any brine is better than no brine
Even just a few hours of brining will reduce cooking time, impart moisture and result in more evenly-cooked bird.
Brining, like marinating, is a technique of soaking a piece of meat in liquid prior to cooking. Marinating is done to infuse flavor and moisture, and sometimes with acid to help break down tougher cuts of meat like a short rib or skirt steak. Brining can also add some flavor, but the primary reason is to tenderize the meat chemically with salt, season the bird throughout, and add moisture.
We have also found that brined birds are a little more "forgiving." That being, let's say you overcook it some...well the brine seems to help protect it.
All in all, it isn't necessary. However, we prefer it and most restaurants brine their poultry.
Acids, like vinegar and citrus, are also popular in brines. A caution with acids is that they also further denature proteins. Poultry is naturally fairly tender, unlike a pork shoulder or tougher cut of beef. If you brine too long in acid, it can make the meat mushy.
**This recipe is for a turkey that weighs approx. 18-20. You will need to adjust the grams based on the % listed for each ingredient.**
Turkey: Approx. 9,000 grams (20 lbs)
Salt, 3%: 270 g salt
Sugar, 2%: 180g sugar
Pepper, 0.5%: 25 g Black Pepper
Carrot, Onion, Celery (fresh or dehydrated): 100g
Bay: 3 leaves
Thyme: 2 sprigs
Rosemary: 2 sprigs
Step 1: Find your brining vessel. Find the smallest possible container that you can fit the entire turkey in. A 5 gallon bucket often works well. Remove the gizzards from your turkey.
Step 2: Add water, 1 quart at a time, until the bird is fully submerged by 1 to 2 inch. Count how many quarts. That is how much brine you need.
Step 3: Bring your amount of water up to a simmer on the stove. Dump in the brine kit. Let steep for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool completely to below 40 degrees. (Do not skip the cooling step. Your brine must be cooled before submerging your turkey. Otherwise you risk a food safety issue putting warm brine on a cold turkey).
Step 4: Pour brine over the turkey. Weight the turkey down with something. Place in refrigerator, a cooler with ice, or some cold location protected from contamination.
Brine for a minimum of 24 hours. With a balanced brine (based on weight), you will not over-brine your turkey.
How to Brine: Take your dry ingredients - salt, sugar, spices - and dissolve them in simmering water. Cool the brine to below 40 degrees.
How much water to use? Good question. First find your brining vessel - maybe a glass bowl, maybe a dutch oven, maybe even a 5 gallon bucket (perfect for turkeys). Second, take your meat and place it in the vessel. Pour 1 quart of water at a time over the meat until it is completely submerged and count how many quarts were used. This water can then be dumped out.
Say you needed 12 quarts of water. Now, bring 12 quarts of fresh water to a simmer and dissolve the dry ingredients.
Chill the brine to below 40 degrees then pour it over your meat. Place brining vessel in the refrigerator.
This is a very important step -- do not add warm brine to your turkey. The brine must be completely cooled before submerging your turkey!
How long to brine? Our rule of thumb is 1/2 inch per day. That means that the brine penetrates 1/2 inch into the meat per day, from each side. So for a turkey, 2 day is sufficient to fully brine the thick breasts.
Will my turkey be salty? No, if your brine is balanced, it will not be salty and you cannot over-brine. Instead your turkey will be moist and well seasoned.
What kind of vessel can I use? Any 5 gallon plastic bucket with a #2 is food safe grade plastic (think Home Depot bucket. Color of bucket doesn't matter -- they're all technically colored, even the white ones). A cooler will also work. The only material that is not suitable for brining is cast iron.
My brining vessel won't fit in my refrigerator. What now? You need to keep the temperature of the turkey below 40 degrees and you can get creative with this. If the cool fall weather is cooperating, you can keep the cooler outside, packed with ice to keep the turkey chilled. If you are keeping your turkey outside and not in a secure place like a garage, you'll want to put something heavy on top of the lid (like a brick) and/or bungee cords around the whole vessel to keep the critters out.