The BEST Turkey Brine

best-turkey-brineYeah, I know, you’ve heard it before.  Everyone has “the best” of some homesteading or preparedness item.

The best home canned soup recipe.  The best Bug Out Bag content list.  The best way to build a shed.

Whatever.

It’s all about the opinion of the author.  So here’s my best turkey brine ever!

I love turkey.  I buy several each year during the holidays, and then stuff my freezer with the “after holiday” sales of the frozen ones.  I’ve got a 19-pounder in the freezer right now that I bought for $0.37 a pound the day after Thanksgiving.  Yeah, seven bucks!

What is great about this recipe – more of a technique, really – is that it’s more about proportions and time.  It can be scaled up or scaled down regardless of whether you’re brining Cornish game hens or monster turkeys.  The details, the things that make the flavors YOUR favorite, are easily added.

The key to a good turkey brine is the amount of salt and sugar that are used.  After literally years of trying to figure out the “math” I’ve learned this:

  1. Salt and sweet should be in equal, set proportions based upon the volume of turkey brine you’re making.  In the finished product, the salt will win the flavor contest, and the sweet will be a “back note”.  The sugar component also adds some awesome color to your bird – via carmelization – during the cooking process.
  2. Give the brine enough time to do its job.  The flavors you use must have enough time to enter the flesh of the bird.

Here goes, are you ready?

The salt and sweet should EACH be 1/2 cup per 1 gallon of brine.  The bird(s) must brine for 36-48 hours.  Less than that, and you’re just flavoring the skin and perhaps a tiny bit of the meat.

Add any other flavorings you’d like.  Chunks of garlic, orange rind, hot or mild peppers – whatever YOU like so you can personalize your meal.

Be careful adding things like soy sauce or apple juice.  They can mess up the salt and sweet equation.  Using honey is usually OK, as its high viscosity won’t throw off the math too far.  Just remember that the flavoring provided by the sweet portion is largely in the background, and the cost of honey versus white or brown sugar is significant.

Because you need to keep the birds in the fridge during brining, or as in the photos below, you use an ice chest to cool and maintain the cool temperatures, the low temps slow down the flavor infusing process.  You need time for the flavors to properly infuse into your birds.

Get a pot that is large enough for your water and salt/sweet.  Add all of the ingredients, and stir like crazy.  DO NOT use warm or hot water to speed up the process.

Warm water + poultry + time = illness.

I had a 20 pound turkey to do last year.  A big boy!  I used 2 gallons of water, 1 cup of salt (be sure to use non-iodized salt), 1 cup of brown sugar, some fresh rosemary from the backyard and a few bay leaves.  Not shown is 2 tablespoons of liquid smoke that was added to the brine –

brine1

I put the turkey in one of the over-size Ziplock bags, and placed it in a small ice chest.

brine2

Carefully add the brine to the bag.  Notice how the cavity is facing upwards.  Fill it first and let the rest spill out into the bag.

I took one of the sprigs of rosemary and one bay leaf and put them directly into the cavity.

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Once the Ziplock is sealed, the remainder of the ice chest is filled with ice to maintain safe brining temperatures.

FULL STOP!  I had a little hitch in my git-up.  The bird and brine were too big to seal the bag.  It was a Large Size Ziplock.  My guess is that it would be good for a 15 pound turkey.

I’ve successfully used this size for two whole chickens or 3 chickens that have been halved first (snip off any sharp breast bone pieces with pruning shears so you don’t puncture the bag).

Plan B:  Put the large turkey directly into the cooler (yes, it was clean), pour the brine over the top.

brine4

This proved to not be enough brine to fully cover the bird, so I whipped up another gallon’s worth of brine, and poured it over the top.

I added the ice to the Ziplock bag.  You need to do this for two reasons:  First, you don’t want the melting ice to dilute our brining mixture, and secondly, the weight of the ice will help to keep the bird submerged.

brine5

Put the lid on the cooler, and wait.

After 24 hours, your ice will likely be at least partially melted.  Just dump it out and refill the bag (or the chest if the bird is in a bag).  While you’re at it, rotate the bird in the brine.  This makes sure you don’t have any spots that don’t get the full contact with the brine.

Just before cooking, quickly rinse off the bird(s) and cook any way you’d like.  Roasted, BBQ, smoked or deep-fried.  They all work equally well.

You will end up with the most juicy, tender, flavorful bird you’ve ever eaten.

Sorry, no pictures of the final roasted product.  Cameras and turkey drippings don’t mix.

Give this process a try.  Remember the proportions, then add your own special touches to meet the demands of your tastebuds!

 

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