Prepare Thanksgiving turkey like a chef with this tried, tested and true recipe
Chef Trevor Bird of Vancouver’s award-winning Fable restaurant and the co-founder of Meatme.ca has perfected a stress-free way to make this iconic holiday dinner. Though preparing the celebration turkey for the oven will take a few days, each step is simple and the whole process is remarkably relaxed. Your hands-on cooking time is well under an hour, leaving you plenty of time to enjoy visiting with your guests.
Total time: approximately 48+ hours
Cooking time: approximately 6 hours
Active prep time: under an hour
You will need
- A 16 to 20 lb pasture-raised turkey
- A large canning pot, 16L painting pail or large Tupperware container to brine and thaw the turkey
- A roasting pan with drip tray
- An instant read meat thermometer (optional but highly recommended)
For the brine
- 16 cups/4 litres of water
- 1 cup/250 ml salt
- 1 cup/250 ml maple syrup
- 8 garlic cloves
- 1 large sprig of thyme
- Optional: additional aromatics such as a bay leaf, peppercorns, orange peel, cinnamon, star anise, sage or rosemary
For the garlic-herb butter
- ½ cup/125 ml unsalted butter
- 4 to 6 garlic cloves, minced or mashed
- 2 tbsp/30 ml finely chopped sage
- 2 tbsp/30 ml finely chopped thyme
- Extra salt for salting the turkey (don’t add this to the butter mixture)
For the turkey jus
- 2 tbsp/30 ml fat from the roasting pan
- 2 tbsp flour/30 ml flour
- 2 cups/500 ml turkey stock or store-bought/boullion cube variety (diluted so it’s not too salty)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: cranberry sauce or grainy Dijon mustard for finishing the jus
Your pasture-raised turkey will have lower water and fat content than factory-farmed turkeys, which makes it perfect for brining. Brining a bird will infuse the meat with a delicate flavour and impart higher moisture levels evenly throughout the bird, resulting in a plump and perfect turkey dinner.
Immerse the bird
- First, gently heat all the ingredients listed in the brine section until the salt has dissolved. Allow to cool completely. You can also use just 2 L (8 cups) of water to dissolve the salt and then immediately add 2 L/8 cups of ice to cool the brine for instant use.
- Place your turkey in a tightly fitted container, such as a 16 L paint pail, a large canning pot or a large Tupperware container. Pour the brine over the bird. The brine is not likely to cover the bird, but don’t worry! Just add more water and stir, or simply flip the bird so the breasts are covered.
- Brine your bird: ensure it is either refrigerated or kept outside as long as the temperature is between 0 to 4 C. It will take approximately 48 hours for the bird to brine.
Cook the bird
- Just before you are ready to begin cooking the bird, preheat your oven (200 F for a convection oven, 250 F for a conventional oven) and make your garlic-herb butter.
- Take your softened butter and add all the ingredients listed above, and mash them all together.
- Set this aside while you take the turkey out of the brine (just pick it up by the wings!) and give it a little shake to let it drain out.
- Put it breast-side up on the roasting pan—it’s great if you have a drip tray at the bottom of the pan—and then tuck the wings up behind its neck, as if it were relaxing on the beach.
- Now, go find your garlic-herb butter. Gently work your fingers up between the skin and the breast meat and sort of pull it apart. Tuck as much of the softened butter up along the breast as you can, then just mush it about until smooth.
- Wipe off your hands, take about a tablespoon of salt and rain it over the turkey, from top to bottom. Don’t worry about over-salting, the bird will be delicious.
Slow and steady
- Your 16 to 20 lb bird will need about 5 to 7 hours total cooking time—the smaller the bird, the less time it will need.
- When the bird comes to 165F when measured at the thigh (or when the thigh easily separates from the hip cavity and the juices are clear), simply turn the oven all the way up to 500 F and let the bird roast for another 10 to 15 minutes once the oven has come to temperature. The high heat will create a gorgeous even brown tone over the whole bird.
- Watch the bird or set a timer for ten minutes once you’ve turned up the heat—this last part will go quickly.
- Once browned, remove the bird from the oven and let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes. Cover the bird with a folded towel to keep it warm while you make the gravy.
- This also allows the juices to redistribute throughout the bird, ensuring it is extra moist and delicious. If you’ve used a drip tray, you can easily remove the juices from the pan to make the jus.
Make the jus
- To make the turkey jus, pour the pan juices into a measuring cup and separate out about 2 tbsp/30 ml of fat.
- Pour this fat into a small saucepan over medium heat and add 2 tbsp/30 ml of flour to make a roux. Simply mix the fat and flour together to form a paste, and heat for about another 30 seconds.
- Add the “turkey love” from the pan (the clumpy turkey drippings) and whisk it into the roux. Slowly whisk in the turkey stock or store-bought chicken bouillon, about a third at a time, whisking all the while to ensure there are no lumps and allowing it to thicken up between each addition.
- Once the liquid is all added, allow the mixture to simmer gently and finish it with a tablespoon of grainy Dijon mustard or a ½ cup of cranberry sauce if you want an all-in-one solution!
Cut and serve your turkey
- Cutting the bird is quite easy: lift the bird onto your cutting board by placing the blade of your knife in the cavity of the bird and lift it toward you. Turn the bird so its neck is facing your bellybutton.
- First, cut the thigh away so it is still attached but has fallen away from the breast, then run your knife down into the bird along its breastbone and slice into it until your knife hits the carcass. Slightly angle your knife and follow along the bone to separate the breast from the carcass.
- Next finish cutting the thigh away and separate the thigh from the drumstick. Place these large chunks of meat on another cutting board, then do this on the other side.
- Now simply slice the breast into approximately finger-width pieces and roughly slice the dark meat as well. Your perfectly cooked, tender and hassle-free turkey is ready to enjoy!