Of all of the things that my Georgia grandmother did well, roast turkey was not one of them. Every winter holiday she produced a beautiful roast turkey, but then she’d take it out of the oven, carve it, and put it back in, uncovered. Thus I came to really love gravy. You can mess up a good turkey in lots of ways, and letting it bake, uncovered, a second time after you’ve carved it is one of them. You can also buy a bad turkey.
The best turkeys are those that are butchered naturally, with no “retained liquid.” If you’ve read the fine print, you know that grocery store turkeys can contain “up to 14% of retained liquid,” although I’ve found some with as little as 6%. That “retained liquid” is a combination of water and chemicals, and you’re paying for it by the pound. That’s not my idea of a good deal.
Instead, I get a turkey that is butchered the old-fashioned way (look for products that are organic or local to find a naturally butchered turkey), and then I brine it myself. Brine is a salt-vinegar-spice-herb solution in which you soak the turkey for several hours. The combination of liquid and salt helps the turkey absorb and retain the good liquid. Brine keeps your meat juicy and succulent instead of dry, and it can add great flavor.
Alton Brown is one of my favorite TV chefs. Here is one of his brine recipes. Here is my brine recipe. I use vinegar and/or wine, and I use more fresh veggies to avoid coming up with a gallon of veggie stock.
Could you use a great brine recipe on a grocery-store turkey? Yes, but you’ll be wasting more money. Your commercial turkey is already plumped up with liquid and chemicals, and it will not be able to draw in your good herbie-spicy brine.