Brine a Turkey This Year and Savor the Flavor
It all began the year that we became “adults” and started having the holidays at our house. My mother gave up cooking the turkey and my husband decided he wanted to grow his own.
That year my husband raised 10 turkeys for the freezer and discovered how to brine them before cooking… and we didn’t tell my mom. In fact we still haven’t told her about it, but she raves about the flavor every year.
What Does Brining Do to a Turkey?
Maybe you’ve never heard about the brining process. When you brine a turkey (or chicken for that matter) you submerge your bird in a flavorful mixture (for 12 to 24 hours) that adds moisture to the meat. That moisture creates steam during cooking and the steam helps to cook the turkey from the inside out.
Once the temperature of the meat reaches about 165 degrees, your oven will be steam filled as the moisture begins to evaporate. The salt penetrates the turkey and actually alters the molecular structure of the meat. You are left with a moist, flavorful and tender bird and it’s not too salty, I promise!
The cooking time is also reduced – we’ve had it be reduced as much as 1 hour for a 24 pound turkey, but this will depend on the size of your bird. The bigger your bird the more moisture is trapped inside. More moisture = less cooking time.
Supplies to Brine a Turkey:
- The Bird – Fresh, natural, thawed, cleaned and guts removed. It should not be a self-basting or Kosher turkey. Self-basting and Kosher turkeys have a salty stock added that will make your brined turkey too salty.
- A large bucket, pot, or ice chest. Big enough to hold the entire bird.
- A plastic bag large enough to hold the bird and still close the bag. Sometimes I use Oven Bags for this or Ziploc X-Large Big Bags.
- A cool place to keep it (we always use the garage)
- Ice or gel packs
- Ingredients for your brine recipe
Create the Brine
A good brine consists of three or four key ingredients. Things you probably already have around your house. The possibilities are really endless, and my husband pretty much just creates as he goes!
- Liquid – We’ve used apple juice concentrate, sparkling cider, orange juice and the liquid from some canned blueberries that needed to be used. Choose something flavorful that will go with your spices.
- Spices – Be creative or use the ones that your family likes the best. We’ve used rosemary, garlic, basil and poultry seasoning mix. You can also add fruit, like apples, or citrus-y things like orange or lemon.
- Salt – get a box of Kosher or Sea Salt. These are best for flavor. We’ve also used salt mixes like hickory or mesquite salt if they go with the recipe we’re creating.
- Sweetness – This is optional, but we always use it! Think about adding brown sugar, molasses, honey or agave to the mix, especially if you’ve chosen some tart spices.
Recipe for Rosemary Apple Brine for a 24 pound turkey
On your stovetop, in a pot large enough to hold 3 gallons add:
- 2 cans of apple juice concentrate, unsweetened
- 1 gallon of water
- 1 – 1/2 cups of Kosher Salt
- 4 tablespoons of Mulling Spices
- 2 tablespoons fresh Rosemary leaves
- 1 Onion, shopped
- 4 cloves Garlic, chopped
- 1 Granny Smith apple, put into small chunks
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
Bring your brine to a boil, stirring to make sure the spices, salt and sugar are incorporated. Remove from the heat and add 1 gallon of ice water (or water and sparkling apple cider if you choose.)
While you’re waiting for the brine to cool – Place your turkey, butt end up, in the plastic bag and place it all in a large pot or ice chest.
You can skip the bag and use a 5 gallon food grade bucket if you have refrigerator room for it. If not, have more ice cubes or gel packs handy.
Once the brine is cooled, pour it over the turkey (which is in the bag, in the cooler) through the opening you would place stuffing so it will catch the spices, fruit and liquid inside the bird. Add all the liquid and close up the plastic bag so that the entire bird is surrounded with the brine. Get out as much air as you can and use a twist tie to secure it.
Now you have your bird completely surrounded in the brine. Place the ice or gel packs in the cooler and leave it for 12-24 hours. One hour per pound is recommended.
Roast Your Turkey as Usual
Remove your turkey from the brine and cook it covered loosely with foil, at 325 degrees for the recommended roasting time for your bird size. Baste if desired and be sure you use the drippings for gravy, it’s divine!
CAUTION: Your roasting time will most likely be shorter, maybe even an hour less. Keep an eye on your bird! You don’t want to burn it after all the hard work.
- Use a fresh, not frozen bird
- Place your brining turkey in a cool area, such as an unheated room or garage. Even better if you have refrigerator space for it to do its thing!
- If you don’t have extra fridge space the ice / gel packs are crucial. You must keep your bird below 40 degrees while brining for it to remain safe. Don’t keep it so cold that it re-freezes though.
Some Brine Recipes From Around the Web
Pioneer Woman – Rosemary Orange Brine
Here’s one from AllRecipes that uses vegetable broth instead of juice
This year the family Thanksgiving celebration is back at my mom’s house because we’re moving the next day. Do you think we should tell mt mom about the wonderful flavor you get when you brine a turkey?