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ChefTalk.com › How To › Basic Turkey Brining

Basic Turkey Brining


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Enough with the twenty ingredient roast turkey recipes!  It happens every year as the holidays approach.  Magazines, television programs, and even celebrity chefs, push and prod the cooking public into spending far too much time and money on recipes and ingredients that only marginally improve their turkeys.  This year, take a stand and focus on the basics done right.  Instead of adding one-eighth of a teaspoon of this herb, and one-half teaspoon of nineteen other spices, just know that you can roast a juicy, very flavorful turkey with only three common ingredients—salt, sugar, and ice water.
The trick to roasting a juicy, flavorful turkey is to brine it.  Brining is a cooking technique in which you simply soak your uncooked turkey in a salt water bath prior to roasting.  And despite the countless complicated brining recipes available, all you really need are kosher salt, brown sugar, and really cold water.  By soaking your turkey in a solution made up of these ingredients, the common turkey dinner will be replaced with a juicy, flavorful entrée!
2 ingredients 1.5 tall.jpgINGREDIENTS:
Brine Solution: 
2 gallons cold water
2 cups kosher salt (any brand)
4 cups loosely packed brown sugar (light or dark)
7 lb. bag of ice
Roast Turkey:
10-15 lb. turkey (fully thawed)
1 Stick Melted Butter (cool)
1 medium onion (optional)
20 quart/5 gallon food grade bucket or non-reactive stock pot
Roasting pan
Roast Thermometer
Butchers Twine (optional)
The salt may be any brand of kosher salt you prefer.  If kosher salt is not available, non-iodized table salt may be used; but for best results, use kosher salt.  The sugar may also be any brand of brown sugar you prefer.  For this recipe, light brown sugar was used.  
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The main purpose of stirring is to dissolve the salt and sugar, so feel free to stir more or less as needed.  When finished, the solution will be a deep caramel to amber color, with fine white foam on the surface.  For the daring, you may taste the solution at this time.  It will have a taste similar to soy sauce, with a hint of sweetness.  Now add the ice and briefly stir to mix the ice down into the brine.  
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Before placing the thawed turkey into the solution, check the belly cavity, neck cavity, and under the breast skin for giblets and neck bone.  Certain purveyors will place two different bags of giblets in two different locations in a turkey, so thoroughly examine your bird.  
Submerge your turkey in the solution making sure it is completely covered.  Adjust the turkey's position as needed to ensure best coverage.  If the tip of the leg bone sticks out of the water, you are still in good shape.  If the turkey floats too much, however, weigh it down with a clean plate or bowl placed on top of the body.  Often, a simple repositioning of the turkey will fix the problem.  
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The temperature of the turkey and water needs to stay below 40˚ F throughout the brining process to prevent excessive bacteria growth.  Fortunately, most home refrigerators will do a sufficient job of maintaining this water temperature, especially considering the amount of ice called for in this recipe.  
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After the brining period, remove the turkey from the solution and wash it inside and out with cold water.  Pat the turkey dry with disposable paper towels, and lay on a clean work surface.  Do not use the brine for additional brining.  Discard.    
For the very best results, do not stuff your turkey with a bread based stuffing.  Instead, place a quartered onion in the cavity.  The onion will add flavor to the turkey while preventing any loss of moisture through increased cooking times.
Truss the bird as desired to keep the stuffing in place and to ensure even cooking.  For trussing, many turkeys come with plastic leg rings to hold the legs in place.  Others come with a skin flap to tuck the legs into.  For best results, tuck the wings underneath the upper back, as if the bird was reclining in a lounge chair, then truss the old fashioned way with butchers twine—i.e. crossing the legs, and tying them close to the body.  Larger birds are much more difficult to truss in this manner, but it is still possible.  
Finally, coat the entire outside of the turkey with cool melted butter.
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Now it's time to make an important decision concerning your turkey.  Do you want the juiciest meat possible?  Or are you willing to sacrifice some tenderness to get that traditional turkey appearance?  
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To get the juiciest meat possible, roast the turkey breast-side down.  It seems unconventional, but it works!  The meat turns out more juicy and tender than with any other cooking method.  Further, the meat holds together very well allowing you to carve thin slices and maximize the number of servings from the turkey.  The downside is that the breast skin does not brown well, plus the roasting rack and pan will leave imprints on the flesh.  
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If you want a traditional looking bird, and are willing to sacrifice some juiciness for it, use the conventional breast-side up method.  This method will give you that golden brown bird that most people are familiar with.  When combined with basting, the traditional way of roasting results in evenly browned skin, with no flaws on the flesh.  The meat will be noticeably drier than the breast-down method, and just a bit crumbly.  However, the meat will still be flavorful and moist.  
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Now that you have decided which method to use, place the turkey into the roasting pan as desired.  Insert an accurate roasting thermometer into the core of the breast without touching the breast bone.  Be careful when using digital models as kinks in the thermometer's cord may lead to misleading temperatures readings.  
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Be prepared to baste the turkey with melted butter or drippings.  With either roasting option, plan on basting the turkey every 30-40 minutes after the first hour has elapsed.  The basting may add a few extra minutes to your cooking time, so plan accordingly.
Finally, place the turkey in a preheated, 350˚ F oven for approximately 3 to 3½ hours.  Remove the turkey from the oven when the internal temperature of the breast reads 160˚ F.  Immediately cover with tin foil, and let rest for 20-30 minutes before carving.  Resting allows carryover cooking to gently bring the turkey to the fully cooked temperature of 170˚ F.  Further, resting allows the turkey to reabsorb some moisture that would otherwise be lost if carved immediately.  Carve the turkey as desired, and serve.
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The results you will get with this basic brining recipe will be impressive.  More importantly, you will avoid wasting money on dozens of herbs, spices, and other ingredients that you will only use once.  The use of this simple brine and an easy roasting method will provide you and your guests with a flavorful turkey and a very memorable meal.  Enjoy!


Comments (4)

Don't you need an acid to breakdown the cell walls?
For a quick answer, no.  No acid is needed.  The high salinity in the brining solution gets absorbed into the muscles due to the meat's low salinity.  Maybe someone in the forums can provide a better, more scientific answer, but hopefully that helps for now. 
Paleo Recipe Book - Brand New Paleo Cookbook
ended up doing the straight salt and brown sugar and the 30 lb Turkey was perfection from the drumstick to the last bite of breast.
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