This time of year Draper’s BBQ cooks a lot of turkeys we also answer a ton of questions about how we do our turkeys. Unfortunately even if we told you exactly how we turn out top notch turkey goodness not everything would easily translate to how you are cooking your turkey.
With that thought in mind I thought I would cover some basics that will make you the hero of the big day, which is tomorrow, so these are last minutes tips based on things you likely already have in your pantry / fridge.
The single biggest question we get is “what is your brine recipe?” Well to be honest we dont use a traditional brine recipe any longer. There was a time I swore by wet brines for turkey but as my proficiency grew with cooking them I found my need for them greatly decreased. The reality is that brines do not penetrate deep into the meat like we think it does and wet brines can be a hassle when you are doing more than one bird.
What we adapted to replace wet brining is a process called dry brining. It accomplishes the same task, but is much easier to deal with overall. Now you maybe asking yourself, “what is this crazy meat magic you speak of?” Dry brining is little more than sprinkling the turkey with salt about 12hrs before you cook. Doing this accomplishes the same thing as a wet brine BUT it does not compromise the ability to create crispy skin like a wet brine. It does not take a lot of salt, literally just a light sprinkle and pat dry and let sit in the fridge and that is it. You can of course add more herbs and spices to the dry brine if you wish. Just remember to wipe off any excess moisture and dry brine before cooking.
We also employ a process of using herbed butter to bring flavor to the party. A few hours before the dance of the turkey begins we soften a stick of butter (not completely melt, just soften) and add our favorite herbs, spices etc to the butter and then reform into a log using wax paper and toss that into the freezer. Once the butter has set again or just before you put the bird in the hot box you want to slice this roll of butter into about 12 pieces so it looks like coins. Then you can work these coins under the skin of the bird. I like to put 3 per breast and at least 1 per leg and thigh. I like doing this because the butter is typically frozen and acts like a first baste but it is under the skin so the meat itself gets the benefit of the flavors. Now I know it might sound a little primal working your hand up under the skin of the turkey, but its very easy. If you work from the cavity end of the bird and start with the breast and slowly work forward you will easily make the pockets needed. Once you are done feel free to use some tooth picks to stretch the skin back so it fully covers the breast again.
So you are probably asking “what spices we use” in our herbed butter. Well to keep it simple I would recommend either of the two listed below. Both are easily found in your local big box store and both bring a good mix of flavor to the party.
So the bird is brined, butter under the skin now take some good cooking spray and give the bird a nice spray. Everywhere you spray the cooking spray you are promoting a nice tan color on the bird. Some say go ahead and coat with herbs after you have oiled or sprayed the bird, I recommend not doing that just yet. Adding the herbs too early to the exterior of the bird can cause them to blacken too much.
So how do you cook your turkey? Well most are going to use an oven. Some an electric smoker. Other perhaps a grill or big barbecue pit. Here are some ideas that work no matter what method you opt for.
- try not to cook a 20+lb bird. They are just hard to get done correctly.
- understand you probably need to cook this bird at 300 degrees or better. This is more for the smoker guys out there. Lower and slower actually do not produce better results here. Hotter and faster is better for poultry in general.
- Do not use a high sided pan that causes your bird to sit down in its own juices or hides the thighs and legs from heat. This will prolong your cook time on your dark meat and destroys the texture of the skin on these cuts.
- If cooking at 275-325 degrees your cook time will be 15-18min per pound as a rough guide.
- DO NOT OVER COOK THE BIRD! Most people torture their turkey by pushing it to 180 degrees and there is no need for this. Once all parts of the bird have reached 165 degrees internal temp then pull it and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing.
Now lets talk injections. I really like injections for turkey because it allows me to put flavor exactly where I want it and where it may be needed. Our injection is a riff of the “injectable butter” you see in all the big box stores this time of year. It is really simple to make. Take 2 cups of high quality chicken broth, melt in 1 stick of butter and add a table spoon of seasoning salt and a teaspoon of granulated garlic. You want to heat this up and have it right near boiling. If you do not and you inject this into your cooking bird you will actually slow down your cook time! Now the beauty of this recipe is that you can add literally any seasoning here that you can fit through a needle and even get crazy and add different seasonings to different parts of the bird if you wish. The options are limitless.
As a generalized rule for injecting, I like to inject at the 2hr point of the cook process and then again each hour to hour and a half after that until done. This ensures lots of flavor, plenty of moisture and a great final product.
Now about the herbs and spices I told you wait on for the exterior of the skin earlier. Once your bird is about 20min from being done grab that cooking spray again. You are going to mist a light coat on the bird and then sprinkle your herbs and spices on. If you dont have a blend in mind I personally like the Montreal Chicken from Grill Mates. Its a great herby seasoning that looks good on the turkeys.
That is about as easy as we can make cooking turkey and what we have learned after cooking literally hundreds of them. Turkey does require some preparation, but they are not the culinary crusade that they are made out to be. In general terms keep it simple, have a plan and you will turn out a great product that the family will love.