Sunday, November 14, 2010

I'm Thankful for Brining

If there were one culinary lesson I could teach the world, it would be "how to bake a cookie". Most people have made cookies before, but very few have done it correctly. But if there were a SECOND culinary lesson I could teach the world, it would be "how to brine a Thanksgiving turkey". And I just happen to have that lesson handy!

Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to take things up a notch in the kitchen. I went to a group Thanksgiving a few years ago where the couple in charge of veggies got freezer peas, tossed on some super-processed shredded cheese and threw it in the microwave...I almost flipped. This is a time for homemade goodness and the elimination of anything processed. That includes the turkey, which is usually the most processed portion of any Thanksgiving meal.

Sad as it may seem, turkey is not good meat; it is inherently very dry and tasteless. If you buy a Butterball turkey, you're buying a turkey with loads of additive juices that compensate for the juice lost in cooking. Though it does keep the turkey somewhat moist, it tastes processed and prevents you from adding any flavor.

The solution to the turkey problem is brining. Brining tenderizes the bird and adds more juices to the turkey than those artificial additives - and the juice can be flavored any way you want! If you brine this year, I promise you will never cook a turkey the same way again.

Step 1 - Obtain a five-gallon bucket and a FRESH turkey. Home Depot has the above bucket for about 3 bucks. The fresh turkey is a bit more difficult to find. All frozen turkeys are processed and self-basting, so you can't use them - the brining process won't work. It has to be a fresh turkey with minimal processing. You can usually find them at Whole Foods, New Seasons, Trader Joe's, or Aldi. (I think that covers most everyone who reads this blog). I usually wait to buy until the day before Thanksgiving because the turkeys are cheaper.

Step 2 - Make the brine. A brine is nothing more than salt water; the basic rule of them is 1/2 cup of salt per gallon of water. There will eventually be two gallons of water in the bucket, so you need 1 cup of salt. You can add whatever flavors you want, but here's what I do: I get a gallon of chicken broth and boil it with 1 cup of kosher salt, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, a tablespoon of peppercorns, tablespoon of allspice berries, and two tablespoons of fresh ginger. The boiling is just to dissolve the salt. I let it sit in the fridge until cool and then plop it into the bucket. Doesn't look pretty, but it will taste great. Trust me.

Step 3 - Place the bird in the solution. The turkey needs to sit in the brine at least 6 hours. I like to brine it over night for good measure. Place the breast-up first because you want the breast to be as juicy as possible when it's ready for the oven/fryer.

Step 5 - Add a gallon of ice water to the solution to keep it cold. Back in WI, I'd cover the bucket with plastic wrap and place it in the garage because it was just as cold as the fridge. If you're somewhere warmer, place it in the fridge or a cooler.

Step 6 - Halfway through the brining time, flip the bird over so it's breast-down.

That's it. You now know the sacred art of brining a turkey. It can now be cooked in any method you choose and the turkey will turn out perfectly, every time. I use the same brining method when roasting a chicken or duck, just with a smaller 3-gallon bucket (an old BYU creamery bucket!)


  1. Definitely going to try this! I brined some chicken wings for last year's Super Bowl and they were divine. Paul wants to do a fresh ham this year, so I'm still debating whether I want to do both, and if I do brine the turkey this year - not sure if I want to try your sweeter recipe or the same one I used for the chicken wings. Decisions, decisions.... Thanks for the tips! :)

    By the way, how would you say is the correct way to bake a cookie??

  2. I won't be cooking the turkey for our family this Thanksgiving, but I might have to go buy my own and try this soon! Thanks for the lesson. Now you just have to tell us all how to make cookies the right way, please!

  3. Alton Brown's Roast Turkey recipe is the only one I's amazing. And he brines. However, I've had pretty good luck using frozen turkeys. I've been dying to try a fresh, but am always scared by the price tag. I don't know why...I never have hesitations about paying high prices for food any other time of year!

    And those peas...probably related to the same family who brought brown and serve rolls to an Easter dinner one year. Shudder.

    Oh, and I just found out this morning that the girl bringing stuffing to our dinner this year was planning on bringing STOVE TOP!! Needless to say, I reprieved her of her responsibility immediately. Ew.

  4. Yikes!!! Home Depot buckets are not Food Grade. If you use them you are poisoning your family. Check the Home Depot website it says "Buckets are not food grade"

  5. Thank you, Unknown, for your concern, I have not used a Home Depot bucket since this post in 2010; I now recycle ice cream buckets. Five years "poison" free!