Brining? I Beg Your Pardon?
When being grilled or roasted, lean meats tend to get dried out. Brines are salty solutions that help lean meats hold their moisture so they stay juicy and tender during cooking. Brining is a popular method for preparing poultry and lean meats, like pork, that tend to dry out during cooking. Sugar and spice [and other things that don’t fit the old nursery rhyme] are sometimes added to the brine solution as well.
Why Brine? How Does It Work?
Brining a bird before cooking makes it juicy. The salt in the solution breaks down the proteins, resulting in a tender-seeming turkey, and causes the meat tissues to absorb moisture and the flavorings in your brine. This means that–despite the moisture loss during roasting and the long cooking time–you end up with a juicy bird. According to the Food Lab at Serious Eats, it’s specifically the salt in the soak that helps the turkey retain moisture while its cooking. Brine works on the meat “from the outside in,” and so it affects most the outermost parts of the turkey breast, which are most prone to drying out during its long baking [grilling / deep frying] time.
What Goes in the Brine?
At its very most basic, brines start with water and salt — traditionally, 3/4 pound of salt per gallon of water, usually with coarse Kosher Salt. You can also use Sea Salt. [Word to the wise: 1C table salt = 10 oz; 1C kosher salt = 5-8oz. If you use Kosher salt in your recipe, you will need to adjust the amount upward to get same degree of saltiness.] Add to the salty brine your choice of aromatics, herbs and spices. Dissolve some sugar in the brew, as sweetness helps counteract the saltiness of the brine. Use brown sugar, honey, or molasses in place of the sugar. You might want to include a touch of citrus and ginger alongside bay leaves and peppercorns — play with complements and contrasts in your solution. You can also use apple juice or cider, orange juice, beer, wine, vinegar, or stock in place of some of the water.
You could also take a shortcut to creating your turkey masterpiece by using our exclusive Brining Mix made just for AllSpice from our own recipe, and then tweak the blend with your own special touches. Unlike some of those fancy “gourmet” brines, ours is nothing but real sugar, salt, herbs and spices. We don’t cheat by adding MSG or any other “flavor enhancers.”
The basic ratio for turkey brine is two cups of kosher salt to two gallons of water. If using our Brining Mix, add 1 Cup Brining Mix to 2 Cups boiling water, and stir to dissolve salt and sugar. Add another gallon of water, and allow solution to cool before putting the turkey in the brine.
How Much Is Enough?
About 3 quarts of brining solution will accommodate a 12 – 25 lb turkey.
How big a turkey do you buy?
Since you’re also counting the weight of the turkey bones, and you want some leftovers, estimate 1 lb. turkey per dinner guest.
Keep It Deep; Keep It Cool, Baby
Food safety gurus mandate that I remind you: the turkey [or pork or chicken] and your brine both need to be kept at or below 40F AT ALL TIMES [the brine does not act as a preservative!], in your refrigerator or in a big cooler.
Take your thawed-out turkey [not frozen! not thawing! food safety! emphatics!] and put it, and the brining solution, in a container large enough to submerge the turkey. Some cooks like to do this in the Reynolds-brand baking bag, which comes in a big turkey size. Many culinary shops also now sell special brining bags for the task. Some people use a clean 5-gallon bucket, which is not at all glamorous, but certainly will do the trick. A big stock pot could work, too. Whatever the container you choose, the turkey needs to be kept submerged in the brine solution, and the container needs to be kept very cold in a picnic cooler or fridge.
How Long Do I Brine My Turkey?
Brine the bird 1 hour per pound of meat, but not more than 8 hours. A whole turkey [12 – 20 lbs] should be brined for 8 hours [*after* it is completely thawed!], a smaller turkey breast brines for 5- 8 hrs. An average 4 lb chicken should brine for 4 hours; cut up chicken pieces for 1 – 1 1/2 hours.
Cooking the Turkey
When you’re ready to roast, pour off the brine. Rinse the turkey well with cool tap water, and pat dry with paper towels. Proceed with your preferred recipe, but remember, when spicing the bird, that the turkey has already absorbed a significant amount of salt from the brine — any drippings that you use for gravy will already be salty, and you probably won’t need additional salt in any compound butters or spice rubs you might use.