Why do I brine my turkey? Because the first time I ever liked white meat turkey was a turkey brined by my friend's mom almost a decade back. This was the first time I ever heard of brining a turkey. Sure I heard of extracting compounds in a brine solution ... Sorry, I used to work in an organic chemistry lab! Brining is all the rage now. You can even buy a ready brined turkey ... But really you don't want to buy a brined turkey becausing brining a turkey is not that hard and the cost of pre-brined turkey is ridiculous.
(If you hate science skip this paragraph! If you like to think of yourself as a nerd, please continue reading!)
So how does brining work? You soak your turkey in a solution of sugar and salt. The sugar and salt move from region of high concentration (the brining solution) to lower concentration (your turkey). Salt which is a ionic (very polar) molecule holds onto water very tightly (slightly polar), keeping water in your turkey. This is one reason you don't want to buy a brined turkey. Not only are you paying twice as much for the same turkey, you're paying extra for the water that plumped up your turkey from the brine solution. So then you throw your turkey into a hot oven, which cooks your bird, but also causes the water in your turkey to evaporate. If you have a brined bird, not only do you have more water to start with in your turkey, its harder to evaporate the water because salt in your turkey likes to hold on to those water molecules due to a phenomenom called boiling point elevation. Therefore, less dry turkey! And don't forget that salt can denature proteins, which works to make the turkey more tender. With all these benefits, why wouldn't you brine your turkey?
This year was our biggest Thanksgiving party yet. Over 20 guests! We had a large turkey last year, but even with brining I thought it could have been a moister turkey, so we decided to two small turkeys this year. I bought this KitchenAid Roasting Pan from Amazon thinking it was larger than it was but the dimensions listed on their site is for the box, not the pan itself. Luckily it barely fit the two almost 10 pound turkeys. The only problem is you have to turn your turkeys part way cuz the inside facing legs need more heat.
Recipe for Herb Brined Turkey
Loosely based on this recipe from Epicurious
Brining solution (for each turkey)
2 cups kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
4 cups water
3 cups cool water
2 quarts ice
2-3 T black peppercorns
small bunch of thyme (6-10 stems)
small bunch of sage (5-10 leaves on their stems)
Up to 20 pound turkey (I used two 10 pound turkeys)
2 trash bags
brining box if it doesn't fit in your frig
2 carrots, cut in half
2 celery stalks, cut in thirds
1 head garlic, cut in half so all the cloves are exposed
bunch of thyme
bunch of sage
1 onion, cut in half
1/2 stick butter
olive oil (optional)
1 quart chicken broth or white wine or water
To brine your turkey:
Remove neckbone (usually found in the cavity, up the butt) and keep to make stock for Turkey Sage Gravy. Remove bag with the gizzards (usually found where the head was, up into the breast). Take plastic handcuffs off the turkey. Place ice or freeze packs on bottom of brining box. Line with two trash bags.
Mix in salt, sugar, peppercorns, lemon with 4 cups of water over low heat until dissolved. Add 3 cups of cool water to cool down. Once this is cooled, add 2 quarts of ice. Place turkey, breast side down, in the double lined trash bags. Place the sage and thyme inside the cavity of the turkey. Pour the brine solution into the container. Make sure there isn't air inside the cavity by tilting the turkey so air can escape. Tie up the bags so there is little to no air in the trash bags. Place more ice and/or ice packs on top. Brine for 12-24 hours. Check turkey every 4-6 hours to make sure the brine is still cold. Change ice or ice packs if necessary.
To roast turkey:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Remove turkey from brine. Allow it to drain. Pat dry. Place on roasting rack. Tie legs together and tuck the wing tips. Place carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, sage, onion, and lemon into the cavity of your turkey. I also placed some of this into the neck area cavity. Loosen the skin in the breast area, and place a pat of butter with a sage leaf into this area (this will help keep the breast moist and flavorful). Drizzle whole turkey with some of the butter melted or some olive oil. I covered the breast area with some foil to keep it from cooking as quickly since it tends to get dry more easily than the thigh meat. Place in oven, do not touch for one hour. Remove foil and baste with melted butter every 20-30 minutes until you are out of butter. Next baste with chicken broth, white wine, or water every 20-30 minutes until you use up the liquids. Then baste with the drippings until the turkey is done. Here is a turkey roasting time calculator to get an idea of approximately how long your turkey needs to roast. If you have two turkeys like I did, turn your turkeys at what would most likely be your halfway mark timewise, otherwise the dark meat facing the inside of the pan will be underdone while the outward facing dark meat will be overdone.* I have seen various recommendations of internal temperature, but the original recipe says 175 degrees F in the thigh as acceptable. Another article tested 28 ways of roasting a turkey and they concluded that 165 degrees F gives the best turkey.
Once the turkey is done to a temperature of you liking. Remove from oven and allow it to rest at least 30 minutes under a tent of foil. This will allow the juices to redistribute into the turkey. It also gives you time to throw in your millions of sides into the oven that was hogged by your turkey!
*I actually had to re-roast part of the dark meat because I turned it too late.