To many cooks (and eaters!), brining is the best method for a moist and flavorful turkey. This recipe is from Sam Haward, a James Beard Award winning chef.
You can brine a 14-pound turkey overnight in the refrigerator in a large lobster pot. Or, if you’re cooking a very large bird, you can brine it outside in a large, clean picnic cooler filled with the brine and a few bags of ice to keep the temperature cold. You’ll need to double the brine recipe in this case. Secure the lid with heavy weights or a bungee cord; then let the cooler sit outside overnight. The high concentration of salt and sugar in the solution will keep it from freezing.
Total Time: 3-½ to 4-½ hours, depending on size of bird, plus 12 hours brining.
A note from Sam: “The government suggests much higher cooking temperatures, as high as 165°, to kill food-borne disease organisms, usually resulting in a cooked texture somewhere between beef jerky and compressed sawdust. A conscientious local poultry farmer, careful handling procedures, a clean kitchen, and brining all help to reduce the risk of food-borne disease in poultry, rendering such appalling overcooking unnecessary.”
Remove the giblets and neck from the bird, saving the neck if you plan to make stock (see recipe). Set aside.
The evening before you roast the turkey, mix the remaining ingredients in your container, stirring until the salt and sugar have completely dissolved. Place the whole turkey in the brine, breast side down, and move it around a bit to expel air from the cavity. Place the container in the refrigerator (or outside, remembering to add ice and secure the lid), then allow the turkey to rest in the brine 12 hours.
Remove the bird from the brine, and drain it well before roasting. Discard the brine.
Preheat your oven to 400° and set a rack to the second-to-lowest position. Tie the ends of the turkey’s leg bones together with soft twine. Massage the skin well with plenty of olive oil. (Thanks to the brining, you don’t need to sprinkle it with salt and pepper.)
Place the turkey, breast side down, in a large roasting pan. Transfer to the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 325°. Roast the bird this way for about 10 minutes per pound, basting occasionally. Remove the turkey from the oven, turn it over onto its back, return it to oven, and continue roasting for an additional 5 or 6 minutes per pound, basting occasionally.
The bird is fully cooked when an instant-read thermometer registers 150° when inserted into the crease between the thigh and the lower breast, the legs move easily in their hip sockets, and juices run clear when the inner thigh meat is pierced with a meat fork.