Brining is the secret that chefs use for a perfect juicy chicken and turkey every time
How to Brine Turkey: It is very easy and economical, and requires no special cookware to end up with the perfect turkey.
Why Should You Brine Turkey? Brining is like a marinade – It is a salt water solution that changes the structure of the muscle tissue in the meat which allows it to absorb water, and your choice of spices, flavorings and aromatics, which results in a tender turkey or chicken once cooked. By nature, turkey is a lean meat. Brining gives the turkey the extra moisture during cooking and extra flavor that will make it your best turkey dinner ever.
Everyone wants to eat a tender, moist, and flavorful turkey for their Thanksgiving dinner – Give it a try; I will tell you exactly what steps to take and you can experiment with the spices and flavors.
How to Brine Turkey in 5 Easy Steps
Selecting the Turkey for Brining:
When purchasing a turkey for brining, choose a natural turkey (not a self-basted bird that has been injected with a solution of salt and other flavorings). Look for the words “natural” or “no additives added.” Choose a 12- to 20-pound turkey. If the turkey is frozen, thaw according to the package directions before brining.
Remove the giblets from the neck cavity and the neck from the body cavity (save in the refrigerator or freezer for making Perfect Turkey Giblet Gravy). Blot the turkey with paper towels, trim away any large areas of fat or excess skin around the body cavity. Per USDA Guidelines do not wash your turkey. Washing your turkey can cause cross contamination in your kitchen. Be sure to wash your hands with warm soapy water before and after handling the turkey.
Choose a container large enough to hold your turkey and brine mixture, plus it must be able to fit either in your refrigerator or a large cooler.
Your turkey is now ready for brining.
- Whole Turkey: A heavy-duty large food-grade plastic, stainless steel, or glass container 5- to 6-gallon. Large brining bags may also be used. Weight with a plate, if necessary, to keep the meat fully covered by the brine. See above How To Refrigerate Poultry During Brining.
- Chicken: Stainless-steel bowl or resealable plastic bag can work as a brining container, as long as the poultry is fully submerged. Weight with a plate, if necessary, to keep the meat fully covered by the brine.
Determine How Much Brine Is Needed:
To determine how much brine you will need, place the poultry (chicken or turkey) to be brined in your chosen container. Add water to cover. Remove the poultry and measure the water.
Brining Directions - How To Make Poultry Brine:
One of the great things about brining is that there are so few rules. Most brines start with water and salt — traditionally, 3/4 pound of salt per gallon of water, but since we are not concerned with the brine as a preservative, you can cut back on the salt. The amount of brining time is likewise not set in stone. Even a little brining is better than none.
Dissolve salt and sugar in the boiling water. Add it to the cold water; add pepper and stir to combine.
What type of salt to use in brine: Kosher salt and table salt (without iodine) are the most common salts used in brining. Sea salt can be used, but it tends to be quite expensive. I usually use coarse kosher salt.
A cup of table salt and a cup of kosher salt are NOT equal. Table salt weighs approximately 10 ounces per cup and kosher salt weighs approximately 5 to 8 ounces per cup (depending on the brand). If using kosher salt in a brine, you must use more than 1 cup to achieve the same "saltiness" you would get from 1 cup of table salt.
To learn about different types of salt and how to use them, check out the article Salt - The Spice of Life.
Table Salt (without iodine) - use 1 cup
Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt - use 2 cups
Morton Kosher Salt - use 1 1/2 cups
What flavorings to add to brine – You can add flavor in all sorts of forms such as herbs and spices.
Use brown sugar, honey, or molasses in place of the sugar (some sweetness tends to offset a saltiness the brine might otherwise impart).
You can also use apple juice, cider, orange juice, beer, wine, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, stock, tea, or other liquids to replace some or all of the water.
You can also put together decidedly Oriental flavorings with soy sauce or the Japanese rice wine mirin. In other words, be creative with the flavorings!
How To Brine Turkey:
Refrigerate Turkey While Brining – Refrigeration is absolutely required during brining:
The main logistical problem with brining is that you need a container that is large enough to submerge your turkey in the brine, but will fit in your refrigerator or cooler. The meat and brine solution must be kept below 40 degrees F. at all times. Since brining does not preserve meat, the turkey and brine must be kept refrigerated at all times.
Refrigerator – If storing the poultry in the refrigerator during brining, check to make sure that the container will fit in your refrigerator first! A container large enough to hold a whole turkey might be too big for your refrigerator.
Picnic Cooler – First, choose a cooler that is large enough to keep the turkey completely submerged during the brining process. It is important to thoroughly clean and sanitize the cooler before and after use.
You must keep the poultry and brine cold without diluting the mixture when using a cooler. Put the meat and brine directly in the cooler, then place Ziploc bags filled with ice or reusable gel packs into the brine solution.
Another approach is to put the turkey and brine into a turkey oven roasting bag or brining bags inside the cooler, and then pack ice or gel packs around the bag.
Monitor the temperature of the cooler (using a Digital Thermometer) to make sure it stays below 40 degrees F. at all times.
Turkey Brining Bags:
Use large brining bags. These brining bags are very easy to use and take up less room in your refrigerator or cooler. Bags are sold large enough to hold a 20-pound turkey. Every now and then, turn the bag around and upside down to ensure even brining.
How Long To Brine Poultry:
It is possible to end up with meat that’s too salty for your taste. To avoid this, brine on the low end of the time range on your first attempt. You can always brine longer next time, but there is no way to salvage a piece of meat that hass been brined too long.
Whole Chicken (4 pounds) – 4 to 12 hours
Chicken Pieces – 1 to 1 1/2 hours
Whole Turkey – 1 to 2 days
Turkey Breast – 5 to 8 hours
Cornish Game Hens – 1 to 2 hours
Do not salt brined poultry before cooking. Cook poultry according to your favorite recipe. Do not overcook your brined poultry. Once brined, the poultry cooks faster, so be careful and use a Meat Thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat.
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