Too Brine or not to Brine, A Turkey recipe for success!

English: A Thanksgiving turkey that had been s...

A Thanksgiving turkey that had been soaked for 8 hours in a brine of water, salt, brown sugar, cut and squeezed lemons and oranges, and chopped onion. Roasted in the oven in a roasting pan, for nearly 4 hours. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the best way to get flavorful poultry, regardless of how it is prepared, is to start with a brine. I began brining turkeys a few years ago, and now it’s a process I swear by. I cook two turkeys each year for Thanksgiving (our family demands lots of take home leftovers). One is deep fried in peanut oil, and the other is marinated overnight (in buttermilk, Franks hot sauce, tequila and lime juice) and barbequed on a rotisserie grill. I brine each prior to cooking.

Brining adds moisture and flavor to poultry (and pork) and helps to keep it from drying out.  It’s a salty sweet aromatic liquid for marinating poultry meat in order to enhance flavor and moistness when cooking.  The sugar works to counteract the flavor of the salt and maintain the flavor of the turkey.  A turkey can be a serious investment in time so you want to make sure it is perfect, especially if you’re entertaining. Whether grilled, smoked, fried, or roasted, your turkey should be brined first.

Ice Water 1 Gallon
Kosher salt 3 Cups
Brown Sugar 1 Cup
Fresh Apple Juice 2 Cup
Orange Juice 2 Cup
2 bay leaves  
Smashed garlic cloves ½ Cup
Black peppercorns 2 Tbls
Fresh Rosemary 4 Sprigs
Fresh Oregano 4 Sprigs
Thyme 4 Sprigs
Parsley ½ bunch
Lemons halved and squeezed into mix 2

To properly brine a turkey you need to start the night before you plan to cook. You will need at least 8 hours, a container large enough to hold your turkey and enough brine to cover it, and enough room to refrigerate it or keep in cool (below 40 degrees). A large stainless steel stock pot or even a 5 gallon clean plastic bucket make excellent containers. Whatever container you choose, the turkey must have enough room to be turned, so it should be big. Both Reynolds (Oven Roasting Bag for Turkeys) and Ziploc (XL Storage Bag) make very large food safe resealable bags that are great for brining.

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. Make sure to check the ingredients on the turkey before you decide to brine. A fresh, “natural” turkey works best, but a completely thawed, previously frozen turkey will work just as well.

For the brine; combine all ingredients except ice water in a pot and bring to a boil. Using fruit juices in a brine you add sweetness and a light acidity that tenderizes and permeates the meat you are brining.  Simmer for 20 min to dissolve salt, sugar and let ingredients get happy together. Add to ice water to cool. Marinate poultry for 8 to 12 hrs and then prep for cooking. I usually do this the night before and let the turkey sleep in the brine overnight.

If you don’t have room in the refrigerator, try a cooler. Make sure it’s big enough to hold your turkey and can contain both the bird with the brine in a bag and ice. The cooler will not only help keep the turkey cool, but provides the option to brine your turkey without taking up space in the refrigerator. If the weather is cool and not freezing, you can put the whole thing in the garage or outside until you are ready to cook the turkey. Just make sure it’s sealed to keep any critters form enjoying your dinner before you do.

After about 8 to 12 hours, remove the bird 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. If you don’t get the brine rinsed of thoroughly, you will get a very salty bird. Discard the brine and cook the turkey per your recipe. 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.

Chef Bill

This entry was posted in Food.

3 comments on “Too Brine or not to Brine, A Turkey recipe for success!

  1. Just happened to be checking some messages when your post came up on my reader. I’ve already got a 21 pounder in the freezer for this year. It’s been a few years since the bird has been my responsibility (and happy to cook it, most people can’t cook a turkey worth anything). I am definitely going to go for it take your advice and brine it. As soon as I saw franks, tequila, and lime juice I knew I was reading a credible source! Cheers.

  2. […] Too Brine or not to Brine, A Turkey recipe for success! ( […]

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