It’s time to start the Thanksgiving countdown. Let’s talk turkey, which by now you should have picked up from the grocery and it’s thawing in the refrigerator, right? Remember my post about 10 Safety Tips for Preparing your Turkey? You might want to reread that. But let’s talk turkey, specifically brining that bird. For years now, I have brined my turkey and I’ve taught classes about brining. And once people taste the difference in a brined turkey, they understand because it really makes a difference. So why?, you ask. I’m going to tell you how and why you should brine your turkey.
How and Why You Should Brine Your Turkey
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Let’s start with the WHY
Salt changes the structure of the muscle tissues in the meat, allowing it to swell and absorb water and flavorings. It also breaks down the proteins, resulting in a tender-seeming turkey. This means that ~despite the moisture loss during roasting and the long cooking time ~ the end result is a juicier bird. I always use kosher salt.
Now the HOW
The main logistical problem with brining is that you need a container that’s large enough to submerge your turkey in the brine, but will fit in your refrigerator. Furthermore, from a food safety standpoint, it should be stored on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator so that any spills won’t contaminate food below. You may use a stock pot, a bucket, or a roasting pan. For a large turkey, I discovered years ago that an ice chest (cooler) is ideal. And since it’s colder in the garage than in the kitchen, that’s where we put the cooler overnight.
Place the turkey in a large new trash bag, add the brining solution (see below), and secure tightly.
Place the bag in the cooler and pack with ice. I just buy the 10-pound bag at the grocery store.
Close the cooler and leave overnight, checking occasionally to see if you need to add more ice. You get a good night sleep while Tom Turkey is absorbing all that awesome brining liquid and getting all moist and plump.
There are numerous recipes for brining solutions. Scientifically, only you only need water and salt. You may add other ingredients to enhance flavor, but they are not necessary. The basic ratio for turkey brine is two cups of kosher salt to two gallons of water. Some recipes include sweeteners or acidic ingredients (lemons) to balance the saltiness.
If you want to get fancy, try this recipe. Adjust the ingredient amounts based on the size of turkey you have. This brine recipe makes 1 gallon.
- 1 gallon vegetable broth or water
- 1 cup sea salt or kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon crushed dried rosemary
- 1 tablespoon dried sage
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 1 gallon ice water or as much as needed
In a large stock pot, combine the vegetable broth or water, salt, rosemary, sage, and thyme. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently to be sure the salt is dissolved. Remove from heat, and let cool to room temperature.
Now follow the directions for HOW above.
Not much effort for an extra juicy, moist turkey on Thanksgiving. Try it and you’ll thank me.