Whether it be smoked, grilled, fried, or roasted; poultry has a tendency to get dry. In case of turkey, the meat is often found dry and flavorless. This problem can be overcome with brining, a simple procedure to make the meat juicy and flavorful.
What is Brining?
Brining refers to the procedure, wherein the meat is soaked in brine, for a specific time, prior to cooking. The salinity inside the cells of the meat increases, as the salt in the brine diffuses into them. This makes the cells absorb water from the brine. The salt inside the cells denatures the protein in the meat, and these proteins stick together to trap water molecules. The cells retain these water molecules, throughout the cooking, and the meat remains tender and soft.
Apart from retaining moisture and making the meat tender, brining also helps in enhancing the flavor to the meat. So, brine is prepared with salt and other ingredients of your choice. This is a procedure that requires some preparation, and has to be planned before a day.
Best Way to Brine a Turkey
Brining is like marination. In this procedure, the bird is kept immersed in brine for a certain period of time, before cooking. You have to get a regular turkey, if you plan to brine it. It is better to go for a 12 to 20 pound turkey. Basted and marinated versions, including the koshered ones, do not require brining. Make sure that the bird you buy is devoid of any preservatives and additives, like salt and other things. Frozen meat must be thawed before brining. Remove trusses and clean the bird thoroughly. Remove the excess fat, skin, giblets, neck, and tail. Clean both the inner and outer surfaces. Your bird is ready for brining.
Preparing Brine: Basically, brine is salt solution, i.e., water mixed with salt. Herbs, spices, and fruits, are also used in the brine, so as to flavor the meat. Apart from the basic ingredients, choice of additives is individual preference only. In order to prepare the brine, you have to use kosher salt or table salt without iodine. One cup each of table salt will be sufficient for every gallon of water. In case of kosher salt, use a little more than a cup. If the granules are large, 1½ to 2 cups of kosher salt may be required. If you can afford sea salt, it can also be used. Additives, like brown sugar, honey, apple juice, apple cider vinegar, beer, wine, orange juice, and tea, can be used for brining.
For every gallon of cold water, you need ¾ to 1 cup of kosher salt, ¾ to 1 cup of granulated sugar, and a tablespoon of black pepper. Dissolve the salt and sugar in a cup of boiling water, and let it cool. Mix it with the cold water. Add black pepper and other ingredients, and chill the brine in the refrigerator, before placing the turkey in it.
Brining Procedure: In order to brine a turkey, you need a container that can accommodate the whole bird. The container must fit into your refrigerator or the picnic cooler. Fill the container with the brine and immerse the bird in it. Place the turkey with its neck side down. Ensure that the bird is completely beneath water. Once placed in the refrigerator, turn the turkey once or twice for an even brining.
How Long to Brine a Turkey: Once the brine is chilled, immerse the turkey and refrigerate it. You may also use turkey brining bags for this purpose. Brining time for a whole turkey is one to two days. If you are in a hurry, overnight brining will also work. If you are a beginner, it will be better to start from the lower range of brining time. In case of turkey breasts, five to eight hours of brining will be sufficient. In general, brining turkey must be done at a temperature that is below 40°F. If you are using a picnic cooler, it is not advisable to add ice cubes to the brine. The ice cubes can dilute the brine. Instead of that, fill zip-lock bags with ice cubes, and immerse them in the brine. Otherwise, keep those bags around the container with turkey.
Once done, remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it well. Use paper towels to pat dry the bird. You don't have to use salt while cooking a brined turkey. Allow the brined turkey to reach room temperature, before roasting. As brined turkey cooks faster, check the temperature in between, with a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part. So, this time, brine the turkey before roasting, and taste the difference.