Sunday, November 11, 2012

Brining a Turkey

Thanksgiving is full of tradition but sometimes I go off the beaten path and try something new. A few years ago, I became intrigued with brining a turkey. At first I wasn't really sure what "brining" meant. I knew enough that it was some sort of liquid concoction usually reserved for pickles or watermelon rind, but a turkey? I did a little research by asking my sister who brines her Thanksgiving turkey every year and received some positive feedback. If you want a moist, flavorful turkey then brining is the way to go. There are many brining kits in the stores but it is also very easy to make your own.


Essentially brine is a salty solution the turkey sits in for approximately 24 hours before cooking. A good ratio for brine is one cup of kosher salt and one cup of sugar to one gallon of water. Depending on the size of turkey you are cooking, more brine may be needed. The flavor comes from herbs and spices that are added to the brine and this is where you can get creative. Substituting apple cider or white wine for some of the water adds additional flavor.

An important note is to always use a fresh not frozen turkey for brining. This will yield better results since most frozen turkey's are injected with a sodium solution prior to freezing.

I place my thawed turkey in a brining bag which is a large, leak-proof zipper top bag. Since space in the refrigerator is at a premium during Thanksgiving, I brine my turkey in a large cooler with ice. This ensures two things. First, that the turkey will stay cold and second that the solution will be contained if my zipper top bag has an epic fail in the refrigerator! Just imagine discovering  five gallons of THAT in your refrigerator Thanksgiving morning!

After placing my bag of turkey in the cooler I get to work creating the brine. In a stock pot combine the following:

Printable Recipe

Basic Brine

2 cups kosher salt
2 cups sugar (brown sugar may be substituted)
2 Gallons water (cider or orange juice can be substituted for half the water)

To this brine mixture add a half cup mixture of your favorite herbs and spices such as rosemary, bay leaf,  peppercorn, garlic, and orange rind. This is where you get creative. The combinations are endless. Candied ginger and cinnamon are other options.

Turkey Brine Prep

Heat the mixture on the stove until salt and sugar is dissolved. Turn of heat and allow mixture to cool to room  temperature.

Once brining solution has cooled, place turkey breast side down, innards removed, inside bag in cooler and pour over turkey.  Zip bag closed removing as much air as possible. Pack ice around turkey bag in cooler and leave for 12 - 24 hours. A good rule of thumb is one hour per pound.  Remember to flip the turkey half way for even brining.

Brining the Turkey

That's all there is to it!

Next I will share my Martha inspired recipe for roast turkey.

Hint: It involves a bottle of white wine!

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