Well, after several yrs. of hearing much about the virtues of brining and being particularly swayed by hounds this year, I decided to give the brine method a whirl. I would rate last yr's turkey as an 8.5/10, and this year I wanted to get as close to that 10 as possible. My mission was to achieve a moist and flavorful bird that wasn't too salty, to use pan drippings for gravy, and to have a super crispy skin.
Quick run-down on my brining method: 18-lb. fresh turkey; brined in a cooler in fridge for about 24 hrs. in solution of 1.75 c. kosher salt, 1 c. sugar, and 2.5 c. water (a la SF Chronicle guide) w/ few aromatics; rinsed off very well; left uncovered in fridge (w/ plastic wrap covering the cavity) for about 12 hrs. to dry.
Cooking method: rubbed mixture of butter and fresh herbs under the skin; peppered inside and out; put few aromatics in cavity. Cooked it as usual--breast side up the whole time; 400 deg. for 1st 30 min.; 325 deg. til thigh registered 160 (about 3.5 hrs.); loose foil tent for about 20 min.; rest for 30 min. When carved, all parts were done.
Bird was nicely bronzed and skin was super crispy; HOWEVER, the flavor and texture were not as good as last year (no brining and a frozen Safeway bird). I was really surprised--was expecting it to be at least just as good as last year's. Thought the bird could even stand to be a tad more salty; gravy w/ drippings was lovely after I added more salt.
My main beef w/ this whole brining thing: I HAVE NO IDEA HOW MUCH SALT WAS ABSORBED AND HAVE NO WAY TO TEST WHETHER IT NEEDS MORE SALT BEFORE ROASTING. As an avid cook who relies on knowing exactly how much salt goes into my food (and usually being able to taste along the way), this drives me crazy!! I much prefer my old-fashioned method of directly salting onto the skin and inside the cavity--that way, I know EXACTLY how much salt is on the bird. I actually like the "bite" of salt on the skin and inside, as opposed to having a subtle (if not passive) flavor infused throughout the meat.
Well, who knows, maybe I did something wrong. If someone sees a misstep that could have wrongfully turned me off from brining forever, then please enlighten me. Otherwise, it's back to a frozen, unbrined bird next year! Less hassle and much cheaper.