Backtrack with me a few years, 2011 to be exact. For YEARS and I’m talking YEARS I’ve wanted to make Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve heard making a turkey is difficult to keep moist yet get thoroughly cooked, etc. 2011 I was given the opportunity to try. The year before if you’ll remember Pioneer Woman challenged Bobby Flay to a Thanksgiving Off (or whatever they called it).
I made her turkey, stuffing, etc. I almost made her exact meal, but not quite. Anyway, then I went on the hunt one day in 2012 for the perfect Turkey recipe. Does one even exist? Well, I think the answer is yes. I found a recipe for a Bacon Wrapped Turkey. I had the opportunity to make the 2012 Thanksgiving dinner as well, so I knew we were going to try this turkey.
I have to say, we’ve tried to change it up a bit, one year we smoked it, one year we forgot the bacon blanket, etc etc… but if you find something that works, why mess with it? Seriously!
So why am I telling you all of this? Well next week is Thanksgiving and I want you to have ample time to get the ingredients for this bird. Trust me, it’s so worth it!
*Note this recipe is for 18-20lb bird. Just adjust your ingredients for a bigger or smaller bird!
**Note 2: Also if you’re going with a frozen bird (aka turkey), give it ample time to defrost. You’ll need approximately 24 hours for every 4-5 lbs of the bird.
What you’ll need:
A large plastic bag, optional. (this is for the brining process. I’ve used a stock pot as well)
A platter or pan that fits the turkey in the fridge (again, that stock pot works great)
Kitchen Twine (sadly I don’t always have this on hand)
A roasting pan that fits the turkey (and in your oven! Keep that in mind!!)
A probe-style meat thermometer (is extra handy)
A turkey, thawed
Lots of Kosher Salt
1 1/2 lb bacon
1/2 lb butter
Fresh herbs: sage, thyme, oregano, parsley, marjoram, rosemary
Roasting vegetables: carrots, celery, onions, apples
Brining the turkey:
A simple dry brine works exceptionally well on this turkey. Take a tip, don’t brine more than 24 hours in advance or the turkey gets WAY to salty. Remove all the interior parts of the bird and throw away or place in your freezer to make stock with later or go ahead and save for Thanksgiving day and use to make giblet gravy.
Wash the bird well, both inside and out. Get in there and really scrub the bird. Place the bird in your brining bag or pot and rub down with kosher salt. Don’t be stingy. Coat that bird both inside and out. Wash your hands, then place the bird in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Thoroughly wash your sink and all around your sink and your hands again too. Never to sorry to be safe!
For the Herb Butter Mixture:
This can be made up to a week in advance. This is handy to note, especially if you’re planning on lunch so you have to get up at the butt crack of dawn (that’s earlier than the crack of dawn) to start your bird to cooking. It also allows your herbs to meld into that butter.
Use a food processor. It is your friend! Add 1/2lb raw bacon slices, 1/2 lb butter, and generous handfuls of the herbs. I don’t have exact measurements of the herbs, just use your best guess. Ours is never quite the same there. Once you have everything added, place the lid on the food processor and blend together until it makes a smooth paste.
*Note: if made in advance, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Pull it out about 30 minutes before using it so it can come to room temperature the day of Thanksgiving.
Preparing the Turkey, “The Star of the show,” the day of:
Make sure your butter is room temperature.
While the butter is coming to room temperature, bring the turkey out of the fridge and wash him thoroughly. Why the turkey is a he, I have no clue but he is :). Once the turkey is cleaned, place him breast side up on a cutting board or large platter to use for preparation. Wash your sink.
Take the pop-up timer out of your bird, it’s useless!
Wash your hands and prepare to get messy. If you can have a second pair of hands available for help, that is extremely handy! Take your rings and watch off, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to play with your food! Now gently pry the skin away from the bird without tearing it hopefully. You want to stick your hands between the meat and skin because you’re going to be placing the butter mixture between the skin and the meat. Keep going all the way to the neck and over the legs. Don’t leave any place unturned. Don’t worry if the skin accidentally gets torn, you’ll fix that with the bacon blanket.
Now, take huge handfuls of butter and rub the flesh of the bird down underneath the skin. You’ll want to use about 3/4 of the bacon butter. Then press the skin down on the butter; this helps to spread the butter evenly under the skin. Next, rub the remaining butter on the outside of the bird in a thin layer, paying particular attention to the legs as they won’t be covered by the bacon blanket.
Not only does the bacon blanket make your bird have a nice presentation factor, but it helps add an extra layer to keep the turkey from drying out. Plus, bonus, who doesn’t like a little bacon dripping in their gravy?!?!
We tend to use thick cut bacon because as the bacon cooks, it will shrink a little. Plan on about a pound of bacon. This is a rough estimate, sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. Don’t skimp.
Placing the bacon on the bird:
Think of making a cherry pie, the lattice work that goes in to the top of the pie. You’re going to do this lattice work with the bacon. There’s 2 ways to do this… 1) place directly on the bird as you’re doing your lattice work, 2) do the lattice work on parchment paper and then place on the bird. We’ve had luck with both. The parchment paper seems to be a little easier except you have to flip the parchment paper and you have to get the right amount of bacon.
Lay one strip crosswise over the breast then one lengthwise. Keep going, folding up the strips already placed to fit the new pieces under. The bacon will shrink when you cook the bird, so place the strips close together and use as many as you can fit.
This is where the kitchen twine comes in handy. Tie the legs of the bird together with the kitchen twine. When you’ve got the bacon all woven, wash your hands thoroughly. (also think about buying stock in soap… just saying.. haha)
The bacon blanket can be done the night before if you’re doing lunch so you’re not having to get up so early. This isn’t a quick process but so totally worth it. Just make sure the bird on the platter fits in your fridge.
Cooking the bird:
The bird will be cooked in two different temperatures.
First preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Remember, remove the extra rack in your oven if you need to so the bird fits. Do that before the oven is hot!
Now to make your clean up easier, because who wants to clean up after all day cooking… line your pan with heavy duty aluminum foil.
Chop the root vegetables up. You want very aromatic root vegetables so celery, carrots, onions, and apples. These are great after they’ve roasted all day too! Take the outside skins and tops off the carrots, the celery can be chopped into smaller bits or not, your choice. Peel the outside paper off onions and halve or quarter. Chop the apples in halves and quarters, remove the stems and seeds. Stuff the vegetables into the cavity of the bird and also place them on the bottom for the bird to have things to sit on while it cooks.
Go ahead and mold a piece of foil over the top of the bird so that if it starts to get to brown, you have the foil ready to place on the bird.
Roasting the turkey:
Place the turkey in the 450 degree oven for 30 minutes, then lower the heat to 375˚F for the rest of the cooking process. This is where if you have a digital probe, use it! stick the probe in the deepest part of the breast and you can place the reader up on the counter. It will chime when the bird is fully cooked. Make sure you don’t go so deep you hit the bone. You will want the turkey cooked to an internal 165˚F.
If the turkey and bacon start to get to brown, this is where you use your aluminum foil “cap”.
So roughly for a 20lb turkey, you’re looking at about 4-4 1/2 hours. Leave yourself some wiggle room. The turkey will wait but hungry people won’t.
Carving the “Star of the Show”:
You spent all morning cooking, let someone else cut up the masterpiece. haha.
Okay so once the bird is fully cooked, place it out for family and friends to admire and gawk over. Let them pat you on the back for you perfect turkey. Then just before you’re ready to eat, cut the bird up. Again, I say let the “professionals” do that :).
Make sure to keep the drippings to add to yummy gravy!!