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Brine Your Turkey for Best Flavor

Can you believe Thanksgiving is next week? I am always startled when the health food store clerk asks if I want to order a fresh turkey for Thanksgiving.

Turkey for Thanksgiving

Brining the turkey makes it juicy and delicious.

Where did 2012 go?  But then I recover and say “yes” to a small one, around 12 pounds this year. I prefer smaller birds because they are easier to handle, faster to cook, and taste better. If I’m serving a larger crowed, I’ll order two birds.

My turkey comes out as nicely browned as the one in the photo, but honestly, my turkey goes straight from the oven to carving (husband carves after the turkey stands for 20 minutes) and we serve it on a large platter, without benefit of the gorgeous garnishes you see in magazines. Everyone is hungry and wants to eat, right now!!!

For several years now, I have brined the turkey to get marvelous flavor and juiciness. Yes, it means a little more work but the end result is well worth the effort since I learned about the technique from reading Cook’s Illustrated magazine years ago.

What Is Brining?

Brining, much like baking, is a scientific process. In a nutshell, it means soaking meat in a salty solution. The salt solution unwinds meat proteins to form a hollow tube. The brine solution travels into the protein, carrying the flavors of the herbs and other ingredients. The solution becomes trapped inside — creating a delicious, juicy turkey that is hard to beat.

The base of a brine is kosher salt, sugar, and water. With the ratio I use below, you should brine your turkey at least 10-24 hours, although some experts recommend no more than 8 hours. Personally, I brine the turkey overnight for about 12 hours (more or less) because that works with my schedule.

Carol’s Brine Recipe

I start with a fresh bird from my local health food store. That way, I know there are no unwanted elements in it… just gluten-free turkey. Then I assemble the brine. Here’s my recipe for a 16-pound turkey.

2 gallons water

1 1/3 cups coarse (kosher) salt

½ cup sugar

2 large bay leaves

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 whole clove (or a dash of ground cloves)

Place 1 cup of the water in a small pan, add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil until the sugar dissolves. Cool for 10 minutes. (If I’m in a hurry, I add some of the water as ice cubes so it cools quickly. You don’t want the turkey sitting in warm water.) Then combine it with the rest of the water in your container and add the thawed bird. Brine for about 12 hours in the refrigerator.

Choosing a Container for Brining

The main logistical problem with brining a turkey is figuring out what container to use and where to brine it. You can use a clean bucket, a brining bag, a plastic tub, or a cooler. Brining bags from Williams Sonoma (the best brining bags) hold up to a 22-pound turkey and can be easily placed inside a cooler or in the fridge. If you use a bag, I strongly advise putting it a bucket or solid container to catch any leaks or else you may have a mess in your fridge.

Since brining does not preserve meat, the turkey and brine must be kept refrigerated at all times.

Some turkey experts complain that brining makes the turkey and the gravy too salty, so be sure to rinse the bird well before cooking. Do not salt the turkey before roasting in case too much salt seeps in, same for your gravy.

Carving the Turkey

Carving the turkey is really not that difficult if you follow the guidelines. Here is a video from the folks at Butterball. Take a look: http://www.butterball.com/tips-how-tos/how-tos/carve/video

Roasting Pans

A final note on cooking the turkey:  When I was first married, my parents scoured garage sales to find a large, black, lidded, granite-ware roasting pan for me. They knew that it cooks a perfect turkey every time and they wanted me to have one. They were right; I have never cooked a turkey in anything but this pan and it comes out perfect every time. You don’t have to baste the turkey if you don’t want to because the steam generated by the closed lid keeps everything moist.

This roaster is probably the reason why I have always felt that roasting a turkey was extremely simple and foolproof; perhaps some of the easiest gluten-free cooking that I do. You can find similar granite-ware roasting pans at cooking stores and places such as Walmart; Bed, Bath, & Beyond; and Amazon.com. These newer versions are much lighter than mine (which is quite heavy) but still do a good job. Maybe this is the year to invest in one for your kitchen in time for Thanksgiving?

What are your secrets to the perfect bird?

4 comments to Brine Your Turkey for Best Flavor

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