Roasting a turkey can be a very hit and miss cooking endeavor. There’s a lot of nuance at play when cooking a whole bird of that size. Dark meat and white meat need to reach different temperatures in order to be fully cooked but not dry — leading to endless disappointments on Thanksgiving Day. Most chefs agree that there’s one way to increase your margin for error and get a good, even outcome. Brine that turkey.
To master the art of the brine, we reached out to Top Chef champion (and fried chicken aficionado) Richard Blais. Since winning Top Chef All-Stars back in 2010, the star chef has shown up as a recurring guest judge on the show. He’s also opened two restaurants in San Diego (Juniper & Ivy and The Crack Shack) along wth a Crack Shack outpost in LA. So who better to teach us some serious poultry skills?
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PART I: The Turkey
“If you can buy one fresh that’s great,” Blais says of scoring the right bird. “If you can find one naturally raised that’s good too. But it’s Thanksgiving and just having a bird and people to share it with is what’s important.”
Speaking personally, I always order a fresh turkey the Friday before Thanksgiving. It’s free range, organic, and all of that. It’s usually slaughtered on Monday, processed on Tuesday, and in my kitchen by Wednesday afternoon, ready for my brine. The thing is, not everyone has the resources, time, or money to buy a fresh turkey. The vast majority of Americans are going to go for a frozen bird.
“So,” I ask Blais, “what’s crucial to getting a frozen turkey ready for the brine?”
Blais jumps right in. “Make sure to follow proper defrosting guidelines. You just need to make sure the bird is defrosted completely.” Blais put a lot of emphasis on that “need” so we will too.
Let’s say you’re going with a 15-pound bird. That means you need to be defrosting that sucker right now. If you’re defrosting in the fridge, you’ll need three solid days or 24 hours for every four or five pounds. If you defrost in a water bath, however, you’ll need up to eight hours or about 30 minutes per pound. That’s a lot closer to overnight. So, theoretically, you can drop that turkey in cold water, go to bed, and wake up tomorrow to start your brine.