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Holiday Turkey Tips: 3 Ways to Prepare and Cook a Delicious Turkey!

The holidays are here, so now is the time to start meal planning, especially if you’re the chef responsible for delivering the traditional main course. 

Turkey is a big bird, and the task of cooking one might seem daunting. That’s why we’re dishing out helpful tips so you can serve a delicious turkey dinner. We’ll discuss how to brine a turkey with savory seasonings and how to smoke or roast your bird. 

Brining is a great way to infuse moist, juicy flavor into your turkey. A wet brine requires submerging your bird in a saltwater solution.  

A brine is a mixture of salt, spices and sometimes water. Brining is used to inject moisture and flavor into the meat. Turkey meat is naturally dry, so brining it beforehand keeps the meat moist. You can do this with a wet brine or a dry brine.    

Wet brining is a process by which you submerge your bird in a saltwater solution. Start with one gallon of water and one cup of kosher salt. This simple combo constitutes a basic brine; if you want, you can stop there. The water and salt will work in consort to inject the turkey with moisture, which helps the bird stay juicy after cooking.    

But you can also get creative and season the brine with your favorite vegetables and herbs, a tactic that helps increase flavor. You can’t go wrong with onions, carrots, ginger and fresh herbs like parsley, thyme or dill. Try a new flavor or just search your fridge and pantry to use what you already have on hand. It’s easy to impart exceptionally juicy flavor with little planning.   

After combining salt, water and fresh aromatics, it’s time to boil your solution to lock in those flavors. Place the pot with your brine on the stove and bring it to a boil, then lower the heat and allow it to simmer for approximately 5 minutes. Next, remove the brine from the heat so it can cool. Put your turkey inside a large container, and once it reaches room temperature, pour the brine over the turkey and submerge it completely.   

Now it’s time to wait for those juicy flavors to do their magic! Time is the key here. You’ll need to allow the turkey to brine for at least one hour per pound. For example, if you have a 12-pound turkey, allot 12 hours to brine. Place the turkey, covered, inside the refrigerator during this time. You may need to start this process the day before, depending on the size of your bird.   

Try a dry brine if you want your turkey crisp and tender. 

A dry brine is like a wet brine, but as you probably guessed, you do it without water! You might prefer a dry brine if you like your bird with crispier skin and better surface browning.  

To dry brine, start by patting your turkey dry both inside and out. Then place your bird inside a large pan, grab the salt and sprinkle on one teaspoon per pound of meat. Again, salt is the key, as it draws meat juices out of the turkey and then dissolves back into the meat.

Now it’s time to add your favorite spices. Pepper is always a great choice, and you can mix in herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme. If you have one on hand, crush your herbs and spices with a pestle and mortar. Then thoroughly rub your seasoning all over the turkey. 

Shop Raley’s brand spices to find a wide selection of delicious seasonings and fresh or dried herbs! 

Dry brining takes longer than wet brining. Allow the seasoning to penetrate the meat for at least 24 hours. Leave the bird to dry brine for up to three days if time permits. 

You can’t go wrong with a wet or dry brine. Both options help you prepare a deliciously juicy turkey. And after you brine your bird, you can cook it any way you want, including on the grill or in the oven. 

Smoking a turkey imparts delicious barbecue flavor into your bird.  

With your turkey out of the brine, it is time to cook, and how you cook your bird is up to you.   

Smoking a turkey is a must if you are a barbecue fan. This cooking method is low and slow, meaning you’ll cook the turkey at a low temperature over several hours. The result is a turkey with crispy browned skin and succulent, fork-tender meat with a smoky flavor.   

To set up a charcoal smoker for your bird, create two zones: a direct heat zone and an indirect heat zone. To do this inside a smoker, place your charcoal to one side. The charcoal side is your direct heat zone. Put your turkey on the opposite side over the indirect heat zone, allowing the smoke to circulate the turkey without burning it.    

But you don’t need a dedicated smoker to smoke a turkey. With some prep beforehand, a regular gas grill will also suffice. First, turn on all burners to bring up the temperature. Then turn off one bank of burners and place the turkey over this side.  

Because turkeys are such big birds, you’ll need to start smoking early. Cook time is three to four hours for 10- or 12-pound birds. If you have a large 20-pounder, allow the bird to cook for six to eight hours. Check the turkey occasionally; once the skin reaches your desired brownness, cover it with aluminum foil. This prevents the outside from becoming tough.  

Your turkey is done when a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the bird reads 165°F.  

Smoking turkey imparts a natural smoke flavor and helps the meat stay tender. As a bonus, when you smoke a turkey, you free up the oven for all your delicious holiday side dishes! You’ll also enjoy a respite outside, away from what can quickly turn into a crowded kitchen. 

You can’t go wrong with a classic oven-roasted turkey.

If you’re looking to fill your kitchen with roasted turkey aromas, we can help. Here are some great tips on how to oven-roast your turkey.   

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Avoid higher temperatures so you don’t dry out the meat.   
  2. Stuff the turkey with aromatics like chopped onions, sliced carrots and halved shallots. Vegetables help perfume the meat, and they will flavor the drippings as the turkey cooks.  
  3. Put the bird in the oven and calculate your cooking time. The rule of thumb is to roast the turkey for 13 minutes per pound. That’s about 3 hours for a 12-pound turkey. Set your timer and avoid opening the oven. Remember, if you brined your turkey, you don’t need to baste the bird while in the oven. The turkey should stay juicy without further intervention! 
  4. Remove the turkey from the oven when the internal temperature reaches 165°F.  

Whether you plan to brine, smoke or roast your turkey, we hope you have a fun and flavorful holiday!

Click here to shop Raley’s essential holiday ingredients! 

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