Where's the turkey? Dustin asks. Would he be horrified to find tomorrow's dinner floating in a bucket of brine? Should I explain the chemistry that allows the turkey to absorb moisture without becoming overly salty? Naaah, let them wonder. It's in the garage, I say, casually. Don't let the dogs in.
1 4.5- to 7-kg turkey
8 quarts water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup kosher or other coarse salt
2 lemons, thinly sliced crosswise
4 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme, or rosemary (or both)
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil, or melted butter
If your turkey is frozen, let it thaw (at least partially) for 24 hours in the refrigerator before beginning the brining process. That means you should take the turkey out of the freezer two whole days before you plan to roast it. If you have a fresh turkey, begin to brine it 18 to 24 hours before you plan to cook it.
In a large clean bucket or other container, combine the water, sugar and coarse salt. Stir until the salt and sugar are fully dissolved. Add the lemons, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary and turkey. The turkey should be fully submerged in the brine - it may float a bit, but most of it will be under water. Place the bucket in the refrigerator or in a cold place (no more than 41°F or 5°C). If the weather is cold, you can leave it outside in a protected place. Let the turkey soak in the brine for at least 18 hours.
When you're ready to begin, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Remove the turkey from the brine and place it in a roasting pan. Fish out all the lemon slices and herbs and set them aside. In a small bowl, mash together the garlic, paprika and black pepper. Stir in the vegetable oil or melted butter. With a basting brush (or clean bare hands), rub this mixture all over the turkey - inside and outside. Now stuff the lemon slices and herbs into the cavity and tie the turkey's legs together with string.
Place in the preheated oven and roast for 2½ to 4 hours, basting every half-hour or so with the juices that will collect on the bottom of the pan. The most reliable way to tell if it's fully cooked is by using an instant-reading meat thermometer. When the turkey's done, the thickest part of the thigh will read 165°to 170°F (74° to 76° C). Remove from pan and transfer to a cutting board. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before carving.