Rick Bayless's Brined Turkey with Red Chile Adobo Sauce and Jícama-Cranberry Relish

This recipe is from long-time Kalamazoo friend and fan, chef Rick Bayless. Though in the past he has tackled the big roasted bird, basting and basting to ensure juiciness, for the past six years Bayless has opted to grill-roast it after an overnight briny bath. The method is easy. And honestly, it always yields the best bird—juicy, wonderfully aromatic from smoky wood chips, as lustrous as polished mahogany. Mesquite wood gives a traditional Mexican flavor, but for Thanksgiving he goes easy on the wood chips, creating a light smokiness that complements his traditional dressing and mashed potatoes. Though the turkey goes with any favorite Thanksgiving accompaniments, for a holiday diversion, Bayless suggests you replace gravy with a classic, robust red chile adobo sauce to drizzle on and jícama-cranberry relish to give the perfect counterpoint.

By Rick Bayless
Serves 10-12
Image of Rick Bayless's Brined Turkey with Red Chile Adobo Sauce and Jícama-Cranberry Relish


For the Turkey

  • 1 whole fresh turkey, 12 to 14 pounds, well rinsed, giblets removed
  • 2 gallons water
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups mesquite wood chips
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 bunch fresh marjoram sprigs OR 1 tablespoon dried
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme sprigs OR 1 tablespoon dried leaf thyme
  • 10 to 12 bay leaves

Red Chile Adobo Sauce (makes about 5 cups)

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 12 medium (about 6 ounces) dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into flat pieces
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin, preferably freshly ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves, preferably freshly ground
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 4 cups chicken or turkey broth (use the turkey neck and giblets for making broth)
  • Salt
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar

Jícama-Cranberry Relish (makes about 3 1/2 cups)

  • 1 large red onion, finely diced
  • 1 1/2 cups finely diced peeled jícama
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • Salt to taste
  • 6 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

For the Turkey

Brining the turkey. If the turkey has a metal clamp on its legs, remove it. Place two large food-safe plastic bags (we like Reynolds turkey roasting bags) in a large, clean, deep dishpan or plastic bucket. Add 1 gallon of the water, the sugar, salt and pepper flakes. Stir the mixture to dissolve the sugar and salt. Add the remaining gallon of water and mix. Place the turkey in the mixture breast side down making sure it is completely covered in brine. Squeeze the air out of the bag and tie it shut. Refrigerate 12 hours or overnight.

Setting up the grill for indirect cooking. Soak 2 cups of mesquite chips in water to cover for at least 30 minutes. Prepare a grill for indirect cooking between 250 and 325 degrees. For hybrid grills, light a charcoal fire on one half the grill and let it burn just until the coals are covered with gray ash and very hot.

When the grill is ready, add some of the soaked wood chips to the grill (for a gas grill, place them in smoker drawer; for a hybrid grill, place them on the hot coals).

Preparing the turkey for the grill. Remove the turkey from the brine and pat thoroughly dry with paper towel. (If you are not cooking the turkey at this point, place it in the outer baking bag, which should be dry and clean, and store it in the refrigerator. Discard the brine.) Rub the inside of the turkey cavity with the crushed garlic. Stuff the herbs and bay leaves inside, and then tie the legs together with a cotton string. Pull the skin over the neck opening and secure with a small skewer. Set the turkey on a roasting rack set inside a heavy-gauge foil pan. Brush turkey lightly with oil.

Grilling the turkey. Set the turkey in the pan on the cooking grate. Pour 1 cup water around the turkey into the pan. Close the grill and cook over medium heat. To maintain an even temperature with a charcoal grill, add more charcoal regularly (usually a few pieces every half hour or so). Keep adding wood chips as desired to give smokiness.

Check the turkey periodically, you may want to cover the wing tips and/or the whole turkey to prevent the skin from getting too brown. The turkey is done when its juices run clear and the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh is about 170 degrees. Estimate about 12 to 14 minutes per pound, typically 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove the turkey from the grill, cover loosely with foil and let stand 15 minutes. (The temperature will rise 5 to 10 degrees as the turkey rests.)

Carve the turkey, arrange on a warm platter and serve with the warm Red Chile Adobo Sauce (instructions below) and the Jícama-Cranberry Relish (instructions below).

Red Chile Adobo Sauce

The adobo puree. Measure the oil into a large skillet and set over medium heat. When hot, oil-toast the chiles 1 or 2 pieces at a time until very toasty smelling and blistered, only a few seconds per side. Pour off all but a generous film of oil from the skillet and set aside. Transfer the chiles to a large bowl and measure in 4 cups hot tap water; a small plate on top will keep the chiles submerged. Let rehydrate for about 20 minutes.

Measure the garlic, oregano, black pepper, cumin, cloves and vinegar into a blender or food processor. Add the rehydrated chiles and enough of the soaking liquid to allow the mixture to puree easily (do this in two batches if necessary). Process the mixture to a smooth puree. Press through a medium-mesh strainer set over a bowl. From puree to finished sauce. Set the chile-frying skillet over medium heat. When quite hot, add the adobo and stir until reduced to the thickness of tomato paste, about 10 to 20 minutes. Stir in the broth, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes or so. The finished sauce should be quite light in texture—not watery, but just one stage thicker. (A good test is to pour a little on a plate and watch it spread: If it flows evenly, it's right; if it doesn't flow much and water begins separating around the edges, it's too thick.) Season with salt (usually about 1 tablespoon) and sugar—it should be a little sweet-sour with a hint of saltiness. Serve warm. The finished sauce will keep for days if refrigerated, well covered.

Jícama-Cranberry Relish

Combine the chopped onion, jícama, dried cranberries, and vinegar in a medium bowl. Taste and season with a little salt. Stir in the cilantro. The jícama relish is best made within a couple of hours of dinner.