Mastering the Art of Cooking Turkey: Alton Brown’s Brined and Roasted Perfection

When it comes to cooking a Thanksgiving turkey, few recipes have achieved the iconic status of Alton Brown’s brined and roasted masterpiece. This meticulously crafted method, featured on his beloved show “Good Eats,” has become a staple in countless households, ensuring a moist, flavorful, and perfectly cooked turkey every time. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the intricacies of Alton Brown’s genius, dissecting his techniques and sharing tips to help you master the art of cooking turkey like a true culinary wizard.

The Magic of Brining

At the heart of Alton Brown’s turkey recipe lies the crucial step of brining. This process involves submerging the turkey in a flavorful solution of salt, sugar, and aromatics, allowing it to absorb moisture and seasonings from the inside out. The result? A turkey that remains juicy and tender, even after hours of roasting.

The Brine Ingredients

Alton Brown’s brine recipe is a carefully curated blend of flavors that elevate the turkey’s natural taste. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Vegetable stock (1 gallon)
  • Kosher salt (1 cup)
  • Light brown sugar (1/2 cup)
  • Black peppercorns (1 tablespoon)
  • Allspice berries (1 1/2 teaspoons)
  • Candied ginger (1 1/2 teaspoons, chopped)
  • Heavily iced water (1 gallon)

This combination of ingredients not only infuses the turkey with a delicious savory-sweet flavor but also helps to break down tough muscle fibers, ensuring a tender and succulent bite.

The Brining Process

Alton Brown recommends brining the turkey for 8 to 16 hours, with 12 hours being the sweet spot. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Combine the brine ingredients (except for the iced water) in a large stockpot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the salt and sugar.
  2. Remove the brine from heat, let it cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate until completely chilled.
  3. In a large cooler or food-safe container, combine the chilled brine and iced water.
  4. Carefully place the thawed turkey (giblets and other innards removed) in the brine, breast-side down, and weigh it down if necessary to keep it fully submerged.
  5. Cover and refrigerate (or place in a cool area) for the recommended brining time, flipping the turkey halfway through.

The Roasting Technique

After the turkey has absorbed all the wonderful flavors from the brine, it’s time to roast it to golden-brown perfection. Alton Brown’s roasting method is a two-stage process that ensures a crispy skin and evenly cooked meat.

Preparing for Roasting

  1. Preheat your oven to a scorching 500°F (260°C).
  2. Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it thoroughly with cold water, and pat it dry with paper towels.
  3. Place the turkey on a flat roasting rack set in a half-sheet pan or roasting pan.
  4. Combine apple, onion, water, and a cinnamon stick in a microwave-safe dish, and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add the steeped aromatics (not the water) to the turkey’s cavity, along with fresh rosemary and sage.
  5. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and lightly coat the skin with canola oil.

The Two-Stage Roasting Process

  1. Stage 1: Roast the turkey at 500°F (260°C) for 30 minutes. This initial blast of high heat helps to crisp up the skin and kickstart the browning process.

  2. Stage 2: After 30 minutes, insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, avoiding any bones. Top the turkey with an aluminum foil shield (aka turkey triangle) to prevent the breast from overcooking. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (177°C), and set an alarm on the probe thermometer to go off at 155°F (68°C).

  3. Continue roasting until the probe thermometer reaches 155°F (68°C), which should take an additional 90 minutes to 2 hours for a 14- to 16-pound turkey. However, Alton Brown emphasizes that the temperature of the meat is more important than the time it takes to get there, so pay close attention to the probe thermometer.

  4. Once the turkey reaches the desired internal temperature, remove it from the oven and let it rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. This resting period allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, ensuring a moist and flavorful turkey.

Tips and Tricks

To help you achieve Alton Brown’s level of turkey perfection, here are some additional tips and tricks:

  • Use a Natural or Heritage Turkey: Alton Brown recommends using a natural or heritage turkey, as these birds tend to have a richer flavor and better texture than their commercially-raised counterparts.

  • Thaw the Turkey Properly: If working with a frozen turkey, ensure that it is fully thawed before brining. Alton Brown suggests thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38°F (3°C) for two to three days.

  • Don’t Overcrowd the Oven: Make sure your oven is large enough to accommodate the turkey and the roasting pan without overcrowding. Proper air circulation is crucial for even browning and cooking.

  • Baste for Extra Flavor: While not strictly necessary, you can baste the turkey with the pan juices every 30 minutes or so during the roasting process for added flavor and moisture.

  • Let the Turkey Rest: Resist the temptation to carve the turkey immediately after removing it from the oven. Allowing it to rest for at least 15 minutes is crucial for ensuring juicy and flavorful meat.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to brine a turkey?

Alton Brown recommends brining the turkey for 8 to 16 hours, with 12 hours being the ideal time frame.

Can I brine a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey?

Absolutely! Alton Brown’s brine recipe can be used for turkey breasts as well. Simply adjust the brining time according to the size of the breast.

Do I need to rinse the turkey after brining?

Yes, it’s essential to rinse the turkey thoroughly with cold water after removing it from the brine to remove any excess salt or brine solution.

Can I stuff the turkey while cooking?

Alton Brown’s recipe does not call for stuffing the turkey, as it can lead to uneven cooking and potential food safety issues. However, if you choose to stuff the turkey, be sure to adjust the cooking time accordingly and use a food thermometer to ensure the stuffing reaches a safe internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).


Alton Brown’s brined and roasted turkey recipe is a true culinary masterpiece, combining science, technique, and a deep understanding of flavors. By following his meticulously crafted method, you can ensure a moist, flavorful, and perfectly cooked turkey that will be the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving feast. So, embrace the art of brining and roasting, and let Alton Brown’s genius guide you to turkey perfection.

Alton Brown’s Good Eats Perfect Roast Turkey | Food Network

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