With Thanksgiving coming up in only a couple of weeks, you've started gathering all your favorite recipes. Some dishes have been part of your family feast for as long as you can remember; others you cycle through each year, trying to find the next best way to make pumpkin pie. But of all the items on the Thanksgiving table, the turkey takes all the attention as the centerpiece. Unfortunately, turkey is also one of the most difficult types of meat to cook well.
According to Serious Eats, lean meat like turkey is "made up of long, bundled fibers, each one housed in a tough protein sheath. As the turkey heats, the proteins that make up this sheath will contract. Just like a squeezing a tube of toothpaste, this causes juices to be forced out of the bird. Heat them to much above 150° F or so, and you end up with dry, stringy meat." In other words, drying out your favorite Thanksgiving bird is almost inevitable.
That's why you hear so much about the brining process around this season. Soaking meat in a salt water solution causes it to absorb more moisture before the cooking process; and if you start with more moisture, then you'll end with more moisture as well. Taking the time to brine your turkey, either with a water solution or dry-brine method, will give you a juicier bird that your guests will be talking about until next year.
- -Cooler (50 L)
- -1 gallon chicken or vegetable broth
- -1 cup Kosher salt
- -1 Tablespoon rosemary
- -1 Tablespoon thyme
- -1 Tablespoon sage
- -1 Tablespoon savory
How to Brine a Turkey:
In an large stock pot, bring the broth to a boil. Add in the salt, rosemary, sage, thyme, and savory, and stir until dissolved Remove the brine from heat and let it cool to room temperature. When
Meanwhile, prepare your turkey by removing the giblets and rinsing it inside and out. Pat dry with a paper towel.
Pour the brine into a 5-gallon bucket or a cooler. Set the turkey inside breast-down, ensuring that the liquid fills the inner cavity too. Add ice water, then shut the lid if you're using a cooler; store in fridge if you're using a bucket.
Refrigerate the bird in the brine overnight, or 12-16 hours. When you're ready to cook, wash off all the brine and pat dry again. Get ready for a tender, juicy bird!
Many turkey lovers comment on the taste of a traditionally brined bird. Since most of the moisture absorbed in the meat is just plain water, the juiciness of the meat doesn't carry a strong flavor. Even when you brine in a flavorful liquid solution like the one above, the meat will mostly only absorb the salt and the water. But that doesn't mean your only two options are a dry Thanksgiving turkey or an overly-moist one.
Dry brining is a salting method that helps maintain the meat's moisture content without forcing the absorption of extra water. The result: tender meat with more flavor.
How to Dry Brine a Turkey:
Prep the turkey as described above (remove giblets, wash, pat dry). Then mix the salt and baking powder together.
Sprinkle the mixture over all surfaces of the turkey, so it is evenly coated. You don't want to cake the bird in salt, but you do want a thorough coating. You may not need to use all of the salt.
Transfer the turkey to a cooler or pan in the fridge, and let brine for about 12-16 hours. You don't need to rinse off the salt when you are ready to cook; just be aware that you might want to adjust any salt measurements in your turkey recipe so your meat doesn't taste too salty.