Everything you wanted to know about turkey brining but were afraid to ask

Home for the Holidays

(Photo Courtesy: Katie Applefield/Smokey Bones)

(WFXR) — You pull the turkey out of the oven.  The skin looks glossy and limp. You cut into it. The meat is dry. You take a taste. Bland. There are tears and gnashing of teeth.

Then you wake up from that anxiety-ridden nightmare and thank your lucky stars that you know a thing or two about the magic of brining.

That’s right.  Your turkey takes a ride on the flavor boat across the briny deep, and your tastebuds, as well as those of your Thanksgiving guests, are better for it.

Brining is easy and it can guarantee a flavorful, moist turkey with a crispy, golden-brown skin. 

The reason?

Science. But, don’t worry, you don’t need a Ph.D. to make this work.

What you will need is to decide whether you want to wet brine or dry brine. Wet brining is a little more labor-intensive and time-consuming, but for those who do it, they swear it results in a moist turkey packed with flavor.  The flavor is also the goal of those who dry brine, but they also claim that method provides a juicy turkey with a crispy, golden-brown skin. 

How do you do it?

Let’s tackle wet brining first. Wet brining is simply adding a mixture of salt, sugar, and other spices, herbs, and aromatics to a liquid. The liquid can be as basic as water, or something a little more complex like broth or juice.  It can even be a mixture of those things.  The turkey is submerged in the liquid for at least a day.

That allows a process known as osmosis to go to work.  The salt in the liquid will pull the natural juices out of the bird.  In the eternal hunt for equilibrium, the turkey will pull those juices back in, and along with them, the flavors you’ve included in your brine. 

The benefits don’t stop there.  Added moisture results in a turkey that’s tender and never dry.

Here’s what you’ll need for a basic brine:

  • Five-gallon bucket or ice chest
  • One-gallon cold water
  • ½ gallon chicken or turkey stock
  • 1 quart apple cider
  • 1 cup Kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon crushed black pepper

You’ll need to pour the cold water into your bucket or cooler.  Then put everything else into a large pot and bring it to a boil over high heat.  Once it boils, reduce your heat to low and let it simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.  Add the room-temperature mixture to the water in the cooler/bucket.  Put your turkey in the cooler/bucket and make sure it is completely submerged.  Put it in the refrigerator and allow the turkey to brine for at least 12 hours, but 24 hours would be preferable.

Once you’re done with the brining process, remove the bird, pat it dry, and then put it in the refrigerator uncovered for at least two hours to let the skin dry.  We suggest roasting the turkey at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, then reducing the heat to 325 degrees, and let it cook until your bird reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

What about dry brining?

It’s less labor-intensive and involves fewer ingredients.  Some argue that it doesn’t impart the same amount of flavor to the turkey as wet brining, but if you’re stretched for time, it’s a great alternative. An added bonus is that it pulls moisture out of the skin and guarantees a crispy, perfectly-browned presentation.

Here is what you’ll need for a dry brine:

  • 3 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
  • 2 teaspoons Poultry Seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Brown Sugar

Combine all the ingredients and rub them all over the skin of the bird as well as in the cavity.  You can also make cuts in the skin and slip some of the brine under the skin.  That will help to get the flavor deeper into the turkey.  Put your dry brined turkey in the refrigerator and let it brine for at least four hours, though overnight would be preferable.  We suggest brushing your turkey with olive oil or melted butter before putting it into a 450-degree oven for 20 minutes, and then backing the heat off to 325 degrees until the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Hopefully, that takes some of the mystery out of brining.  It’s a great way to impart flavor and moistness to your turkey, and guarantee beautiful, crispy skin. 

So, go ahead, send your bird for a cruise on the flavor boat across the briny deep.

Your guests don’t have to know how easy it is, only that the turkey is delicious.

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