Brining: The Secret to a Perfect, Juicy Roast Turkey
Being in charge of roasting the holiday turkey can be a daunting task. Most people aren’t used to preparing such a large quantity of meat, and with the line between undercooked and bone dry being a fine one, its only natural to err on the side of caution…..aka. overcooked, dry meat. But not this year. A perfect juicy roast turkey is within your reach!
Gone are the days of masking your dry bird with extra helpings of gravy. I’m here to teach you how to brine your bird in advance in order to get the juiciest, most perfect results every time.
Brining is a simple process of soaking meat in a salt water solution for a period of time, generally overnight to 48 hours depending on the size of your bird. As meat cooks, proteins unwind causing shrinkage and moisture release. Brining allows the meat to absorb more moisture before being cooked, ultimately resulting in more moisture retention, and a juicier finished product.
You want to start with a fresh turkey. Frozen turkeys generally already have salt added to them, and brining will just make them saltier. If you do want to use a previously frozen turkey, brine for a shorter period of time.
The most important part of brining is using the correct ratio of salt to water. A good rule of thumb is 2 cups of kosher salt per gallon of water. You can reduce or increase your solution depending on the size of your bird. Soaking time is also important. A large Thanksgiving turkey should brine for around 24 hours. For a smaller bird, like a chicken, 4-6 hours is plenty of soaking time.
I like to add aromatics to my brine, like onions, apples, citrus, fresh herbs and peppercorns. Any combination of aromatics will help to add a very mild, richer flavor to the bird after cooking.
To prepare your brine bring 1/2 the water necessary to a boil in a large, non-reactive pot. Add the salt and aromatics, and boil until salt dissolves. For this particular example, I used oranges, onions, apples, garlic cloves, 1/4 cup peppercorns, fresh thyme and fresh rosemary. I also added 1 cup of apple cider to my brining liquid. Do not be afraid of adding too many aromatics! I promise that your bird will not taste strongly of any of these ingredients. Once the salt dissolves add the remaining water (a trick to cool the brine down faster). Allow the brine to cool completely before adding the bird.
Once the brine is cool, completely submerge your bird in the solution. It must be completely covered. Add more water if necessary.
You’ll need to keep your brining bird cold, which for some, is the hardest part of brining. If you don’t have a pot large enough to submerge an entire large turkey, or if your pot is too large to fit in the fridge, you can easily brine it in a clean cooler by adding ice every few hours. This method can dilute your solution, so you’ll want to brine for a longer period of time. Another great solution is to double bag the turkey in trash bags (make sure it’s well sealed!) and put it in the crisper drawer of your fridge. If you use this method, be sure to turn the bird halfway through to ensure even brining.
Once you’re ready to cook, remove the bird from the brine and give it a good rinse to wash off any salt that may have collected in a concentrated area. Pat dry, season, roast as usual and enjoy a perfect juicy roast turkey.