Combine the salt, 1 teaspoon pepper and the sugar in a small bowl. Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey and reserve for the gravy (discard the liver). Transfer the turkey to a rimmed baking sheet and pat dry. Season the skin and inside the cavity with the salt mixture. Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.
Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and rinse off the salt mixture; pat dry. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Place the apple, half of the onions, 2 garlic halves, the lemon and about 10 thyme sprigs in the cavity of the turkey; tie the legs together with twine and place breast-side up in a roasting pan. Melt 2 sticks butter with 6 thyme sprigs in a small saucepan over medium heat. Divide the melted butter in half. Brush the turkey with half of the melted butter and tent with foil. Transfer to the oven and roast 3 hours.
Meanwhile, combine the chicken broth, bay leaves, reserved neck and giblets, and the remaining chopped onion, 2 garlic halves and 4 thyme sprigs in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and simmer until reduced to about 4 cups, about 1 hour. Strain into a clean saucepan; set aside for the gravy.
Remove the turkey from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees F. Divide the remaining melted butter in half (remelt if necessary). Uncover the turkey and brush with half of the melted butter. Return to the oven and continue roasting until browned and a thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 165 degrees F, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Stir the honey into the remaining melted butter and brush all over the turkey; roast 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven, transfer to a cutting board and brush with any remaining honey butter; let rest 30 minutes before carving.
Meanwhile, make the gravy: Pour out the fat from the roasting pan and discard. Set the roasting pan on 2 burners over medium-high heat; add the apple brandy and hard cider. Cook, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon, until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the reserved chicken broth and bring to a simmer.
Mix the flour and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small bowl to make a paste; whisk into the roasting pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer until thickened, about 25 minutes. Strain and keep warm over low heat. Carve the turkey and serve with the gravy.
Photograph by Con Poulos
Buy: Order a fresh bird or buy a frozen one and thaw, unwrapped, in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. If using a kosher or self-basting bird, skip the dry-brine-those turkeys are already salted. Roast: Start the bird in a 325 degrees F oven, then brush with butter and crank up the heat to 425 degrees F toward the end; this will help crisp the skin. Roast until the thigh meat reaches 165 degrees F. Carve: If you don't have a carving board (with a gutter around the edge to catch juices), carve on a cutting board set on a rimmed baking sheet.
Recipe courtesy of Food Network Magazine