It’s a question that pops up every November as we all prepare to roast the best turkey possible for our Thanksgiving dinners. We know that it’s a personal choice among home chefs, but we love to brine our Thanksgiving birds.
Not sure what a brine is? A brine is a salt water solution that relaxes the protein bundles, similar to the way osmosis works, which changes the muscle tissue so that the meat can absorb more water over time and equalize salt levels. The water retention yields juicy meat where the salt provides a more tender cut – no more dry, chewy turkeys!
Follow this basic brine recipe and customize with your favorite assortment of spices, peppercorns or garlic: 1 cup of sea salt to 1 gallon of water. Be sure to smash your ingredients before adding to the salt water in order to extract the most flavor.
An easy, mess free way to brine a turkey is to place it in an extra-large zip lock bag (depending on the size of your turkey). Pour the brine over the turkey and remove as much air as possible from the bag before sealing. Place into another bag and seal that bag. Place the double bagged turkey into the roasting pan it will be cooked in and refrigerate it. This process eliminates any leaky mess in your refrigerator. Turn the bird over several times during the refrigeration/brining process. If you’re unable to find an extra-large bag to fit your turkey, a large, food-safe bucket can be used.
A good rule of thumb is to only brine for as many hours as you have pounds of meat. For example, a 12 lb turkey should brine no longer than 12 hours. Be careful not to over brine – the protein will break down too far. When you’re ready to cook, pour off your brine, rinse the turkey well with cool tap water and pat dry with towels. Let your turkey come to room temperature before placing in the oven.
Brining is an excellent technique that can be used year round. Try brining any of the drier, leaner cuts of meat such as chicken breasts, pork chops, ribs or even shrimp.
Stay tuned for more Thanksgiving prep tips next week!