Jeff and I were reminiscing as we shopped for Thanksgiving dinner, about legendary intolerable turkey tales of old. (You have to shop early in Alaska or there may not be anything left!) Every family has a turkey story… that one holiday when the bird was so dry it sucked every bit of moisture from your mouth, leaving you unable to swallow; possibly requiring the Heimlich maneuver for choking!
But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, I can’t remember our last turkey that turned out dry. What’s the secret to our success? Turkey Brine.
TURKEY BRINE REVEALED
We’ve tried turkey over the years just about every way you can cook it: roasted, smoked, fried, and BBQ’d. While all can produce a tasty bird, there’s one thing that you can do before your chosen method of cooking to increase your chances of a moist turkey. Soak it in turkey brine.
Jeff happened across a recipe for turkey brine from Alton Brown about 15 years ago. We’ve adjusted it a bit over the years, but honestly we wouldn’t cook a turkey without it.
Curious how it works? It’s diffusion of a salt solution containing sodium and chloride ions into the muscle, not osmosis. The additional flavors follow the ions in, producing a tasty, moist meat.
“…proteins are modified by the ions in ways that cause them to bind the water in the flesh more tightly — as well as to resist the shrinking of muscle fibers that squeezes juices out during cooking. The flesh continues to swell and bind water more tightly thus retaining moisture.” – Modernist Cuisine V3, Page 154
Just because someone will ask, and that was the most concise explanation I could find! Anyway… the important thing to know is it produces results!Print
Want moist turkey? Bathe your bird in this brine for 8-16 hours before cooking. The results will make you a bonafide turkey hero!
- Prep Time: 30-40 minutes
- Cook Time: 2-3 hrs
- Total Time: 3-4 hours + brine and thaw time
- Category: Main Dish
- Method: Tips and Tricks
For the Brine:
- 1 c. Kosher Salt
- 1/2 c. light Brown Sugar
- 1 gallon Vegetable Stock
- 1 Tbsp. Black Peppercorns
- 1 1/2 tsp. Allspice Berries
- 1 1/2 tsp. Ginger
- 1 gallon heavily iced Water
For the Aromatics:
- 1 Apple, sliced
- 1 Onion, sliced
- 1 Cinnamon Stick
- 1 c. Water
- 4 sprigs Rosemary
- 6 leaves Sage
- Canola Oil
- 1 Turkey (14-16 lbs)
- 2-3 days before roasting, begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees F. (Not on a counter or water bath in the sink. Salmonella and turkeys are serious buddies.)
- For the Turkey Brine, combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve while bringing to a boil.
- Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.
- Early in the day or the night before you want to eat (we do it the night before): combine the brine and ice water in a very clean 5-gallon bucket or cooler.
- Place thawed, cleaned turkey in the brine breast side down. (Don’t forget to remove all the goodies from inside the cavity.) If necessary, weigh down the bird with a bowl containing some “weight” to ensure it stays immersed.
- The cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area (not your deck in Alaska when it’s -20) for 8-12 hours. Turn the bird once half way through brining.
- Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees.
- Remove the turkey from the brine, and rinse inside and out with cold water. Chuck the brine.
- Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.
- Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 c. water in microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Drain excess water.
- Add steeped aromatics to the turkey’s cavity along with rosemary and sage. (If you like, use other spices such as garlic, carrots etc. I don’t recommend cooking stuffing in the turkey because of the contamination risk.
- Tuck the wings underneath the bird and tie the legs together if you like. Coat the skin with canola oil.
- Now the second key to moist turkey: DON’T OVERCOOK IT! Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Then insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. (Be careful not to hit the bone or you will get false temperature readying.)
- Set the thermometer alarm (or check temp regularly) to 161 degrees. A 14-16 pound bird usually takes about 2-2 1/2 hours of roasting. You can baste along the way with juices, or butter. Remove from oven when it hits 161 degrees.
- Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl around 15-20 minutes before carving. This will the bird to reach your desired final temperature of 175 degrees and for the juices to set. Then slice and dice while reveling in the glory of your perfectly cooked turkey!