Thanksgiving is next week and if you volunteered to roast the Thanksgiving turkey this year and are starting to feel a bit nervous I have three words of advice: Brine your bird. Brining will make sure your turkey will be a juicy and full-flavored even if you’re not feeling confident about your roasting skills.
The turkey is a relatively lean bird, particularly the breast meat, meaning that it doesn’t have a lot of fat to help keep the meat from becoming dry and tough. This is where brining comes in. Brine is a very basic solution of 4 quarts of water and 1 cup of salt, and by giving our turkey a long and luxurious dunk in this solution; we can actually coax a bit more moisture and flavor into our meal. There are also some aromatic options: bay leaf, peppercorns, cloves, juniper berries, allspice berries, orange peels, lemon peels, to add to the brining mix. There are many stores in the Las Vegas area that sell kits for brining – Sprouts, Bed Bath and Beyond, Whole Foods and Lowes and of course you can order a kit from Amazon.com.
During brining, the turkey absorbs extra moisture, which in turn helps it stay more moist and juicy both during and after cooking. Since the turkey absorbs salt along with the other flavors in the water, getting nicely seasoned from the inside out. Also the salt breaks down some of the turkey’s muscle proteins, which helps with the overall moisture absorption and also prevents the meat from toughing up quite so much during cooking.
The only downside to brining a turkey is that it takes up a good amount of fridge real-estate. First, find a pot or bucket big enough to comfortably hold the turkey and keep it fully submerged. Next rearrange the fridge to make enough space. If you’re okay meeting these two conditions, then you are good to go!
Brine only turkeys that have not been pre-treated in any way, which should be clearly stated on the label. Do not use turkeys labeled as “kosher,” “enhanced,” or “self-basting” for brining. These turkeys have already been enhanced with salt in some way and brining would result in an over-salted turkey. If your label doesn’t say any of these things or give any indication that it has been pre-treated, then it’s safe to assume you’re getting the turkey and nothing but the turkey, and you’re clear to proceed with brining. Also it’s fine to brine a partially thawed turkey. The thawing process will continue while the turkey is in the brine.
You cook a brined turkey just as you normally would whether brined or not. Once it’s out of the brine, pat it dry and rub it with any spices you were planning to use (although you can skip the salt!). You can also baste the turkey with juices or brush it with butter as it roasts. You might find that a brined turkey might cook a little faster than a non-brined bird, so it is recommended starting to check the internal temperature.
The following is step by step instructions to help make your brining easier.
- Find a pot or food-safe bucket large enough that you will be able to entirely submerge the turkey. Next, clear some refrigerator space and make sure your pot will fit. (You may have to remove shelves)
- Unwrap your turkey and remove the giblets, then transfer it to the pot. Add any aromatics you’d like to use.
- Heat 1 quart of water in the microwave until warmed — it doesn’t need to come to a boil, just be warm enough to dissolve the salt. Add the salt and stir until the salt is dissolved. Let the liquid cool slightly; it’s fine if it’s still a touch warm. Also add the other flavors at this time.
- Pour the brine solution over the turkey.
- Add the remaining 3 quarts cold water. This dilutes the salt solution to the best ratio for brining and also helps further cool the solution.
- Make sure the turkey is completely submerged.If needed, prepare more brine solution at a ratio of 1/4 cup salt per quart of water to completely submerge the turkey.
- If the turkey floats, weigh it down with a dinner plate. Cover and place it in the refrigerator.
- Brine the turkey in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
- Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels. Clean your sink thoroughly after doing this step to avoid cross-contamination.
- (optional).If you desire, let the turkey air-dry overnight in the refrigerator. Place the turkey on a roasting rack set inside a roasting pan and cover loosely with plastic wrap to prevent cross contamination. This drying step will give your turkey crispier skin.
- You can roast the turkey either immediately after brining or after air-drying. I’ve found that brined turkeys tend to cook a bit more quickly, so roast as usual, but start checking the turkey’s temperature an hour before the end of your estimated cooking time.
This might seem overwhelming for first time briner’s, however it is totally worth it – a brined turkey is so good you will always brine your turkeys after tasting the delicious turkey and have your family and friends compliment you on the best bird they have eaten.
It’s funny… I have actually compared staging a home before selling it to brining a turkey… sure you’ll be fine if you don’t do it. However, if you do, the results are dramatically better! (and I always like “better”)
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Choose to have an amazing day….Jeff