The key to the perfect Thanksgiving turkey is in the brine. All you need is a little salt and water for the juiciest turkey you will ever serve. The salt is the key ingredient to add moisture and prevent the turkey from drying out during roasting or grilling.
Now if you want to get really fancy and infuse flavor into the breast meat, make an aromatic brine by mixing in some fresh or dried herbs, sugar, peppercorns and citrus. Fresh or dried thyme, oregano and sage are traditionally used on a Thanksgiving turkey. If you are smoking your bird, substitute apple cider for water and use some Applewood Smoked Pacific Sea salt along with kosher. Definitely make an aromatic brine if you are cooking a Heritage bird.
The reason brining works is the salt denatures the proteins causing them to unravel and create pockets where water gets trapped. A turkey actually weighs more per pound after brining since the meat holds so much water. Since water evaporates during cooking, the more moisture you start with the less of a chance you have of serving a dry turkey.
For longer brine times of 12 to 24 hours, the rule of thumb is a scant 1 cup (9.6 ounces) of table salt for every gallon of water. If using Diamond Crystals, you need 2 cups per gallon and Morton’s kosher is 1-1/3 to 1 1/2 cups per gallon. Kosher salt has larger crystals and is bulkier than table salt so you need more salt kosher than table salt. Kosher dissolves better and is typically the salt of choice by Chefs. I use 10 ounces of Mediterranean Salt since it is high in magnesium.
Brine the meat 1 hour for each pound but no longer than 24 hours. Disregard the brine after use for safety reasons. Remember to keep the meat around 32 degrees while Brining. Use a brining bag, cooler or stock pot to hold the liquid and turkey. Clean the cooler well afterwards!
Rinse and pat the turkey dry before cooking to seal in the moisture. Let the bird come to room temperature for more even cooking.
You can make your own brine with salt and water or try one of the Aromatic Brines below. Happy Thanksgiving!
Summerland by Anne Quatrano
For the Aromatic Brine
7 quarts water
2 cups kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 medium onions, quartered
1/2 cup celery scraps (leaves and small stems)
6 garlic cloves, crushed
4 sprigs fresh thyme
6 fresh bay leaves
2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 gallon ice
Fill a 10-quart stockpot with the water and add the salt, brown sugar, onions, celery scraps, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, coriander, peppercorns, and fennel seeds. Heat over medium heat until the sugar and salt have dissolved?it does not have to come to a boil. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Transfer to a 5-gallon bucket and add the ice. This should bring down the temperature to a cool 40° F or below. Remove the giblets from the turkey and reserve for the gravy. Add the turkey to the brine, making sure it is completely submerged. If needed, place a plate on the top of the turkey to keep it submerged. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
(Thank you Chaz for this recipe.)
Recipe by Thomas Keller from Ad Hoc at Home
5 lemons, halved
24 bay leaves
1 bunch (4 ounces) flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch (1 ounce) thyme
1/2 cup honey
1 head garlic, halved through the equator
1/4 cup black peppercorns
2 cups (10 ounces) kosher salt
2 gallons water
Combine all the ingredients in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and cool completely, then chill before using. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Pour the brine into a container large enough to hold the chicken pieces, add the chicken, and refrigerate for 12 hours. The chicken may be too salty if you brine the chicken for more than 12 hours.
Note: For a whole Turkey, brine for longer.
Now enjoy your Thanksgiving Feast!