Brine Your Way to Turkey Heaven (Recipes)
You want to have a moist turkey breast to go along with your dark meat? The fact is that a bird will lose about 30% of its weight during the cooking process, of which most of this is water weight — which means you end up cursing that the bird’s breast meat is dry, no matter how diligent the basting. So, the challenge is how to retain more of the moisture and produce a more appetizing turkey? The answer lies in a simple brine.
A brine will enhance the turkey’s natural flavors and ensure a moister, juicier result, as it reduces moisture loss by almost 50%.
Many people are familiar with the wet brine, a process of soaking the bird (or any lean protein) in a solution of salt, water, an acid (often lemon), herbs, and spices to achieve a moist, flavorful bird. But what about a dry brine? Say what? A dry brine can make my bird moist too? You bet!
The brine you go with is simply a matter of preference — so here’s the skinny on both:
Benefits: The wet brine results in a moist bird with infused flavors and is a simple process of soaking the bird, submerged in a salt and water mixture combined with the flavors you want to infuse into the bird. Personally, I think many brine recipes over salt the flavor of the meat, so I cut the salt in one–third to half, but still get great results. Ideally, depending on the size of your bird, you want to brine for a minimum of 8 hours (overnight) to as much as 24 hours. Turn the bird upside down periodically.
Challenges: Achieving that crisp skin that we all fight over in my house (the skin absorbs the moisture too and there is more moisture in the bird). Here’s how; dry the skin out by patting the bird dry, then wipe the brine seasoning off, inside and out, when you take it out of the brine. Place the bird in the fridge, skin side up, uncovered for 8 hours.
Wet Brine Recipe
- 2 gallons water
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 2 cups fresh lemon juice and lemons (approx. 8 lemons)
- 1/2 cup Frank’s Red Hot or hot sauce of your choice
- 1/2 cup chopped garlic
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large onion cut in quarters
- 6 teaspoons poultry seasoning
- 1 cup Crazy Good Eats Poultry Rub, plus 2+ tablespoons for seasoning the bird when prepping to cook
- Optional: fresh and/or dried herbs, i.e. rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, smoked paprika, ancho chili powder, etc.
Combine the brine ingredients. Optionally, bring the ingredients to a simmer over medium-low heat in order to dissolve the salt and blend the flavors, and achieve even absorption. Allow to cool to room temperature or lower before putting the turkey in the brine (otherwise the hot brine will cook the bird).
Benefits: The dry brine results in a moist bird with infused flavors, and isn’t as labor intensive as the wet brine. Typically, the dry brine is a mixture primarily of kosher salt and poultry seasoning, plus other flavors you may like. Simply spread liberally all over the bird inside and out, then place it in a food bag. The brine time is a little longer than with a wet brine — 10 hours to 36 hours depending on the size of the bird. Turn the bird periodically. When the brining process is complete, wipe the bird clean of the brine seasoning. Then the bird can be uncovered in the fridge so you can achieve a crispy skin.
Dry Brine Recipe
For a 12 – 14 lb. turkey
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon green poultry seasoning
Clean off the bird, inside and out. Spread the dry brine all over the surface of the bird, inside and out. Leave for 24 hours. Wipe the bird clean of the brine before seasoning and cooking.
Now you’re ready to season. Allow the bird to come to room temperature, then roast or smoke your way to turkey heaven. Drying is particularly important if you’re deep frying your bird. Also, be sure to wipe the bird clean of excess seasoning, as the frying oil will burn the seasoning and give off the burnt flavor to your oil.
Notes: More isn’t better. Some birds may come pre-brined in a sodium phosphate water mix, so do not “re-brine”. Take care also not to brine too long, as this will actually tighten the proteins and dry out the bird. Do not add more salt to try to retain the moisture, as you will destroy the protein and have an overly salty bird. Lastly, you may see brown sugar listed in many brine recipes — this is a flavor enhancer only, as it has no value in the moisture absorption and retention.