What’s your favorite Thanksgiving turkey preparation? Roasted, smoked or deep fried? Perhaps boiled or poached? (that was a joke).
Regardless of the cooking technique, a great first step in making a memorable, moist and delicious bird is to brine it.
Brining is basically marinating in a salt solution, and it works equally well on chicken and other meat–especially cuts that tend to get dried out. The high salt content in a brine changes the muscle tissue of the meat, allowing it to absorb more water and stay moist during a long, slow cooking. Include other ingredients like sugar, herbs and spices to add different flavor components, and the possibilities are endless.
An important thing to keep in mind about brining is that the meat and brine needs to be kept cold (below 40F) the whole time, so brining a turkey can be tricky if you don’t have a refrigerator big enough to hold the bird and the container in which you’re brining. Luckily the weather at Thanksgiving time is often the perfect temperature for creating a giant outdoor refrigerator.
There are endless recipes online, but we found this guideline for Turkey Brining on the What’s Cooking America website offers great explanations on salt to water ratios and how to calculate for different types of salt (kosher vs. table salt, etc.). It has a chart for brining times for different meats, a discussion of what to brine in, a basic recipe with suggestions for optional flavor additions, and more.
Our research says avoid Kosher salt and look for coarse sea salt without the non-caking agents added. Our research also says that adding lots of other stuff as flavorings to a brine might be wasted because it doesn’t really pick up all that much flavor. We think you’re better off running that stuff right into the bird–under the skin and in the cavity before roasting (we’re doing ours on the Weber to keep the oven open. You?
Turkey brining can take up to two days (we’re planning for 24 hours), so you’d better start your research now!