No reason to stress over the Thanksgiving turkey, brining will keep this Smoked Paprika Turkey juicier than you can imagine. A few more seasonings are all you need for the most flavorful bird.
I can still recall the sound of my mother banging around in the kitchen on Thanksgiving mornings. There was always this crazy kind of rush to get the turkey in the oven while it was dark out. I’m still bewildered by this. The funny thing is, I can’t recall ever eating Thanksgiving dinner before 5pm. Ever. I’m still not quite sure why the turkey took so long to cook, but it does kind of explain why it was so, so dry…sorry mom.
I know a lot of people really stress about making the Thanksgiving turkey. The pressure can be overwhelming with so many people counting on you to make their holiday taste perfect. That’s a lot to live up to! But I’m here to tell you it’s not that difficult to make a juicy Thanksgiving turkey. Not hard at all.
There are two special, secret weapons when it comes to turkey-making perfection. The first is a meat thermometer (my favorite), preferably digital, and the ability to brine your turkey – this means you need a clean, 5-gallon bucket (a large cooler works well too).
Brining makes a huge difference in flavor and how moist and juicy your turkey will taste. If you’re going to spend so much time cooking this piece of poultry, why have it turn out less than awesome? Brining makes a huge difference.
If you refer back to cell biology in high school, you’ll probably remember the terms “osmosis” and “diffusion.” If furthered your science studies in college biochemistry, you already understand the denaturing of proteins as well. This process is basically what happens when we brine.
With the process of osmosis, the high salt solution of the brine passes through permeable meat cells when you begin soaking your turkey overnight. Diffusion creates the balance of the salt and water in the meat and the salt and water from the surrounding brine solution. This results in a higher concentration of salt and water in the meat and less water loss during the cooking process.
The salty concentration is going to denature the protein strands found in the meat, taking them from a tightly wound-up shape to an unwound and tangled state. Can you picture it? It’s the tangled-up structure that traps the water molecules and holds onto them while cooking. Amazing, right? This will pretty much ensure the juiciness of your turkey.
Sorry for all the science-nerd information. As a trained winemaker, it’s hard to hold the science in and it comes out in the most peculiar places…like here.
The next juicy, turkey, secret weapon is the meat thermometer. Using a digital version makes it so you won’t have to keep opening the oven to check the temperature. It will save you so much stress in the long run and you won’t overcook the bird. You just won’t. It’s a lifesaver and a great investment for all the meat you cook. I promise you will use it all of the time.
I season my turkey with very few ingredients. It doesn’t need anything else, especially with all the flavorful side dishes we serve during the Thanksgiving meal.
The Juiciest Smoked Paprika Turkey
- 1 gallon regular water
- 1-1/3 cups kosher salt
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon dried sage leaves
- 1 Tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 Tablespoon dried crushed rosemary leaves
- 1 Tablespoon dried thyme leaves
- 1 Tablespoon dried marjoram
- 1 gallon ice water
- 1 turkey (12-14 lb) fresh or frozen and thawed
- 1 Tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 Tablespoon coarse black pepper
- 1 Tablespoon table salt
- 1 Tablespoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- For the brine, combine regular water, sugar, kosher salt, rosemary, sage, thyme, peppercorns and marjoram in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, making sure the salt and the sugar are dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature.
- Pour the cooled brine into a clean 5-gallon bucket. Stir in the ice water.
- Place the turkey in the brine. Make sure the cavity gets filled and that you've removed all the turkey innards. Place the bucket in a refrigerator overnight. (If your refrigerator will not fit a bucket, think about purchasing brining bags. In some parts of the country the weather is so cold, outside temps are colder than the fridge. You could leave outside, in the garage, in a large cooler.) Brine the turkey for 24 hours, no longer.
- Remove the turkey, draining off the excess brine and patting it dry. Discard the brine.
- Preheat the oven to 450˚ F.
- In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients for the turkey seasoning. Place the brined turkey on a large, rimmed baking sheet. It’s easy to work with on the rimmed sheet. Gently pull up the skin of the turkey and rub the seasoning directly on the flesh. Pour more seasoning into the inside cavity and rub all around. Use the rest of seasoning to completely cover the outside of the turkey on top of the skin. Place the turkey in a large roasting pan.
- Roast the turkey at 450˚ F for 30 minutes. At this point, you may want to cover the top of the turkey and the wings and legs with some aluminum foil as they can burn easily. Turn the oven down to 350˚ F for another 1½-2 hours, or until the thigh meat and breast meat both reach 160˚ F on a meat thermometer. This is where a digital thermometer comes in handy. You don't have to keep checking the doneness of the meat while it's in the oven. Start with the thermometer in the breast and when it reaches 160˚ F, move it to the thigh. Dark meat often takes longer to cook. A properly cooked turkey should reach 165˚ F. I like to remove my turkey when I know the dark meat is 160˚ F and let it rest for 20 minutes before carving. During this resting period, the turkey continues to cook and reaches the proper temperature for eating.
Other Juicy Turkey Recipes You Might Enjoy:
- Brined Lemon-Herb Aioli Style Mayonnaise Roasted Turkey
- Citrus and Herb Butter Roast Turkey
- Brandy and Tangerine Glazed Roasted Turkey
- Slow Cooker Whole Turkey
- The Juciest Salt and Pepper Turkey made in an Electric Roaster
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