Buy the best turkey you can afford, fresh, free-range, heirloom breed if you’re willing to spend a small fortune. Frozen is okay, too, but make sure you put in the fridge to thaw a few days before Thanksgiving. Avoid the cheap industrial turkeys; they don’t taste quite as good, and the birds have been raised in appalling conditions.
I’ve brined turkey, but now I presalt, sometimes called “dry brining” (a terrible, oxymoronic term). It’s easier, the results are better, very moist breast meat, crispy skin, and less of that “hammy” quality. Rub several tablespoons of sea salt (about 1 T for each 5 lbs of turkey weight) all over the bird, but especially on the breast; it should resemble a light snowfall. Leave the turkey in the refrigerator, uncovered (that’s important), overnight to dry the skin out a bit.
Let the turkey come to room temperature while you preheat the oven to 325F. Place it on a rack, breast side up, in a large roasting pan, and pop it in the oven.
After the bird’s been cooking for an hour or so, drop a stick of butter into the roasting pan and add the secret ingredient: a bottle of beer. This unusual basting ingredient comes from my wife’s family (New Jersey Italians who also serve lasagna before the turkey at Thanksgiving) but it makes for a wonderful turkey (and great gravy). I prefer a porter or stout or one of the special winter brews, which I can also drink while I’m cooking. If you live in the northwest, splurge with a couple of bottles of Hair of the Dog brewery’s dark ale called Adam. WARNING: Do not use a hoppy beer. Hops are inherently bitter, and a beer with a higher IBU number will leave you with bitter gravy.
Save at least one more bottle to add halfway through cooking the turkey. Baste every 20 minutes or so, and when you add the second bottle of beer after a couple of hours, baste it really well and then cover the breast with a loose tent of foil. This stops the browning on top and helps prevent too much drying.
Use an instant-read thermometer (about $8 at a good kitchen store) to check the internal temp. Stick it into the breast; if it reads 150 or so take the bird out of the oven. Move it to a platter, keep the foil tent on, and let it rest for about 20-30 minutes while you make the gravy.