Brined & Roasted or Grilled Whole Turkey

It’s mid-July and already, my mind is planning Thanksgiving, looking forward to eating juicy, succulent turkey, adjectives rarely used to describe turkeys of most holiday meals. No matter the techniques – roasting bags, butter rubs, tenting with foil, or using roasters – the meat was the least favorite part of the meal. Then we discovered organic pastured turkeys – turkeys raised the way turkeys were meant to be raised. Unlike factory-farmed counterparts, pastured turkeys have a good life – running free in fields filled with sunshine, plenty of juicy insects and nutrient-dense grass from which they can forage. There’s no doubt part of their great flavor is psychological. It’s a relief to know we’re eating meat that isn’t loaded with chemicals, preservatives, antibiotics, and growth
stimulants like arsenic.

Pastured or not, turkey is lower in fat and it is the fat in meat that makes the difference between juicy and moist or a dry sawdust texture on the tongue.

We experimented with various injection techniques, as well as deep-frying in peanut-oil – awesome flavor, but insanely expensive with the oil costing more than the turkey. We tried the beer-can method, the turkey and poultry stand method, and finally, four turkeys later, discovered the magic of brining – hydrating the meat, reducing the drying effect of cooking, baking, roasting or grilling.

The brine we use is a combination of Alton Brown, Bobby Flay, Emeril and Cooks Illustrated, an aromatic combination of acids, salt, spices, and broth. At first I was concerned the real turkey flavor might end up tasting perfumed, but instead, it retained its true flavor, rounded out by what is best described as wine overtones – subtle and fruity, enhancing the richness of the meat, but not overpowering.

When I oven-roast chickens, ducks or small turkeys, I love the results I achieve with my Le Creuset covered oval baking dish. But our favorite results are achieved with our Traeger wood pellet grill brilliant at applying indirect heat methods, as well as a low and slow convection style of cooking. Traeger offers a wide variety of natural wood pellets, including mesquite and cherry, with maple pellets, our favorite flavor for turkey, complimenting the brine. The amount of smoke is easily adjustable, adding one more layer of complexity to the flavors, while not compromising the moist, tender meat resulting in a bird that could go head-to-head with Emeril, Alton, or Christopher (Kimball) any day.

Ericson Family’s Favorite Thanksgiving Turkey Brine with Gravy Gravy

1 (14 to 16 pound) fresh pastured turkey (double everything for larger turkey – we’ve gone as high as 34 pounds)

For the brine:

  • 2 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 gallon vegetable stock (I used 1 32 home-made organic chicken stock)
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon allspice berries
  • 1 tablespoon candied ginger
  • 1 onion, chopping
  • 1 T dried rosemary
  • 1 T dried thyme
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 gallons iced water
  • 3 sliced lemon (divided)
  • 3 sliced orange (divided)

Throw ingredients in the pot (HINT: if you’re going to use an ice water bath because your vessel is too larger for the refrigerator, place the stockpot in its place NOW because it will be too heavy to carry.) including 2 of the 3 sliced lemons and oranges. Stir to dissolve salt and sugar; add turkey breast-side down; turned turkey halfway through brining; brined for 12 to 24 hours, with 24 more desirable.

Since most large brining containers won’t fit in the refrigerator, come up with a plan beforehand whether temperatures will be cold enough to leave the stockpot sitting on a raised platform out in the garage (ours is below freezing in November, which is when we typically brine turkeys), or by creating an ice bath, the stockpot placed in another larger container (cooler filled with ice and ice water), so that the temperatures stay at safe temperature levels.

Remove bird (use this for turkeys or chickens) from brine, rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard brine.

When ready for roasting, filled the cavity with

  • 1 sliced lemon,
  • 1 sliced orange,
  • 2 chopped carrots,
  • 1 chopped onion,
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 sliced apple
  • 2 cinnamon sticks

Oven Roasting with Emeril Directions: 425f for 30-minutes. Turned heat down to 325 convection (350 conventional) and roasted for another hour; Flipped turkey, covered breast with foil, as well as bones in legs. Roasted until 161 on thermometer. The fresh turkey took another 4 hours from the flipping time. I basted it several times with a mixture: 1 cup chicken broth, 1 cup apple cider.

Emeril instructions – A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let turkey rest, loosely covered for 15 minutes before carving. Recipe from “New New Orleans Cooking”, by Emeril Lagasse and Jessie Tirsch

Grilling Instructions with Wood Pellet Grill
Grilled at 375 for 1 hour; reduced heat to 275, roasting for 4-6 hours (we use an electronic meat thermometer so we can constantly monitor internal temp). Traeger mesquite or maple pellets are our favorites.

Giblet Gravy – Emeril

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Giblets, liver, and neck from 1 turkey
  • 1 cup diced onions
  • 1/3 cup minced celery
  • 1/3 cup peeled and minced carrots
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 4 teaspoons all-purpose flour (or arrowroot OR any other favorite thickening starch such as tapioca, etc.)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups organic home-made chicken broth
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium, heavy pot, melt the butter and the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the giblets, liver, and turkey neck, and cook, stirring until brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic, and saute an additional 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring for 1 minute.

Deglaze pan white wine, stirring to incorporate any browned bits from bottom of the pan. Add the chicken stock, thyme sprig, and any reserved juices from the bottom of the roasting pan, and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Strain. Adjust seasonings with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Yield: about 3 cups