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Brine Your Turkey This Thanksgiving

A few years ago we discovered the key to a delicious turkey -- a soak in a brine solution. The result is a juicy, flavorful bird.

One of our newer Thanksgiving traditions is to prepare the turkey for a bath.

We light a few candles, find our fluffiest towels, play some soothing music...

No, not that kind of bath. Our turkey gets only the best brine bath solution because we know this will result in a succulent, flavorful holiday bird.

Many people worry that a brine solution will cause the meat to taste salty.

Not so.

Even though the turkey's cells already have a concentration of salt in them, the brine has a higher concentration of salt than the meat. As the turkey absorbs the solution over a period of hours, the water is drawn out of the cells and flavors the meat. If the brine includes herbs, garlic, sugar and other flavorings, those flavors are trapped in the meat as well. Instead of seasoning on the surface only, brining carries the seasonings throughout the meat.

The turkey will not taste salty unless it is over-brined. For the average bird, 12-24 hours is a sufficient time period.

If you decide to try brining this year and you are using a frozen turkey, begin the thawing process at least 24 hours earlier than usual. While brining, the meat will need to be submerged in a large container and stored in the refrigerator. I like to use an extra-large roasting bag. I fill the bag with the brine solution and insert the turkey into the bag. The whole thing gets placed into my roasting pan for refrigeration. This method only submerges the about half the turkey, so I just flip the bird (sorry, couldn’t resist!) halfway through.

You could also use a large cooler or big pot to hold the brine solution and turkey.

There are many brine recipes, but they all share one thing in common- a large ratio of salt to water. One easy rule of thumb is one cup of salt to one gallon of water. Table salt may contain additives, so kosher salt is preferred by most experienced cooks. Here’s the recipe we usually use:

  • 1 1/2 cups kosher salt
  • 1 lemon, 1 orange, 1 onion all cut into slices
  • 3 cloves of garlic- chopped coarsely
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 1 1/2 gallons of cold water

Fill the roasting bag with all the ingredients above. Stir or shake it around a bit and try to dissolve as much of the salt as possible. Warm water will dissolve the salt faster, but then you'll need to allow the solution to cool before putting the turkey in. Place the turkey in the bag and tie one end to keep it closed. After the turkey has soaked in the brine for 12-24 hours, rinse the bird completely and discard the solution. Cook the turkey using your favorite recipe. Do not cut back on the amount of salt called for in the recipe.

Give your turkey a bath this Thanksgiving. Not only will you have a clean bird, but a most delicious one as well.

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