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How to Brine a Turkey

how to brine a turkey

If you are going to smoke, grill, or fry a turkey (yes, even if you are going to roast it in the oven), it pays to brine the turkey first.  Do NOT brine a turkey that says it has been “enhanced” with salt and turkey brother, further brining will make the bird too salty.  The turkey will be more moist, and by choosing some good aromatic herbs to add to the brine, the turkey will have a much better flavor.

There aren’t any hard and fast rules to what should go into your brine.  I sometimes add brown sugar (about 1/2 cup per gallon) or apple juice, to give it a little sweetness.  Search around the Internet and you will find many variations, but the salt content is pretty much universal.  Here’s a cool way to see if you have enough salt in your brine.  Once your brine has cooled to room temperature, drop a raw egg into the solution.  It should float if you have enough salt.  I know, weird…Here is a basic brine to get you started:

Ingredients:
1 thawed or fresh turkey – not frozen. Not Kosher or self-basting as these have high salt content already.
1 cup table salt
1 gallon of cold water
3 to 5 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 sprig of fresh sage
1 bunch of fresh thyme
1 large pot that is big enough to fit the turkey
enough room in the fridge to fit all of this

You can also use an oven bag from Reynolds if you don’t have a big enough pot to submerge the turkey, but you want to be careful (obviously) not to let the wings or a bone poke holes in the bag. Not enough room in the refrigerator? If you have a big cooler, they work great for brining as well. Just make sure you clean them well before and after (a little bleach water to kill all the bad stuff).

Heat a 1/2 gallon of the water over medium high heat. Add the salt. Stir until the salt is dissolved. Tie the herbs in a bouquets garnis (a what? yeah, that is what I said. It is a bunch of herbs tied with a string) and add to the water. Let it simmer for about 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Add the cold water and stir.

Clean out the turkey (none of that giblet stuff inside the cavity). Rinse it inside and out.

Add the turkey and water to the container you are going to brine in and refrigerate for 10 to 15 hours or overnight. If you didn’t plan well enough ahead and have only 4 to 6 hours to soak, double the salt. This way you can time it with when you are going to cook.  Make sure it is fully submerged.

After the long soak, remove the turkey from the brine. Dispose the brine water safely. Remember, these birds can carry salmonella, so disinfect any spills. Rinse the turkey inside and out. Now your turkey is brined and ready to cook.  At this point, the turkey doesn’t need a whole lot of additional seasoning.  A little fresh ground black pepper is fine, but do NOT add more salt.

Check out some other tips on brining.

You can try a variety of other spices, herbs and even sweeteners (honey, molasses, brown sugar, etc) to get different flavored turkeys.  Tell us your favorite brine recipe.  Go crazy!

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