To brine or not to brine? That’s not even a question for these experts


If your turkey is bland, you probably haven’t tried brining.

Soaking your turkey in salt water for at least a few hours before roasting is actually easier than it might seem, and nearly every expert agrees that brining is the way to go for a reliably flavorful turkey. Don’t worry about the pan drippings being too salty to make gravy. You can always cut down the gravy with water or even wine.

The basic steps for brining are simple: Buy a brining bag or improvise a large sealable container that you can keep cool, either by placing in a cooler of ice or in the fridge.

The day before you plan to cook the turkey, make a brine with a ratio of 1/2 to 1 cup salt for every gallon of water, depending on how long you can brine the turkey. You’ll want more salt if you’re brining in less time and less salt if you can leave it in there for up to a day.

You’ll need 2 to 4 gallons of salt water to cover the turkey, depending on the bird’s size and which kind of container you’re using to brine it in. Add seasonings to the salt water mix — peppercorn and rosemary or garlic and red pepper flakes, for instance. You can heat up a small portion of the brine to dissolve the salt and help the flavors come together more, but be sure to cool the liquid completely before pouring over the turkey. You can use ice cubes to help cool down the liquid.

Place the turkey in the brining bag and then place the bag in that bottom drawer of the fridge, if it’s large enough to hold it, or an iced cooler. Pour the brine over the turkey, making sure that it’s submerged, seal up the bag, close the drawer or cooler and let it sit for between 6 and 14 hours.

When you’re ready to cook the turkey, drain the brine, pat the skin dry and rub the turkey with butter and, if desired, additional seasonings, including under the skin.

A little sugar in the brine doesn’t hurt, says “The Chew” co-host Michael Symon. Symon was in Austin last month for Lipton’s Chef Fest downtown, and so it’s no surprise that he reminds us that tea, even flavored ones with peach or lemonade, make excellent brines.

He also recommends that after you pour off the brine, let the turkey warm up, covered on the counter, for at least 30 minutes, which will help it cook faster and retain moisture in the hot oven.

No matter if you brine or not, don’t be afraid of high heat when you first put in the turkey, he says. “I roast the turkey at an incredibly high temperature, like 450 to 475 degrees, until it gets completely golden and then cover it with foil and drop it down to 375 degrees until it reaches a 160-degree internal temperature,” he says. At that temperature, it won’t take nearly as long to finish as an online calculator might suggest — just 8 to 10 minutes per pound.

That’s the quickest way to get a turkey on the table, but what would Symon do if he’s taking his time? He’d still brine the turkey and smoke it at 225 degrees for six to eight hours.

At Honeysuckle White, the culinary team doesn’t have anyone who isn’t pro-brine. Most of their turkeys are sold in a light brine, but research chef Janet Bourbon says it’s still a good idea to brine.

“In my opinion, brining your turkey is absolutely necessary,” she says. “The salt in a brine helps the muscle tissue in turkey to absorb more moisture and flavorings, taking your Thanksgiving turkey to the next flavor level.”

If you don’t have the space for a liquid brine, you can try dry brining, Bourbon says. “Essentially you are pre-seasoning the turkey with your favorite rub or seasoning blend,” she says. Like Symon, she likes to add a little sugar to the wet or dry brine mix.

To dry brine your turkey, separate the skin from the meat and rub seasonings directly into the meat. Use more seasoning on the breast due to its thickness. Press the skin back into place, and then season the skin. Let the turkey rest on the lowest shelf of your refrigerator for a minimum of 24 hours and up to three days.

Bourbon, without a hint of irony, shared a recipe for a brine that you can amp up with bourbon, if you are so inclined. It won’t make the political talk at the dinner table any easier, but with or without the booze, the brine will lead to one tasty turkey.

Bourbon Turkey Brine

16- to 20-lb. turkey

2 gallons water

1/4 cup fresh rosemary leaves, coarsely chopped

6 to 8 thyme sprigs

6 bay leaves

6 cloves garlic, smashed

1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 cups kosher salt

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup black peppercorns

Peel of 2 lemons

Peel of 2 oranges

3 cups bourbon, optional

Combine all ingredients except the bourbon. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add bourbon and cool brine to room temperature. Refrigerate until brine registers between 35 to 40 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

Place turkey in an appropriate container, such as a brining bag. Add chilled brine and refrigerate for 12-24 hours. Remove turkey from brine. Pat dry with paper towels. Prepare bird for roasting. Discard used brine.

— From Janet Bourbon, Honeysuckle White Turkey



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