In my travel writing classes for The Writer’s Workshop, I emphasize telling stories about a place through highlighting the key moments, feasts or special occasions. Thanksgiving is clearly such a feast in the U.S.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the advice about cooking a Thanksgiving turkey. Everyone has a favorite recipe, which is great, but sometimes the details become overwhelming, especially if you have to pick up relatives from the airport, buy food and drink before the stores get completely jammed, and make sure you have a chance to take in that great football game.
My advice is to focus on one thing: brining your turkey. This is simple, easy, and will make a huge difference in the success of your meal, yielding a juicy, full-flavored bird. Turkey meat is relatively lean, especially the white meat, which is prone to drying out. Like you, I’ve eaten way too many dry, overcooked turkeys in my life. I don’t need to eat any more.
Brining a turkey ensures the meat will be moist, tender and flavorful. A brine is a solution of water and salt, which allows the meat to absorb moisture as well as salt, which seasons the meat from the inside out. In addition, salt breaks down some of the turkey’s muscle proteins, which makes the meat juicy and tender. I put my turkey in a bucket with cold water and salt the night before. I’m doing this shortly.
Buy a free-range turkey if possible, for maximum flavor. I buy my turkey from B&E Meats in Seattle, which consistently sells flavorful birds. Avoid brining turkeys labeled kosher, enhanced or self-basting. You can brine a frozen or partially frozen bird but you need to allow additional time.
Thanksgiving morning you can take the bird out of the brine and begin cooking. I prefer to smoke my turkey, which adds an additional flavor, and produces a juicy, succulent bird. But you can also cook your turkey in the oven. Be prepared for a pleasant surprise if you’ve never tried brining. The resulting bird will be a big improvement over ones of the past.