I Tried Martha Stewart’s Perfect Roast Turkey and Brine
Martha Stewart describes her Thanksgiving turkey as “plump” and “regal,” and honestly? I expect nothing less from the expert entertainer. We’re testing popular Thanksgiving recipes on Kitchn all month, and unlike the other turkey recipes I tested — here’s Alton Brown’s, Ina Garten’s, and the Ree Drummond’s — Martha drapes her turkey in a cheesecloth soaked in wine and butter. Fancy. Here’s what happened when I made Martha’s version in my own kitchen.
How to Make Martha Stewart’s Turkey
To make the brine, a quart of water is mixed with a long list of dried seasonings, heated, and then cooled with six more quarts of water. That means the brine is at a safe temperature for raw poultry as soon as it’s made. The seasonings make for a delicious brine, but it’s also worth noting that some — like dried juniper berries, whole coriander seeds, and black mustard seeds — aren’t necessarily pantry staples for everyone. (And that all of those spices will add up quickly, cost-wise.)
As with all liquid brines, it takes a very large vessel to hold a large turkey and six quarts of brine, and a very large spot in the refrigerator to hold that vessel. I had to empty and remove two refrigerator shelves to make room. After a 24-hour soak in the brine, the turkey stands at room temperature for two hours, which gives the bird time to warm up a bit before going into the oven, and helps with even cooking.
The signature roasting technique for Martha’s bird is a drape of cheesecloth soaked in a bottle of Riesling and three sticks of melted butter. The theory is that the saturated cloth protects the delicate breast meat and flavors the pan drippings. The cheesecloth is brushed with the remaining wine and butter solution, and then with pan juices, every 30 minutes and is lifted off for the final hour of roasting. (Fun fact: It will have stiffened by then, resembling a helmet for a Roman soldier.)
What I Thought of the Results
Plenty of golden juices ran when I carved the white and dark meat, and they were delicious. If tasty meat alone was the only criteria, this turkey would have been my first choice. However, my turkey was not as evenly browned as I’d hoped. The skin was firm instead of spongy, but not crisp and tempting. Admittedly, the size of my roasting pan prevented me from being able to follow the instructions to turn the bird so that the breast faced the back of the oven during part of the roasting time — which likely affected how evenly it browned. But I tried to compensate by rotating my pan each time I basted, as suggested in a recipe footnote for those of us with pans that fit sideways in our ovens.
By the time the bird came out of the oven, there were three generous cups of pan drippings to use in gravy, but they were regrettably scorched and bitter. I wish the recipe had told me to pour some of the wine-and-butter mixture into the bottom of the pan at the start, to absorb the fat that dripped from the bird. Instead, that fat landed on the hot pan where it immediately blackened and sullied the juices to come.
If You Make Martha Stewart’s Turkey …
1. Only heat some of the brine’s liquid. Heating only enough of the brine’s liquid to dissolve the salt and then cooling and diluting it with more water means you can use it as soon as it’s made.
2. Pour some of the wine-and-butter mixture into the bottom of the pan at the start. Generous pan juices and meaty drippings are key to good gravy, especially when made from wine and butter, but those drippings will scorch if they fall directly into a hot pan with nothing to protect them, such as a little liquid and/or vegetables.
3. Consider the pros and cons of different pans. Placing a turkey in a deep roasting pan means that there’s plenty of room for collecting pan juices and drippings, but the deep sides block the lower part of the turkey from the direct heat of the oven, which impedes even browning. A shallow pan makes for a browner bird, but you give up some of those drippings.
Overall Rating: 6/10
This recipe had its fair share of pros (tasty, flavorful meat) and cons (uneven browning, scorched drippings) — but ultimately, the latter outweighed the former.
Have you tried Martha Stewart’s perfect roast turkey? What did you think of it? Or is there another turkey recipe you swear by every year? Tell us everything in the comments below!