I have lived my entire life having Grandma Johnson's Thanksgiving turkey. It is always moist, full of flavor and delicious. Don't be afraid of stuffing the bird. I have NEVER had any issues with family getting sick. This recipe has been handed down from my Grandma to my mother and finally to me. Now all of you have it as well. Enjoy it!
TO BRINE THE TURKEY: The morning before Thanksgiving (or two nightS prior), combine all brine ingredients, except ice water, in a large stockpot, and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve solids, then remove from heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
Late the night before Thanksgiving or very early Thanksgiving morning, combine the brine and ice water in a clean 5-gallon bucket. Place thawed, rinsed turkey (minus all the things that were stuffed inside) breast side down in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 6 hours. Turn turkey over once, half-way through brining.
FOR STUFFING: Break up loaves of bread into small pieces in large turkey roasting pan the Monday night before Thanksgiving. Cover loosely with lid, place in cold oven and periodically stir bread pieces several times a day. You want them to be completely dry. If they’re not dry by Wednesday night, you can put them in a warm oven to speed up the process.
In a large soup pot, put turkey parts, onion, celery, butter and salt. Put in enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer for a least an hour, or until a fork can easily go through the heart and gizzard. Most times I put this in the fridge to cool and early the next morning I prepare the rest of the stuffing.
Chop meats and debone and chop the turkey neck. I don't like the "chunks", so I put all the meats into my food processor and pulse until they are a fine crumble (not a paste). This way, you get the flavor of the meats without the actual "chunks". Sprinkle over the bread. Pour water mixture from the meats over bread to desired consistency (the bread soaks up a lot of the liquid!) Add vegetable or chicken stock if it's not moist enough. Add sage to taste (a lot is quite tasty ☺) If you have extra stuffing, put into a covered casserole dish and cook at the same time as the turkey.
FOR THE TURKEY: Wash inside and outside of bird really well prior to brining. After brining, salt the inside cavity. Stuff the inside by legs and also the little cavity by the neck. Use a clean nail to keep the neck flap down. Put the turkey breast side up on a turkey rack in a large roaster pan. Microwave a stick of butter. Salt the outside of the bird and pour the melted butter over the outside (butter is KEY to a moist, delicious turkey). Loosely tent with aluminum foil. Place on bottom rack of oven at 325 degrees for however long for the weight of the bird. Baste the turkey at least once every half-hour to every hour (this is crucial to a moist turkey). The turkey is done when the drumstick wiggles easily or a thermometer registers 160 degrees (check the cavity with stuffing for this temp as well). Let stand 15 minutes before carving. (While the bird is resting, make the gravy.) Take out the stuffing and carve away!
FOR THE GRAVY: Place roaster pan over two burners over medium to medium-high heat. Take a whisk and sprinkle enough flour in to thicken the gravy (this takes practice! - I always start with about 1/4 cup). Pour in the water a little at a time - you may not use all 2 quarts (give or take depending on how big your turkey was) while still whisking away. The gravy only needs to barely come to a boil. Let simmer while whisking constantly to avoid scorching for about 2 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Voila! (Gravy should be a nice medium to dark brown...yum!)