Most chefs would agree that the secret to a more tender, moist and flavorful turkey is a four-letter word: SALT -- not the salt you shake on at the table, after the bird is cooked and sliced, but the salt you use to season the meat in advance, long before you reach for the oven door.
Seasoning poultry with a liberal dose of salt a day or two before cooking gives the salt the time it needs to work its magic by penetrating the muscle and dissolving strands of protein into a gel that retains liquid, which in turn helps keep more of the moisture inside the meat -- something that's especially important when roasting a large turkey, which can dry out before it's fully cooked.
Samin Nosrat, author of "Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking," recommends brining a turkey -- submerging it in a bath of water, salt, sugar and some aromatic herbs and spices -- for 24 to 48 hours before you roast it. To brine a large bird you'll need a container large enough to hold the turkey and 6 to 8 quarts of liquid and enough refrigerator or other cold storage space to hold it for a day or two.
Many people hold back from brining their meat because they fear the salt may have a negative effect on their health. If your doctor has specifically told you to limit the amount of sodium you consume, brining is definitely not for you. All others should feel free to experiment with the technique. In general, home-cooked food -- even meat which has been liberally pre-seasoned -- contains significantly less salt than prepared or restaurant food.
This is Nasrat's recommended brine for a moist and flavorful Thanksgiving turkey. The water, salt and sugar are basic to the brine. The additional seasonings can be adjusted for personal preference.