Many foodies recommend brining the bird (a technique akin to marinating), believing it to be the ticket to a juicy, full-flavored turkey. While the practice does have its detractors, brining is steadily gaining popularity.
Turkey is a relatively lean bird, particularly the breast meat, meaning that it doesn’t have a lot of fat to help keep the meat from becoming dry and tough. This is where brining comes in. A brine is a very basic solution of water and salt, and by giving a turkey a long and luxurious dunk in this solution, you can actually coax a bit more moisture and flavor into the meat, hopefully making the turkey super juicy and extra flavorful.
During brining, the turkey absorbs extra moisture, which in turn helps it stay more moist and juicy both during and after cooking. Since the turkey absorbs salt along with the water, it also gets nicely seasoned from the inside out. Even better, the salt breaks down some of the turkey’s muscle proteins, which helps with the overall moisture absorption and also prevents the meat from toughening up quite so much during cooking.
The pros: Brining is a simple way to add flavor and smells delicious.
The cons: The process takes up a lot of space and can be time-intensive, as it requires advance planning and action.
To brine, begin with a completely thawed turkey. The night before roasting, remove the giblets and rinse the bird inside and out. Prepare your brine recipe, making sure all of the salt that your recipe calls for is dissolved in the liquid. If the instructions call for heating the brine, let it cool to room temperature before beginning the bird’s bath. Once you have determined where the brining process will take place — a brining bag, large container, refrigerator drawer or other recommended vessel — place the turkey breast down and completely submerge the bird.
Most recommendations call for brining one hour for every pound the turkey weighs. Remove the turkey from the brine after the allotted time, and rinse and pat it dry with paper towels. Cook the turkey as desired.
The brine mixture can be a simple combination of water, salt and possibly sugar, while other recipes might call for additional ingredients and spices.
Some people choose to dry-brine their turkey — rub it with salt, basically. In that situation, salt draws the meat’s juices to the surface of the bird. The juices then mix with the salt, forming a brine that is then reabsorbed by the meat.
If you’re nervous about overcooking your turkey and winding up with a platter of dry turkey meat on your table, think of brining as your insurance. A brined bird will stay juicy and taste good even if you overshoot the cooking time a little, and that’s one less thing you’ll need to worry about during your holiday meal.