Brining Turkeys (and Duck and Pork while you're at it)
We've been brining our turkeys for several years now, using a brine of about 1 cup table salt to 1 gallon water (if using Kosher salt, you'll need 50% more to twice as much, but the Kosher salt does dissolve more easily in cold water). Since our refrigerator won't hold something as large as a turkey in a brining container, we use a picnic cooler with either ziplock bags of ice or those "blue ice" packs in the brine to keep the temperature around 40 degrees F. If its cold enough outside and you have a protected spot away from critters, you could do it in a bucket or washtub. We usually brine our turkey (10 to 14 lbs) overnight, though according to the folks at Cooks Illustrated, four hours will do. Of course, rinse the turkey inside and out and pat dry before roasting.
We've experimented with flavored brines (we tried a molasses-brined turkey from Bon Appetit and they also had a brine using apple cider--search on www.epicurious.com
); they do contribute flavor, but they are bit expensive in turkey-brining quantities.
We also really like Alton Brown's Mighty Duck recipe (search www.foodnetwork.com
) which uses a pineapple-orange juice brine and produces a moist, non-greasy duck with crisp skin. It is a two-step cooking process that has for us replaced the three-step process from Julia Child which had been our standard. We had Mighty Duck for our Christmas Eve dinner this year, along with a wild rice and mushroom pilaf, braised leeks (the last from our garden), and spinach sauteed in some of the duck fat (OK, we diet tomorrow).
We also brine most supermarket pork. The new leaner varieties can dry out very easily in most cooking, so a brief brine (half hour or so) does wonders.
Exceptions (and this may be considered hersey to some): A number of supermarkets (notably Aldi's) sell chickens and pork infused with a water/salts solution. I suspect this is done so that you will buy water at meat prices. But we've found that these products do not need brining and in fact stay as moist as home-brined products. You will have to decide for yourself if sodium phosphate is on your acceptable consumption list (I personally do not object to it), but these products are convenient and seem to work well in our hands.