The philosophy behind brining your turkey, or most any meat, is to marinate in a salt-rich liquid which initially draws moisture out of the meat and then lets it back in accompanied by whatever else you’ve chosen to flavor your meal.
A properly roasted, non-brined turkey will retain 83 percent of its precooked weight, whereas, a properly roasted, brined turkey will retain 94 percent of its precooked weight. Retaining moisture, and thus tenderness and flavor, is what it’s all about.
When brining a turkey, be sure you purchase a nonbrined turkey. Many of the food processors are brining the birds at the factory. Be sure the label does not say “solution added.”
Here’s the foundation recipe for brining your turkey; we will get to some options a little later.
Brine for one, approximately 15-pound, unbrined turkey
1 quart water
1 cup salt or 1½ cups kosher salt
2/3 cup sugar
¼ cup white vinegar
5 quarts ice water
Place 1 quart of water in a saucepan along with the salt and sugar, and heat just enough until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Mix with the ice water and vinegar.
Optional flavor ingredients:
• fresh or dried herbs such as rosemary, thyme, sage, about 1½ to 2 teaspoons
• smashed garlic cloves, 4 to 6 cloves
• 2 cups apple or cranberry juice (cranberry juice may change the color of the meat)
• one whole onion, cut up
• 1 to 2 teaspoons crushed juniper berries, crushed black peppercorns and/or crushed whole allspice berries
• 3 bay leaves
• zest of 1 or 2 whole lemons
When using the above optional ingredients add them to the hot mixture on the stove and let them simmer for 4 to 5 minutes. This will help bring out their flavors.
I like to brine turkey in a 5-gallon bucket. Buy a new bucket or find one that is very clean, and wash your bucket exceptionally well; rinse thoroughly. Place your brine in the bucket and submerge your turkey in the brine. If the liquid does not completely cover the turkey add a little more ice water until it does. Now cover with a few more inches of ice.
Top this with a few towels for insulation and place in your garage to stay cold. You can wrap the whole thing in a blanket or two to help keep in the cold. If you have used enough ice it should easily sit overnight in your garage and not be a problem. This is a 12- to 16-hour turkey brine recipe. When you are ready to take it out of the brine the next day, it should still have ice on top of the brine.
Brining your bird is the only way to go. Be sure to have a good meat thermometer for the next day when you cook this wonderful turkey.
By the way, you can use this same brine for chicken or pork loin. When brining these meats submerge in the brine for only about 4 hours.