Brining is a method of seasoning and tenderizing meat before cooking. It involves placing the raw bird in a solution of water, salt and seasonings. Remember that turkey must be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F to be eaten safely. The time it takes to reach 165 degrees depends on how hot you set your oven, if you keep the bird covered and the size of your turkey.
Brining the Turkey
Seasonings for turkey brines can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. Common brining seasonings include kosher salt, peppercorns, allspice, thyme, savory, sage rosemary, citrus and brown sugar. The brining method itself is simple. Combine all your seasonings in a saucepan and heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved and then cool to room temperature. In a clean, 5-gallon bucket, add the cooled brine seasoning, one gallon of ice water and one gallon of vegetable broth. Place your thawed and rinsed turkey in the bucket with the breast down. You may need to weight the bird down so it remains completely submerged. Place the bucket in the refrigerator and soak in brine for six to 12 hours before cooking.
Cooking the Turkey
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Put a large colander in the sink, remove the turkey from the brining solution and put it in the colander, with the cavity facing downward, to allow most of the water to drain. This shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes.
Place the turkey on a roasting pan, breast up, and use a paper towel to pat dry any excess brining solution. Rub the meat with two to three tablespoons of butter. This will brown the skin nicely and provide excellent drippings for the gravy. Add one cup of water or broth and two cups of chopped vegetables (carrots, onions and celery) to the bottom of the pan. Cover the bird with the roasting pan lid or aluminum foil. Keeping the turkey covered for at least the first two hours will allow the turkey to cook with a moist heat and prevent it from drying out.
Times and Temperatures
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an eight- to 12-pound unstuffed turkey will take 2 3/4 to three hours to cook. Turkeys that are 12 to 18 pounds can take up to 4 1/2 hours, and large turkeys up to 24 pounds will require approximately 5 1/4 hours. These times are guidelines for brined turkeys, as well.
The safest way to determine whether the turkey has been cooked safely is to use a meat thermometer. These can be purchased at any grocery or kitchen gadget store. When using a thermometer, place the probe in the thickest part of the meat, but be careful not to go so deep as to touch bone. Wait for 30 seconds before taking a reading. When the turkey has reached 165 degrees F, pull it out of the oven and allow 10 to 15 minutes of resting time before carving.