Brining is a method of soaking meat in a salt-based solution to tenderize the meat, infuse flavors, and help the meat retain moisture while cooking. The additional moisture in the meat also reduces the cooking time since water transfers energy faster than air.
There are no standard “best” brines. It is all a matter of personal taste. There are a few guidelines though:
First, is the salt content. Every brine starts with a salt-based solution. The general guideline is 1 cup of kosher salt or sea salt per gallon of liquid.
How much liquid will you need?
Well, it kind of depends on the size of the turkey and your brining vessel. A 14 to 16 lb turkey will fit in a five gallon bucket. You will likely need less than 2 gallons of fluid to cover the bird. If you are doing a larger turkey, such as a
20 lb or heavier bird, you will likely need a cooler or large plastic tote that will require greater volume of liquid to cover the bird.
As for liquid, this may be water, fruit juice, or vegetable stock. Below is a brine recipe that won’t require you running to the grocery store a half dozen times! This is already portioned out for a 20 lb bird in a larger vessel (most of your turkeys).
– 1 gallon vegetable stock
– 1 gallon apple cider (not apple juice)
– 10 lbs ice
– 3 cups kosher or sea salt
– 2 cups brown sugar
– 2-3 tablespoons whole peppercorns, slightly cracked under edge of knife or a pot
– 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
– 2-3 tablespoons each of dried thyme, rosemary, savory, and sage (you may ommit what you don’t have).
– 6 bay leaves
You may ommit the brown sugar. I like it in all my brines to add a hint of sweetness to the meat and caramel color to the skin.
In a stockpot, combine all ingredients except the ice. Bring the mixture to soft boil or simmer. Essentially, when it starts to steam you can likely have all the salt and sugar dissolved and the onions should be softer. Stir the mixture frequently to ensure that
the salt dissolves.
In your brining vessel, likely a medium sized cooler, pour the brine and add the ice. Stir the ice around until the brine cools. Place your bird in the brine breast side down. Force the bird to the bottom; if needed, weigh it down any way you can! You want the bird to stay completely submerged in the fluid for 16 to 24 hrs.
Place the cooler outside where the cool outside weather will help keep the ice from melting completely. You want to make sure the water stays below 40 degrees for food safety purposes. Add more ice as needed. If you know in advance that your cooler is going to require additional ice or fluid to cover the bird (such as larger coolers), you should proportionally increase the recipe.
How to know? Maybe put your bird in the vessel first and add one gallon of fluid at a time until it is covered. This will show you how much fluid is needed. 10 lbs of ice is approximately a gallon of fluid.
To reduce the amount of fluids needed, you can do this in a plastic bag. My biggest problem has been finding a large enough, non-scented bag. Trash bags often have a Lysol fragrance that is completely undesirable in your meat! The advantage of a plastic bag is that you can use less fluid then just place the plastic bag in a cooler with ice and not worry about diluting the brine!