How to brine a turkey for a fabulous Thanksgiving feast
A few years ago, I watched food guru Alton Brown propound the virtues of brining a turkey. He explained that the salt water brine changes the turkey’s cellular structure so that it holds more moisture, while seasoning the meat.
Boy, was he right! This has been my favorite way to roast a turkey ever since, and I’ve got a least one friend who insists it saved his family holiday meal. Amen, brother.
Of course, this recipe and approach can be used with other meats, especially chicken. For example, if you’d like to roast a whole, fresh chicken, half the recipe.
You also should change your perspective on how long to cook the bird. Buy yourself a meat thermometer and cook by the internal temps, not how long it’s been cooking. You’ll be amazed at how much more flavorful it will be.
Brining your turkey
(I have lots of Turkey Day guests, so I buy two birds – the biggest one I can find and then another, probably 16-18 pounds for leftovers. Almost nothing worse than not having enough turkey for those gorgeous sandwiches with homemade mayo, a little layer of dressing and a slather of cranberry sauce!)
EQUIPMENT – 2 large plastic garbage bags (the unscented kind), large container like my gumbo pot which will fit into your refrigerator, measuring equipment, chopping board, knife, long-handled wooden spoon.
This recipe is for a 14-16 pound whole turkey. I make only slight adjustments because my birds are bigger.
INGREDIENTS – FOR THE BRINE
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 quart vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
4 sprigs rosemary
4 bay leaves
2 tablespoons garlic or 3 whole cloves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cinnamon sticks or 2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 onion, halved
2 gallons water
Let’s get started
2-3 days before roasting, begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees F.
Day before your feast:
Combine the brining ingredients in a large pot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature and refrigerate.
Take your plastic bags, inserting one into the other.
Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) into the plastic bags breast side down and then place the bagged turkey into the large pot, which will hold it in the fridge. Pour your brine into the turkey bag. Leave a little air in the brine bag, then twist the top tightly closed. In the alternative, without bags, weigh down the bird in a large pot to ensure it is fully immersed, cover. Refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.
Roasting your turkey
EQUIPMENT – Large roasting pan with metal rack on which to place the bird, aluminum foil, probe thermometer
INGREDIENTS (besides your thawed turkey)
1 red apple, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water
4 sprigs rosemary
fresh thyme sprigs
1 celery stalk
Let’s get started
Remove your turkey from the fridge in its brine an hour before you begin the following:
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Rinse the bird inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine. (I use this brine for my second turkey, which will go in the oven later in the day.)
Place the bird on rack of roasting pan and pat dry with paper towels.
Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, celery stalk, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add those steeped aromatics to the turkey’s cavity along with the rosemary, thyme. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with vegetable oil. (You won’t need salt/pepper because they’re already in your turkey meat from the brine.)
Boil water in a kettle. Before you close your oven with the turkey, pour about an inch of boiling water into your roasting pan. Try to maintain this level during the cooking. It will make the pan much easier to clean and give you some drippings to work with for gravy, if you like to do that.
Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 165 degrees. If the turkey breast begins to brown too much, make a tent of foil, slip it over the breast and continue baking. (I usually do this. The brown sugar in the brine almost always “darkens” the turkey skin as it roasts, so don’t be alarmed.) A 14 to 16 pound bird should require about 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil for 15 minutes
Turkey photo by CC By 4.0 — linked to www.blog.tidalcreek.coop