Martha Stewart's Roast Turkey with Quince Glaze
The food magazines love Thanksgiving and turkey, but offer differing recommendations for how to prepare it. So I examined five magazine approaches to cooking turkey, and discovered there's really no consensus about how to roast the big bird.
Cook's proposes a Roast Salted Turkey (reg. required). Long proponents of brining, this year (because of space constraints in a packed holiday fridge) they "rethink [their] brine-at-all-costs philosophy." They prepare and test a salt rub and find the meat nicely seasoned and pretty moist. They also state "while a brined bird shed 19 percent of its initial weight in the oven, a salted bird shed 22 percent of its out-of-the-package weight." To prevent over cooking of the breast while getting the legs up to temperature, they experimented with icing down the bird's breast. The breast and leg start at 41° when removed from the fridge. After an hour on ice, the breast was down to 36° while the leg was up to 43°. "That 7-degree head start for the leg meant the turkey could stay in the oven long enough to fully cook the dark meat without drying out the white meat." Very interesting.
Roasting temperature: 425° for 45 minutes, then 325° until breast registers 160° and thigh 170°
Martha Stewart Living
Martha prepared a Roast Turkey with Quince Glaze. She brined for twenty-four hours. Her technique to prevent the breast from over-cooking (which I've used before and it worked wonderfully) is to soak a cheesecloth in a melted butter and wine mixture and lay the cheesecloth over the breast for about half the cooking time. Martha insists on basting, which you must do if you use the cheesecloth. Otherwise it could dry out and catch fire. Basting every thirty minutes with butter/wine mixture is called for until a quince glaze is applied in the last ten minutes of cooking.
Roasting temperature: 425° for 30 minutes, then 350° until thigh registers 165°
Saveur went with a Brined and Roasted Turkey. The recipe is not online. They are brining proponents and recommend eight hours to overnight of brine time to break down proteins and seal in flavor and moisture. They rub the turkey with butter and call for regular basting with butter every 30 minutes. Note their lower roasting temperature. Sadly, they don't explain why. Saveur doesn't seem that into Thanksgiving compared to the other mags.
Roasting temperature: 325° until thigh registers 165°
Food & Wine
Food & Wine wins the Renegade of the Year award for their Classic Roasted Turkey. Not only do they not brine, they also urge against basting! "Put it in the over, but don't baste it; repeatedly opening and closing the oven door makes it cook unevenly." Just season the bird with salt and pepper and put it in the oven in a pan filled with some vegetables. They recommend covering the breast with foil when you've got about 75 minutes to go, I suppose to keep it from drying out.
Roasting temperature: 350° until thigh registers 170°
Gourmet goes with a straight-forward Simple Roast Turkey with Rich Turkey Gravy this year. Calling it the "ultimate turkey lover's turkey" they claim a "succulent bird with crispy skin." There's "no fussing with brines" and since it roasts unstuffed, it cooks in under four hours. I'm an ultimate turkey lover and I have to say, that doesn't sound very good to me. I love the flavor of stuffing roasted in the bird! And in the brine vs. no brine camp, I firmly land on the side of brining. You could convince me not to brine for a scientific reason (see Harold McGee on brining's dilution of the meat’s own juices and flavor), but not out of sheer laziness.
Roasting temperature: 450° until thigh registers 170°
My Thanksgiving Recipe
Ever since I read The Basics of Brining (warning: link is a .pdf) in the December 2001 Cook's Illustrated, I've been a briner. I use the CI basic brine recipe and then have used Martha's Perfect Roast Turkey. I stuff my bird with our family recipe for Grandma Pete's Stuffing. And it's always accompanied by Grandma Pete's Gravy and My Mother's Cranberry Chutney. No matter how many other recipes I read, this is the one I always want to prepare.
Roasting temperature: 450° for 30 minutes, then 350° until thigh registers 180° (This now strikes me as too high, after reading all the other recipes above.)
Do you brine? Baste? Roast at high heat? Share your turkey tips!