Mix-and-Match Turkey

Make the bird the way you like it: This step-by-step guide from Food Network Magazine leads to thousands of possibilities!

Categories:
Turkey, Fall, Thanksgiving

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1. Pick a Turkey

To choose the size, plan on 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per person. 

  • Standard: Regular supermarket turkeys. They can be brined.
  • All-Natural: Turkeys without added coloring or flavoring. The meat can be dry, so brining is key.
  • Heritage: Old-fashioned varieties that tend to be small, with a lot of dark meat. They can be brined.
  • Self-basting: Turkeys that have been injected with a salty flavored liquid. Do not brine.
  • Kosher: Turkeys that have been salted as part of the koshering process. Do not brine.

2. Thaw

If you are using a fresh bird, skip to step 3. If the bird is frozen, leave wrapped and put on a rimmed baking sheet in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours thawing time for every 5 pounds. For a quicker thaw, submerge the bird in a cooler of cold water for 30 minutes per pound, changing the water every 30 minutes.

3. Brine


If you are using a self-basting or kosher bird, skip to step 4. Otherwise, unwrap the turkey and remove the neck and giblets (reserve for Classic Turkey Gravy). Rinse the turkey under cold water and pat dry. Prepare your brine.

Orange-Tea-Bourbon

Fill a large pot with 2 quarts water; add the zest (in wide strips) and juice of 5 oranges, 2 cups kosher salt, 1 cup sugar, 12 black tea bags, 4 bay leaves, 6 cloves, 12 peppercorns and 1 cup bourbon. Bring to a boil, then simmer 10 minutes. Add 4 quarts cold water and let cool. Submerge the turkey in the brine, adding water to cover, if necessary. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.

Dry

Combine 1/3 cup kosher salt, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon pepper in a bowl. Rub all over the turkey and inside the cavity. Put on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, at least 8 hours or overnight. Rinse well and pat dry. (A dry brine is a good choice if you're short on fridge space.)

Juniper

Fill a large pot with 2 quarts water; add 2 cups kosher salt, 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, 2 tablespoons juniper berries, 1 tablespoon peppercorns, 3 bay leaves and the zest of 1 lemon (in wide strips). Bring to a boil, then simmer 10 minutes. Add 6 quarts cold water and let cool. Submerge the turkey in the brine, adding water to cover, if necessary. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.

4. Make a Butter


Remove the turkey from the brine; rinse and pat dry. Make your choice of flavored butter; reserve 4 tablespoons, then rub the rest under the turkey skin on the breasts and legs. Rub 2 tablespoons of the reserved butter on the skin; chill and save the rest for your gravy. Let the turkey stand 30 minutes at room temperature before roasting.

Honey Mustard

Mix 2 sticks softened butter, 2 tablespoons honey and 3 tablespoons each dijon and spicy brown mustard.

Chipotle-Maple

Pulse 2 sticks softened butter, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, 1 garlic clove and a pinch of salt in a food processor.

Asian Ginger

Mix 2 sticks softened butter, 4 chopped scallions, 1 1/2 tablespoons grated ginger, 3 grated garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon each sesame oil and soy sauce.

Classic Herb

Mix 2 sticks softened butter, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon each dried sage and dried thyme, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1/4 teaspoon paprika and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves.

Paprika

Crush and chop 2 tablespoons coriander seeds, 2 teaspoons cumin seeds and 6 garlic cloves. Mix with 1 tablespoon paprika and 2 sticks softened butter.

Rosemary-Lemon

Mix 2 sticks softened butter, 5 minced garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary, 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

5. Roast the Bird


Put the oven rack in the lowest position; preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put the turkey breast-side up on a rack in a large roasting pan, tucking the wing tips under. Tie the drumsticks together with twine. Roast until the skin is golden brown and a thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 165 degrees F, about 15 minutes per pound. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 30 minutes before carving. Whisk the reserved 2 tablespoons flavored butter into your gravy just before serving, if desired.

Customize your own turkey or try one of our combinations:

Photograph by Yunhee Kim