Last Thanksgiving I discovered something magical… something about turkey that I never dreamed possible. How to brine a turkey. I always just used a generic turkey recipe that I would find online that seemed like it had great seasonings and flavors. To think that I could have actually been doing something about the moisture in the meat of the turkey. WOW, was I missing out.
For those of you that aren’t seasoned in the kitchen, you may be asking yourself “What is a brine?” A brine is a solution created by dissolving salt and sugar into water, as well as sometimes adding additional spices, seasonings and flavor enhancers. Meat is then placed in the brine for a significant period of time. Now, what the brine does as the meat sits in it has something to do with the muscle filaments and the way they contract. I won’t get into the science behind it, but basically it tenderizes the meat as well as allow it to retain more moisture. It’s like magic. If you have never used a turkey recipe that uses brining, I urge you to try it this Thanksgiving.
Let me walk you through the steps of how to brine a turkey…
I have been using the Alton Brown recipe from Food Network and I love it.
I have to tell you though, there are a million ways to adjust this brine to your own tastes.
This turkey brine is flavored with vegetable stock (chicken if unavailable, as it was for me), salt, light brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and crystallized ginger.
All the spices and seasonings are the things you can adjust.
Feel free to add bay leaves, orange peels, cloves, anything that you would like your turkey to taste of.
SO! To make the turkey brine you need to have a fairly large pot to boil it in.
Throw all the ingredients into the stockpot (preferably) and boil, stirring occasionally, until everything is dissolved.
Set it aside to cool. For Thanksgiving, I find it more ideal to do this two days before the holiday.
You will have a lot going on and this is something so easy to throw together that won’t spoil… there is no reason why you shouldn’t get it out of the way early,
especially if you’re like me and cooking for Thanksgiving is a two day affair.
When you are read to start brining the turkey one day before, get it prepared by rinsing it and taking out all the innards.
I always forget the neck and find it after the brine. I don’t know how I do it every time but I do….
as long as you get it before it goes in the oven it’s okay though. Whew.
The most difficult part about brining the turkey is finding a container large enough to hold the turkey and all the liquid without it over flowing.
I use what I think is a 20 qt stock pot. It’s one of those big guys you boil lobster in.
I can fit a 13-14 lb turkey in it without displacing any liquid.
For those of you that are making a larger turkey I suggest maybe using a designated plastic storage tub
or plastic garbage can used only for brining.
Anyways, once you have the container you need to add 4 qts of ice water
(4 qts including ice, not 4 qts and then additional ice).
Add the turkey in, breast side down.
If it bobs up and you would like it submerged, just weigh it down with a plate heavy can on top.
At this point you just let your turkey sit there for about 18 hours.
I don’t think leaving it in longer would hurt it, but you want to go at least 12 hours, if not 18.
I usually leave it at room temperature, in the basement or someplace cooler.
There is enough ice and salt to keep it safe from any bacterial growth.
On Thanksgiving Day, you will want to get ready to cook the turkey about 30 minutes before it goes in and set the oven temperature to 500 degrees F.
Rinse it off and the pat it as dry as possible.
Set it on the cooking rack and let it finish air dry while you prepare the aromatics.
This turkey recipe calls for these particular aromatics to be placed in the birds cavity. If you have something else, more traditional to your desire then go with that.
For this preparation, cut a red apple and an onion into 4′s and then place them in a microwave safe container with a cinnamon stick and 1 cup water.
Microwave for about 5 minutes. This process gives the aromatics a head start to break down and start to flavor the turkey right from the beginning.
Take the apple and onion slices, as well as the cinnamon and a few springs a rosemary and sage, and stuff the turkey cavity.
Then you want to truss the turkey by tying the turkey’s legs together with some kitchen twine
or one of these heat resistant specialty rubber bands : ) which I love.
All you have to do for the turkey’s wings is stick them under the breast. If you did this right, they will stay without any problems.
The final step in the pre-roasting process is to rub the whole turkey down in canola oil (or butter) and then generously pepper.
You may not want to salt it because of the brine. It should be salty enough.
I have a thermometer that stays in the turkey as it cooks that you can set to go off at a certain temperature.
I love it. It also tells you the current temperature and how long it’s been in.
The general rule is the turkey’s time in the oven is 20 minutes per pound, but that is not always true.
Either way, you should cook it to 165 degrees to be safe.
With this turkey, it is cooked until 161 degrees and finishes out of the oven from residual heat.
Temperature is taken from the thickest part of the meat, which is the center of the breast.
When you are ready to cook the turkey, place it in the 500 degree oven for 30 minutes and then turn the oven down to 350 degrees F.
Cook to 161 degrees F.
This is the beautifully crisped and seasoned skin you will see when the turkey is done.
On of the main reasons the skin is so crisped is because the turkey is cooked on a rack in a sheet pan.
NOT a traditional roasting pan. This allows for more direct contact with the skin, and thus! More crispiness : )
And these are the little pockets of moisture you will see.
Now… those wouldn’t be there if this turkey wasn’t supppper juicy.
See? Didn’t I tell you.
Now, one of the biggest secrets to any meat being flavorful and juicy is to let is rest.
If you cut into it before it has had the chance to do this, all of the juice will flow right out of the meat.
With this particular turkey recipe, you will notice and excessive amount of juice anyways because of the brine.
But please! Let the turkey relax under some foil while you finish preparing the rest of your Thanksgiving meals.
One you have let the turkey rest for about 20 minutes under foil, go ahead and start carving it and enjoy one of the best turkeys you will ever eat.
Please note the beautiful glisten of the turkey meat. This is because it is succulent and moist.
Something most Thanksgiving turkeys never are.
So please, do yourself a favor and discover how to brine a turkey this holiday season.
- 1 (14 to 16 pound) young turkey
- 1 cup kosher salt
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- 1 gallon (4 quarts) vegetable stock (chicken stock if unavailable)
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1½ teaspoons allspice berries (or ½ tsp ground)
- 1½ teaspoons chopped candied ginger
- 1 gallon (4 quarts) heavily iced water
- 1 red apple, sliced
- ½ onion, sliced
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 cup water
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- 6 leaves sage
- Canola oil
- days before roasting: Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot 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.
- Early on the day or the night before you’d like to eat: Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 12 to 18 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.
- Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.
- Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey’s cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil and pepper.
- Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2½ hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil 20 minutes before carving.