I've cooked a good many things in my life, but up until that point, a Thanksgiving Turkey wasn't one of them. Needless to say, I was glad to know that if I wrecked it or dried it out past the point of palatable, very few people would be affected. Even so, I know the reception that dry turkey receives (not good, not good at all), and I figured that if we were going to spend that much time and money preparing a big bird for this feast, it may as well be really good. So I studied up. Boy, howdy, did I study.
I watched hours of Thanksgiving-related shows on the Food Network, scoured cooking magazines and websites for helpful hints, and I can honestly tell you that one TV special--Alton Brown's "Romancing the Bird"--and its turkey recipe changed my life. I followed all of his instructions to the letter, except for the brining, even investing in a digital cooking thermometer with an alarm on it.
The results were astonishing.
It felt as if it had been years since I'd had a piece of turkey I had enjoyed, and now, here was a 30-pounder (I know) that I could enjoy every morsel of! It was tender, it was flavorful, it was juicy . . . it was good eats. Good work, Alton.
After all was said and eaten, here's what I think helps make Alton's turkey great: 1) the aromatics, which not only keep the cavity from drying out, but also impart a wonderful flavor to the meat, and, most importantly, 2) the thermometer. With this thermometer (mine cost $10), you insert the probe into whatever meat you're cooking (turkey, in this case), set the alarm to go off when the meat has reached a desired temperature, and walk away. Never, ever, ever trust a pop-up timer that comes with a turkey--they will almost always cause you to dry out your turkey. With this digital thermometer, there's no chance that your turkey will get overly done. It will be perfect--moist and juicy every time.
There's also the fact of the resting. Give your turkey a good half hour to rest out of the oven before you carve into him--that way he'll retain all of his juices and stay moist. Don't worry that he will get cold; there's plenty of mass there to keep him piping hot.
This year, I plan to give brining a try. I hear it makes a remarkable difference in the flavor and juiciness of the bird. And I figure, if Alton's recipe is as good as it is without the brine, it will be even better with it.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving! And if you're cooking the turkey this year, definitely invest in a digital thermometer with alarm--you will wonder how you ever made a turkey without one!