The Secret to a Surprisingly Moist and Flavorful Turkey
Published on November 12, 2020
Last updated October 29, 2021
By Tara Holland
I don’t want to brag, but I know my turkeys. Since 2011, when I moved from England to the States, I’ve been cooking two turkeys a year: One for Thanksgiving and another for Christmas. I wanted my family to feel part of our newly adopted American life, but I am fiercely passionate about retaining Britishness within my family, and the Christmas turkey tradition made me feel closer to home.
So I became a holiday-turkey two-timer.
Unfortunately, this quickly resulted in turkey tedium. As a recipe tester and developer, I’ve tried so many methods over the years: various rubs and flavorings, smoking, deep-frying, cramming butter under the skin… You name it, I’ve tried it. Yet all usually resulted in a disappointing, dry, and very sad-looking bird that I hardly wanted to eat once a year, let alone twice in a one month.
And then, while working in the test kitchen for Rachael Ray Every Day, my colleague and good friend Janet Taylor McCracken taught me that there is only one way to prep and cook a turkey and I have never looked back. I’ve tried this fool-proof method on expensive turkeys from the butcher and basic turkeys from the freezer, and I can report that you can barely tell the difference.
The Secret to a Super-Moist Turkey
It turns out the secret to a super-moist is time and salt. Let me explain:
Janet’s technique involves a 4-day dry-brine. You may be familiar with dry-brining, but in case you’re not, this technique involves rubbing a blend of salt and spices into the turkey. It enhances the flavors and helps remove excess water, while retaining the bird’s natural moisture.
Janet’s extended brining starts on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. On Tuesday you turn the turkey over; on Wednesday, you remove it from the bag, letting it dry out uncovered in the fridge for 24 hours (this is what creates the crispy skin). It’s ready to roast on Thursday morning.
Before you say you don’t have time for this, I promise it’s so worth it because of the juiciness and flavor. It results in the most incredibly juicy, moist, and flavorful meat, covered in the oh-so-crispy skin. I could honestly eat it once a week, not twice a year.
And really, it’s not actually difficult. It just takes a little planning.
A Few Additional Tips and Notes
If you’re using a frozen turkey, remember to allow 24 hours for defrosting in the fridge, before the dry rub stage.
Don’t be alarmed at how much liquid the turkey will expel; this is normal. Remember the natural moisture will retain (which creates the juiciness), and the aromatics and flavorings will penetrate within.
Finally, feel free to improvise based on your personal taste and what you have in your pantry. The recipe leaves room for optional mix-ins for the salt and optional stuffings for the cavity.