If you’ve never brined a turkey before roasting now is the time to start. No, no, not next year, now — or at the very least the next time you cook anything remotely turkey related.
Because once you do you’ll never go back, seriously.
Ok, ok, how can I be so sure? Well only a few weeks ago I was you, well not really you, that would be impossible and a little awkward, but the non-brine-er part of you who is questioning my blatant confidence.
You see for years I’d intended to try this whole brining thing but — until recently — it had been ages since I’d roasted turkey. Then RJ suggested we host Thanksgiving, and as Thanksgiving means turkey, there was no excuse to not get brining and see what all the fuss is about.
Brining a turkey does two very important things, it infuses moisture and infuses flavour into the meat. It’s the kind of moisture and flavour that no amount of butter under the skin or salt in the cavity can accomplish, and all it takes is a bit of advanced planning.
So how does one brine a turkey?
- make brine — a brine is nothing more than a salt/sugar/water mixture, with some spices thrown in for good measure
- cover turkey in said brine and refrigerate for 18 hours or so
- rinse turkey, pat dry with paper towel and rub with a bit of oil or butter before roasting
Of course you then have to cook the bird — oven roasting, bbq smoking or even deep frying in the middle of your lawn — but regardless of the final method of heat application, the act of brining will result in the best turkey you’ve ever eaten.
Why, pray-tell does brining create this mythical “best turkey ever”?
Soaking turkey (or any meat really) in a high-salt solution results in an equalisation of moisture and salt (osmosis if you must) between the meat and the liquid.
Ultimately your turkey absorbs moisture — and with it flavour from the brine — so that when it loses moisture during cooking there is more leftover, along with lots of concentrated flavour.
Now when I decided to brine the turkey legs I was smoking for our Aussie Thanksgiving feast I knew what brine was all about but needed to work out how much salt to sugar to water to use in the base mixture.
I consulted the masters — Alton and Martha respectively — but as US turkeys are roughly the size of a small child, running 15 – 20 lbs or so on a slow day, and I was working with only 3.5 lbs of turkey legs as a trial, there was a bit of work to do.
First up, work out the ideal brine recipe per pound of turkey. Second, make it and see if it’s worth doing in the future (in short, YES, yes it is).
Ok, ok, that’s more than enough lead-up so let’s get to it.
The only Turkey Brine recipe you’ll ever need
In the absence of a turkey even close to the size called for in every recipe I looked at, I’ve broken down the ingredients into per pound ratios, that way no matter what size bird you’re using you can quickly work out what you need. How terribly convenient.
It is also easier to convert kilos to pounds (kg x 2.2 = lb, ie 3 kg turkey x 2.2 = 6.6 lb) than convert brine for kilos — yes, really. Also, always round up to the closest pound.
Per pound of turkey:
- 2 c cold or iced water
- 1 Tbsp kosher or rock salt
- ½ Tbsp (aka 1 ½ tsp) sugar, I use coconut sugar
Basic Brine spices per pound of turkey:
- ¼ tsp black peppercorns
- ¼ tsp coriander seeds
- ¼ tsp juniper berries
- ½ bay leaf
- ½ clove garlic, bruised
Make brine the day or evening before you’ll be roasting your turkey.
Pace turkey in a large stockpot/plastic bag/container. The container needs to fit in your fridge and stay there at least overnight.
Add peppercorns, coriander seeds and juniper berries to a large sauce pan. Dry toast over medium heat for a minute or two until fragrant. Add a bay leaves, garlic, salt, sugar and a quarter of the total water and bring to the boil. Simmer 2 minutes then remove from heat.
Add mixture to remaining cold water to quickly cool brine down before pouring over turkey. Soak meat in brine for 1 – 1.5 hrs per pound of turkey, turning turkey once.
Rinse turkey after brining to remove excess salt, pat skin dry before cooking.
GENERAL RULES & RANDOM NOTES
- Round up not down — if you have a 7.5 lb turkey make enough brine for 8 lbs.
- Some state a ratio of 1 cup salt to 1 gallon water (1 Tbsp per cup instead of 1 Tbsp per 2 cups) however others say the solution should be 5 – 8% salt to water by weight. Of course the weight of a cup of salt depends on what kind of salt you use — it all makes my brain hurt. If you need me I’ll be using the recipe above…
- Look at the ingredients of the turkey you are buying — I’ve discovered that many in Australia are pre-brined and don’t tell you on the front — try to find an un-brined one.
OMG JUST DO THE MATH FOR ME
3.5 kg turkey x 2.2 = 7.7 lb, round up = 8 lb turkey:
- 16 c water (1 gallon)
- ½ c salt
- ¼ c sugar
- 2 tsp each peppercorns, coriander seeds, juniper berries
- 4 bay leaves
- 4 coves garlic
7.25 kg turkey x 2.2 = 16 lb turkey:
- 32 c water (2 gallons)
- 1 c salt
- ½ c sugar
- 4 tsp each peppercorns, coriander seeds, juniper berries
- 8 bay leaves
- 8 coves garlic
9 kg turkey x 2.2 = 20 lb turkey:
- 40 c water (2.5 gallons)
- 1 ¼ c salt
- 2/3 c sugar
- 5 tsp each peppercorns, coriander seeds, juniper berries
- 10 bay leaves
- 10 coves garlic