Some say that turkeys don’t need to be brined, but in my opinion a brine can really add a little tasty punch to your holiday turkey.
Brine you may ask? Brining adds moisture and flavor to poultry and helps to keep it from drying out. A turkey can be a serious investment in time so you want to make sure it is perfect, especially if you’re entertaining. Whether you grill, smoke, fry, or roast your turkey, you should use a brined bird.
A brine is simply a salt and liquid mixture that adds lots of great flavor and moisture to your bird. There are many recipes out there for the perfect brine, but all do about the same thing. However, there is one step that is a must when brining a bird- you must brine the bird for at least 24 hours, otherwise the entire brining process just isn’t worth it.
To properly brine a turkey you need to start the night before you plan to cook. You will need at least 10 to 12 hours (plan on 1 hour per pound of turkey), a container large enough to hold your turkey and enough brine to cover it. You’ll also need salt, water, sugar, seasonings, and enough room to refrigerate it. A large stainless steel stock pot or even a 5 gallon clean plastic bucket (or my family has used a clean cooler before) would make excellent containers. Whatever container you choose, the turkey needs to have enough room to be turned so it should be big.
Now let’s get to the turkey. The turkey should be cleaned out, completely thawed, and should not be a self-basting or Kosher turkey. Self-basting and Kosher turkeys have a salty stock added that will make your brined turkey too salty. A fresh turkey works best, but a completely thawed, previously frozen turkey will work just as well. Look for local turkey from area growers at your local farmers market.
Make the Brine
Mix 1 cup of table salt in 1 gallon of water. You will need more than 1 gallon of water, but that’s the ratio to aim for. Make sure that the salt is completely dissolved before adding the seasonings you like, making sure not to add anything that contains salt. Brines can be spicy hot with peppers and cayenne, savory with herbs and garlic, or sweet with molasses, honey and brown sugar. My favorite seasonings to add are fresh herbs like thyme and parsley and onions and garlic.
Sugar is optional to any brine, but works to counteract the flavor of the salt. While you may choose a brine without sugar, I do recommend that you add sugar (any kind of “sweet” will do) to maintain the flavor of the turkey. Add up to 1 cup of sugar per gallon of brine. Like the salt you need to make sure that the sugar is completely dissolved.
Place the turkey in a container and pour in enough brine to completely cover the turkey with an inch or two to spare. You do not want any part of the turkey above the surface of the brine. Now you put the whole thing in the refrigerator. If you are like me, making enough room in the fridge is the hardest part of this project. The turkey should sit in the brine for about 1 hour per pound of turkey. Brining too long is much worse than not brining enough so watch the time.
Don’t have room in the refrigerator? Try a cooler. A cooler big enough to hold your turkey makes a good container for your turkey and brine. The cooler will help keep it cool and allow you to brine your turkey without taking up precious refrigerator space. If the weather is cool, but not freezing you can put the whole thing outside until you need the turkey (just add ice to the cooler).
When you are ready to start cooking your turkey, remove it from the brine and rinse it off thoroughly in the sink with cold water until all traces of salt are off the surface, inside and out. Safely discard the brine and cook your turkey as normal. You will notice the second you start to carve your turkey that the brining has helped it retain moisture. The first bite will sell you on brining turkeys forever, and after you’ve tried this you will want to brine all your poultry- I promise!
Check out these great turkey brine tips before the BIG Turkey Day to help you out as well.
Whether you decide to brine this Thanksgiving or Christmas or not- I wish your family happy holidays and the best to the new year!