It seems like every Thanksgiving the designated family cook tries anything to avoid the dreaded Dry Turkey of Death. From cooking bags to deep fryers, turkeys are subjected to a number of cooking experiments every holiday season. Surprisingly enough, most of these cooking methods actually work when done properly.
One such technique for insuring a juicy turkey on Thanksgiving is actually very ancient. Brining meats in a salt and sugar solution allowed settlers to preserve meats without the need for refrigeration. Corned beef, for example, is a brined meat. Brining a turkey is not quite as elaborate, but it does bring out the best flavors of the bird and helps keep it moist during the long roasting period. Here's how to properly brine a turkey, or any other poultry for that matter.
- Begin with a completely thawed or fresh turkey. You'll want the liquid brine to penetrate the flesh of the bird, so there can't be any major frozen spots. Wash the bird with cold water and look for a large pot or Igloo-style cooler suitable for storage of the turkey and brine solution.
- Keep the turkey refrigerated as you work on the brining solution itself. There are literally dozens of variations on the brine recipe, so you may want to search on the Internet or consult a cookbook. The most basic brine recipe calls for 1 cup of brown sugar, 1 cup of Kosher salt, and one gallon of cool water. This ratio can be repeated as necessary to cover larger turkeys or to brine other poultry.
- Combine the brown sugar, Kosher salt and water in a large pot and stir until all of the salt and sugar have dissolved. More elaborate brining recipes call for herbs and citrus fruits to be heated together and added to the water, but make sure the brine solution is room temperature or lower. You don't want to partially cook the bird.
- Place the thawed turkey in the large pot or clean Igloo cooler and pour the brining solution over it. You may have to create a second batch to cover the turkey completely. If the turkey wants to float above the brine, use heavy plates to weigh it down. If refrigeration is a problem, you can pack ice on top of the turkey and keep the cooler lid closed all night.
- Allow the turkey to steep in the brining solution for 24 to 48 hours. The turkey can be turned over several times during the process to ensure complete absorption of the brine. An injector filled with brining solution can also be used in the thigh and breast areas to add even more flavor from within the bird. Try not to overbrine the turkey or allow it to warm up beyond 40 degrees F.
- On turkey cooking day, remove the turkey from the brining solution and allow it to drain over a sink. Discard all of the brining solution--do not use it for other poultry or for basting. Rinse the turkey with cool water and pat dry with clean kitchen or paper towels. Slather the entire bird with butter, olive oil, margarine or any other cooking oil you prefer. Apply a generous coating of poultry spices and roast the bird in any way you want. The brining won't replace regular basting, but it will keep the flesh of the bird flavorful and juicy.