Posted by: Part-Time Audiophile | November 24, 2009

A Cooks Illustrated Thanksgiving Turkey!

I have the in-laws coming for dinner on Thanksgiving. A whole lot of ’em! Luckily, the duties were doled out, so I’m pretty much left with the bird and gravy. Not too shabby. I ordered a 22lb “natural” heritage turkey from the local co-op, which I just picked up today. Immediate problem? It’s gi-NOR-mous. So much for brining that sucker in a stockpot. Out came the cooler!


  • ~3 gallons of cold water
  • 1.5 cups table salt
  • .5 cups light brown sugar
  • 1T cracked peppercorns

A lot of folks add all manner of stuff to their brines, but I have to tell you, I think it’s pretty much a waste of time. Sure, water-soluble chemicals can be dragged back into the meat, but in my experience, it isn’t much. Salt, however, works like the dickens — and is the key to having your bird hold onto its moisture during the cooking. Sugar helps brown that waterlogged skin — that and a prolonged air dry. Peppercorns? Why not.

Whatever you decide to add to your brine, just be sure the entire thing stays very cold — below 40 for the entire period!

I brine with a “light brine” over for a long period — 14 hours or so. You can halve that pretty easily — just double the salt! (My bird is in the brine right now, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving!).

Tomorrow morning, I’ll rinse the bird off, pat it dry and set it in the fridge to dry for the following day.

Thanksgiving morning, I’ll start prepping the skin with the rub. Rub? Yeah!


  • 2T Sage
  • 2T Parsley
  • 2T Thyme
  • 2T Rosemary
  • 4t Powdered Porcini mushrooms
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter

Gently melt the butter in the microwave — you don’t want this too hot when you apply it. Powderize (super-finely chop) the herbs and add to the butter. The mushrooms I use are a dried package — I clean out the coffee grinder and render the ‘shrooms to powder and add them to the butter too.

If the skin of the bird is very dry, apply the rub to the outside of the skin, coating liberally. If it’s loose, slip the rub under it! If your bird is really big, double the rub!

As for cooking the bird, I’m going to follow the Cooks Illustrated method. Preheat the oven to 400. Nuke my stuffing to 130 degrees, jam it in the bird, strew 2 chopped carrots, 1 large onion, and 2 chopped celery stalks into the pan with 1 cup of chicken stock. Put the bird on a rack over the veg, breast side down. Roast for 1 hour at 400, then turn down the heat to 250, and continue to roast for another 2 hours. Then, flip the bird (easier said than done), and crank the heat back up to 400 for the last hour. The bird is “done” when the breast is 160, the thigh is 170 and the stuff is 165. Larger bird? Might want to extend that low-heat period by an hour — but you don’t want the bird at 150 when you crank up the heat or it’ll over cook. I’m guessing here, but I’m thinking that you should be about 130 when you flip for that final stretch — the goal here is to brown that skin while everything comes up to temp.   Bird

Let it rest 1 hour before carving.


  1. Wow , it is Thanksgiving Day! I’m enjoying my extra day off, and I am planning to doing something fun that’ll probably involve a bike ride and seeing something new in Madera Acres I haven’t seen yet.
    You write new post at Thanksgiving?

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