they clean, go right ahead and use them. (I use the drippings from my gas grill all the time.)
Question: What does Thanksgiving at DadCooksDinner.com look like? – Mike V, via email
(OK, so I may have sent myself this question.)
Answer: So, what does a DadCooksDinner thanksgiving look like?
I make gravy ahead of time, using the Turkey giblets in the pressure cooker. Pressure Cooker Giblet Gravy recipe here.
I cook two dry brined turkeys – one a “plain” turkey on my gas grill rotisserie, and the other a grill-smoked turkey in my kettle grill. (The kettle grill turkey is also cooked on a rotisserie…if the weather cooperates. Here in Northeastern Ohio, Thanksgiving has a 50% chance of gorgeous fall weather, and a 50% chance of gray and cold and wind and sleet. Guess which way the forecast is pointing this year?)
Rotisserie Turkey, Dry Brined with Orange and Spices recipe
Grilling Basics – Dry Brined Grilled Turkey recipe
I take advantage of the drip pans under the turkeys and make drip pan stuffing.
Rotisserie Pan Stuffing recipe
I put my pressure cooker back into action, and make a big batch of sweet potatoes. (I pull out my 8 quart cooker for this one, and double the recipe.)
Pressure Cooker Sweet Potato Puree
And, I make a big batch of mashed potatoes. (Which, yet again, I don’t have a recipe for basic mashed potatoes on the blog. Geez, I’m such a slacker.)
Finally, I save the turkey carcass for day-after-Thanksgiving-turkey-carcass-soup. (Save those bones! Recipe coming tomorrow!) I enjoy the leftovers meal the day after Thanksgiving as much as I enjoy the big turkey dinner itself.
(Oh, and if you have a spare Turkey Drumstick, wrap it up and throw it in the freezer. I have a bonus Thanksgiving Leftovers recipe coming next week…)
Any last minute Thanksgiving questions? Leave them in the comments section below.
Good luck with Thanksgiving, all you cooks out there!
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