Brine for Thanksgiving Turkey

With Thanksgiving only a week away, I thought it time to share my tips and tricks for making the perfect Thanksgiving turkey. This recipe is for the brine. The complete instructions for bringing, roasting, and serving are located at “How to Make the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey.”

What is a Brine and Why Do It?

Source: Micki Seibel, November 2012

Source: Micki Seibel, November 2012

A brine is a solution of water that is nearly saturated with salt. Brining hydrates the meat before cooking thereby making the turkey moister. If you take the time to brine your turkey before cooking, you will not need to baste the turkey.

In my opinion, there are several downsides to basting the turkey during cooking:

  1. You have to remember to baste every 15-20 minutes or so otherwise you get dry turkey.
  2. When you open the oven every 15-20 minutes, you lose oven heat that may take most of the next 15-20 minutes to recover. The result can be undercooked turkey, or turkey that ends up taking longer than expected.
  3. Many people simply forget to baste (or to baste on the regular time schedule)
  4. It’s just plain inconvenient.

Brining greatly reduces the chance that you end up with a dry or mis-cooked turkey. With a brined turkey, you can place it in the oven and just let it go until done. Simple. No ball and chain to the oven.
A final benefit to brining is that you can infuse flavor into the meet with the ingredients of your brine–much like marinating. Easier cooking, very moist, and very flavorful turkey results. That said, here is the recipe that I have used the last several years for our Thanksgiving turkey brine.

Ingredients

  • 1 12-14lb Turkey
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 3/4 cup kosher salt
  • 2 1/2-3 gallons of cold water
  • 2 bay leaves, torn into small pieces
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 5 Allspice berries
  • 4 juniper berries, smashed

Directions

brine_turkey_closed

Both trash bags are closed tightly and air pushed out. Several ice packs sit on top and the turkey will stay in this brine for up to 24 hours.
Source: Micki Seibel, November 2012

  1. Clean the turkey by removing the giblet bag, any extra internal fat, and any pin feathers. Rinse well under cool tap water.
  2. Combine sugar, salt, and 3 to 4 quarts of cold water in a large bowl. Stir until the sugar and salt dissolve, then add the remainder of the ingredients (except for the remaining water).
  3. Double-bag two heavy-duty, unscented trash bags (not made of recycled materials), then put them in an ice chest that is large enough to hold the turkey.
  4. Place the turkey in the doubled bags, pour in the brine, then the remaining gallons of cold water. There should be enough liquid to completely submerge the bird. Add more water, if needed.
  5. Press out all of the air in the bags, then tightly close each bag separately. Place packs of ice on the top (which will also help to keep the turkey submerged).
  6. Let sit in the brine for 12 to 24 hours.

How Not to Screw It Up

  1. I suggest that you put the turkey in the brine at night before you go to bed on Wednesday and let it go until you are ready to cook on Thanksgiving day (that’s Thursday for you non-American readers).
  2. Make sure the water level is above the turkey. That bird needs to be fully submerged.
  3. Make sure you have an ice chest or other water tight container that is big enough to hold the turkey and all of the water it will displaces with its weight. Splash. Splash.

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