Why I brine my Turkey
I cook my turkeys one way. The old fashioned way. Mamaw taught me how. It is a guaranteed, fabulous bird every time. Additionally, there’s the broth. The amount of pure, unadulterated, genuine turkey broth you are left with during this cooking event is half the reason this is my very favorite method.
No matter how much broth I am left with, I will consume every last drop. Gravy, dumplings, soups, hot browns, noodles …. the list goes on! There is never enough broth.
Brining was never a part of Mamaw’s system. I was convinced to give the brine a chance thanks to Bobby Flay. I am secretly in love with him and Alton Brown. Don’t tell anyone.
Since they both praise the brine, I thought it was worth a try. I know my turkey is good without the extra work…. I wanted to see if there was a difference.
Last year was my first year brining my turkey and I’m pretty sure I’ll be brining from here on out.
Difference – YES!
Magnificient – YES!
Juicier, more tender, more flavorful – YES!
If you are like me & have never brined a bird – you should try it. It is remarkable how much better the meat is.
What is brining?
Brining has been used for centuries. It is nothing new. Before refrigeration, brining (think lots of salt) was used as a method of preservation. Nowadays, it is mostly used to enhance flavor and texture. Brining is a simple procedure that involves soaking meat in a salt and water solution prior to cooking. As the salt-water (or broth) soaks into your bird, it takes all the flavors in the solution into your bird (this is why brines contain herbs and fruit and happiness). Resulting in a feast that is truly immersed through and through with all those herbs and flavorings. Spectacular.
The biggest difference:
- The flavor goes INTO the turkey. Way into it; without an injector. The herbs, seasoning and flavor that is only along the outermost parts of your past turkeys will be running throughout the entire bird. Hands down, more flavor.
- The juices remain. It really is unbelievable that a 24 hour soak in a 5 gallon bucket can have so much impact on the meat. Say goodbye to dry, parched breasts. All the meat is moist and the juices will flow.
- The texture is transformed. The chemical structure of the meat is actually changed during brining. Salt has an amazing effect on meat. Brining will give you fork-tender turkeys.
AND…. my turkey was good before I brined. The brining just made it even better. I love it.
There are sooooo many brine recipes. I think it would be hard to mess it up. I’ll tell you what goes into brines & why…. when you learn what is needed, you’ll be free to experiment and tweak your brine to suit your family’s taste.
What goes in a good brine?
- Broth – You’ll need some sort of base – a liquid for the turkey to soak in. You can use vegetable stock, chicken stock or even apple cider. I don’t want my turkey to be overly fruity, so apple cider is out. Chicken stock is easy to come by in my house, thanks to straight-run chicken purchases. Confused? Straight run means you are buying chicks that have not been sexed. They are boys and girls. Usually half and half. Buying ‘straight run’ chicks is a great way to save money on your flock. At our local farm store they sell these chicks for as little as 75 cents each. These are all layers (chickens raised to lay eggs) not broilers (chickens raised for meat). When a layer chick grows up to be a rooster he isn’t much good for eating (think tough, purple meat) but he will make some awesome stock. “Layer Rooster” is what I use to make stock for my brine (and lots of other things too).
- Salt – The amount of salt in brines seems excessive, but remember, you aren’t cooking the turkey in the brine, you’re just marinating it. The salt is pretty important in a brine. It does more than just add flavor. The salt actually denatures the meat proteins. In short, it breaks down some of the bonds and alters the structure of the meat a bit. This altering does a couple of things: 1. This ‘denaturing’ or ‘breaking down’ of the meat allows more room for all those wonderful flavors in the brine to get into the meat, and 2. It tenderizes the meat. Both good.
- Herbs – This is where you can make some magic of your own. There is no way to go wrong. Just think Thanksgiving and Christmas & all the herbs that surround those days. This is what makes a great brine. If you’re not sure – go out to your garden & see what is still alive – those are the herbs that will work! I find it awesome and appropriate that the only herbs still surviving the icy cold nights right now are: Rosemary, Thyme, and Sage. Of course! Those pilgrims had to cook with what was still growing in late fall. Let’s hear it for eating in season! If you don’t have a herb garden, or your weather isn’t cooperating & your herbs are gonners you can use store bought. Rosemary, thyme and sage are what you want.
- Fruit – Fresh fruit is the only sweet ingredient I put in my brine and I am always amazed that I can taste the sweetness from it. I used lemons and oranges one year and apples and onions the next. Both were fantastic.
First, if you are me, you must make some broth. This is easy. Since I homeschool and I am usually home, it is not a big deal to stick a rooster in a pot with some veggies and let him simmer for a few hours. Broth done.
Now we need to turn that gallon of broth into a brine.
In the house I chopped all the herbs to bits.
I added all the herbs (rosemary, thyme & sage), 1 cup of salt & 2 lemons to the gallon of broth. I quartered the lemons first, squeezed the juice (seeds & all) right into the brine mixture & tossed the fruit in too. Give it a quick stir with a whisk & your brine is done.
Yes, many brines recommend simmering this concoction on the stove top for a few mintues to melt the salt & combine the flavors. You can do this if you want, but I don’t.
Next you are going to need a vessel for brining the bird.
I’m using a squeaky clean 5 gallon bucket lined with a giant plastic bag.
Drop Mr. Turkey into the bag.
And pour your beautiful brine all over Mr. Turkey.
I then squished out all the air I could & tied the bag tightly. The goal is to remove most of the air from inside the bag so the entire bird is surrounded with the brine mixture. Fasten the top of the bag tightly so none of the goodness can escape or leak out.
Last, I covered the entire thing with ice & set it on my back porch to marinate. The ice will keep the turkey nice and cool. If you live somewhere exceptionally warm, or exceptionally freezing, your back porch may not work. If it’s too hot where you live your ice will melt and you will have salmonella poisoning for the holidays. If it’s too cold where you live, your entire brine and turkey mixture will turn into a block of ice – not good.
If either of these cases is your situation please use a refrigerator or a cooler to ensure your turkey is cool enough (below 40 degrees) and not frozen while it brines.
I let my turkey soak for 24 hours, adding ice as needed to keep him cool.
When it’s time to bake Mr. Turkey I remove him from the brine and gently pat him dry. I don’t mind if a few herbs stick to him – it’s just gonna make the gravy taste even better.
Now that he’s brined, all that’s left to do is roast him or fry him or bake him or smoke him.
To learn how I roast my turkey go here.
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