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How to make the perfect Thanksgiving turkey

Ernie Adler shares his tips, as well as a family recipe

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — First you want to start the process 36 hours ahead of Thanksgiving Day. The purpose of brining (or marinade) a turkey is to infuse flavor into the entire bird. When you season it the flavor only penetrates so far, and when you inject a brine it’ll seep back out the hole and also doesn’t get into the whole bird. The brine will also keep your turkey extra moist during the cooking process. For our brine today heat up some water and add in the seasonings then stir to dissolve: Kosher salt, garlic, onion, ginger, bay leaves, whole cloves, and brown sugar. Let cool and add in apple juice, orange juice and water. Clean your turkey and place in a bucket or container large enough to fit, pour the brine in, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours. After that time pour out the brine and put the turkey back into the container and refrigerate uncovered for 12 hours. If defrosting a turkey do so in a pan in the refrigerator and allow approximated 24 hours of defrosting time for every 5 lbs. of turkey.

When ready to start cooking take the turkey out 1 hour ahead of time, place in a roasting rack or pan and lightly rub the surface with olive oil. If grilling/smoking Ernie recommends a lighter fruit wood like apple, orange, cherry, or maple rather than mesquite, oak, or hickory. 

Plan on smoking for only 25% of the time as poultry will absorb as much smoke as you give it and you want to taste the seasonings with a hint of smoke, not just the smoke. Heat your grill on high, put wood chips or pellets in the smoker box, when you see smoke come out turn the burner off below the box reducing the temperature to 325 degrees. Put some broth in the bottom of the pan and place on the grill or in the oven breast side down and cook for one hour. After the hour turn over and continue to cook. The rule of thumb is about 15 minutes per lb. The sugars will darken the bird so if you want a lighter color just lightly tent with foil. When the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees your turkey is done, so check a few spots with an instant read thermometer to make sure it’s thoroughly cooked. If you want to cook up some potatoes, carrots, and onions in the pan add in when there’s about an hour and a half left to go. Let the turkey rest lightly covered for about 15+ minutes before carving.

To carve first cut the legs off slowly slicing to the joint, then the wing, and pull the thigh off. Turn over and feel for the center breast bone and using a boning knife slowly cut down along the bone and then on the underside to remove the breast. Slice the breast crosswise for even slices.

For gravy with this recipe heat up chicken stock and whisk in McCormick Montreal Chicken seasoning or your own blend until a low boil and reduce to simmer. Whisk in Masa corn flour until desired consistency is reached. Corn flour tastes better and is gluten free.


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