What I also love about brining a turkey is that it brings fun chemistry into my day of cooking so I end up with fun stories to tell when people ask me WHY you should brine a turkey…typically immediately before or after they ask how to brine a turkey.
What would a posting about turkey brine be without the Ultimate Turkey Brine Recipe: The best recipe I’ve found comes from Alton Brown of the show Good Eats. Try the recipe below or check out the ready made Turkey Brine Kit from Amazon.
The brine recipe is only part of the story, so seek out the DVD for this episode to learn all the nuance.
- 1 cup salt (Kosher) [Personally I use about 3/4 cup of sea salt because I don't like pure sodium chloride]
- 1/2 cup brown sugar (I don’t think it matters what kind)
- 1 gallon vegetable stock (if store bought, check the ingredients and get something that isn’t packed full of MSG and preservatives)
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns (or mixed–just put them in whole)
- 1/2 tablespoon allspice berries (because they’re collecting dust in your cupboard anyway)
- 1/2 tablespoon candied ginger (not ginger candy–there’s a difference)
- 1 gallon iced water
Oh yeah, and 1 VERY CLEAN 5 gallon pail. This is your container for the turkey brine. The turkey and the brine will go in here before you serve the turkey to your friends and family. CLEAN! I get my “turkey brine container” from Home Depot. They’re big, red pails and I don’t show them to anyone on Thanksgiving…
What makes this the Ultimate Turkey Brine Recipe? ’cause I said so. Sheesh
Here’s how to use the recipe and brine your turkey.
Start out at the stove top and combine all brine ingredients, except ice water, in a stockpot, and bring it to a boil.
Stir to dissolve solids. It only takes a little agitation.
Remove from heat.
Cool to room temperature, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
You DO NOT want to use this brine hot, or you will start to cook the turkey (poached turkey?) and you may interfere with the neat biology/chemistry effect this technique makes use of.
On the day of cooking, (or very late the night before) combine the brine and ice water in a 5 gallon bucket (clean–not the one you used to change the fish tank water).
Place thawed turkey breast side down in brine. The turkey will float in the brine so what I do is place a brick in a large zip lock bag and place that on top of the turkey.
Cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 6 hours.
Turn turkey over once, half way through brining…or not. If the turkey is totally under water, because of the brick, you should be fine.
When you pull the turkey out of the brine, keep in mind that the cavity holds water. If you do this over carpet, your spouse may kill you.
At this point you have a turkey that is seasoned at the cellular level. It will NOT be salty due to the fact that osmosis prevents most of the salt from getting into the cells of the turkey. Much of the connective tissue also breaks down from the brine as well and this will lead to a more tender turkey.
I would like to thank Alton Brown of Good Eats for making me into a great cook. He has been a total inspiration.
If your turkey is “flavor injected” it might not be a good idea to brine it. Find a turkey that hasn’t been messed with and learn how to give it awesome flavor yourself. You’ll also be saving your family from a dozen or so chemicals you probably can’t legally obtain on your own and yet provide the main ingredients for commercial turkey “flavoring.”
It is not difficult to brine a turkey. Sure, there is some time required but it is totally worth it and good cooking should deserve a little time and attention once in a while.
By the way, a brine and a marinade are not the same thing. A marinade uses an acid to provide some tenderizing support and the flavor “sits on top.” If you’re looking for a turkey marinade recipe, don’t confuse a brine for a marinade.
Why Brine A Turkey?
[amazonify]158479559X:left[/amazonify]A brine uses a trick of nature called osmosis and diffusion to move fluids in and out of the cells that make up the food. As this process progresses, some of the brine ends up inside the cells and not only flavors the food at the cellular level, it also can be used as a preservation technique.
Have you ever watched someone pull a hot turkey from the oven and use a baster to squirt the drippings onto the top of the turkey? What happens? They run right off! This is because a.) skin is water resistant and b.) once the turkey’s skin has been browned, it’s not going to absorb much of anything! Has your mom ever told you that basting the turkey keeps the white meat tender? What kind of nonsense is that? If the juices run off the surface of the skin that quickly, what possible benefit are they going to have on the meat?
When you brine a turkey, you’re seasoning it at a point when it will actually accept seasoning.
Making gravy from the drippings
After you remove the turkey from the brine, most of it washes away. The result is NOT a salty bird. Brining brings flavor from more than the salt. The salt is simply a part of the chemistry and biology involved with the process of osmosis.
Anyway…making gravy from the drippings works fine and it’s already seasoned.
For more fun, check out these recipes from Alton Brown on the episode Remains of the Bird.