Turkey Brining

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A process in which a whole turkey is soaked in a salt and water solution for a period of time for the purpose of moistening the meat and enhancing the flavor. The brining process breaks down and extracts some of the proteins from the meat, which allows liquid to be absorbed into the turkey. When the turkey is cooked, the proteins coagulate, preventing the absorbed liquid from escaping; therefore, brining helps to ensure that the turkey will remain moist throughout a lengthy roasting period. The flavor of turkey meat that has been brined is often slightly saltier than turkey that has not been brined, but the meat is ultra moist.

Ideally, the turkey selected for brining should not weigh more than 16 pounds. A larger turkey could be too cumbersome to handle. It must not be a pre-basted turkey or a kosher turkey. Pre-basted and kosher turkeys have already been processed with a salt solution, so any additional brining could make the turkey too salty and quite soggy. If you are using a frozen turkey, it must be fully thawed before it is brined.

Turkey brining is a process that can be accomplished by the home cook. A 20-quart stock pot is often the best type of container to accommodate a 12 to 16-pound turkey and the brining solution. Using a stock pot is not a necessity, but it is important that whatever container or pot is used, it should be constructed of stainless steel, glass, enamel, or other non-corrosive material; otherwise, the salt that is used in the brining solution may cause an unwanted chemical reaction with the container. A large plastic bag, specifically designed for brining, can also be used for brining the turkey.

In general terms, a ratio of 1/2 cup table salt to 1 gallon of water or 1 cup kosher salt to 1 gallon of water is used for turkey brining. Kosher salt is lighter than table salt, which is the reason that a larger amount is required. Kosher salt is often preferable to table salt because it doesn’t contain the additives that are found in table salt. The salt must be completely dissolved in the water before the turkey is placed in the brining solution.

As much as 2 gallons of brining solution may be necessary to completely cover a 16-pound turkey. The turkey must be completely immersed: There should be at least 1 inch of brine above the turkey. Other flavorings, such as herbs, spices, or sugar, can be added to the brining solution if desired. The brining container is covered and placed in the refrigerator where the turkey soaks for 10 to 12 hours.

After the soaking time is complete, the turkey should be rinsed under cold water. The brining solution must be discarded after use: It cannot be used again. The turkey is then patted dry, placed in a roasting pan, and then refrigerated uncovered overnight to allow the surface of the turkey to dry thoroughly. This ensures that the skin of the turkey will be crisp and golden when it is roasted. When roasting the turkey, it is important to remember that a brined turkey will cook faster than a turkey that has not been brined.

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