Chef Don Shares Holiday Turkey Brine Recipe
To properly brine a turkey you need to start the night before you plan to cook.
– 10 to 12 hours (or more)
– a container large enough to hold your turkey and enough brine to cover it
– salt, water, seasonings, and enough room to refrigerate it
– a clean trash bag
– The roasting pan you are cooking the turkey in or even a 5 gallon clean plastic bucket would make excellent containers. Whatever container you choose, the turkey needs to have enough room to be turned so it should be big.
The turkey should be cleaned out, completely thawed, and should not be a self-basting or a Kosher turkey. Self-basting and Kosher turkeys have a salty stock added that will make your brined turkey too salty. A fresh turkey works best, but a completely thawed, frozen turkey will work just as well.
To make the brine, mix 1 cup of salt in 1 gallon of water. You will need more than 1 gallon of water but that’s the ratio to aim for. One way of telling if you have enough salt in your brine is that a raw egg will float in it. Make sure that the salt is completely dissolved before adding the seasonings you like, making sure not to add anything that contains salt. Brines can be spicy hot with peppers and cayenne, savory with herbs and garlic, or sweet with molasses, honey and brown sugar. Personally I like pepper corns, thyme, bay leaf and brown sugar. I do half the amount of sugar to salt and 1 tsp each seasoning per cup of salt.
Place the turkey in the trash bag and put it in the container with the top open so you can pour the brine in. Pour in enough brine to completely cover the turkey. Close the bag making sure to get as much air out as you can. You do not want any part of the turkey not in the brine the brine. Now you put the whole thing in the refrigerator. If you are like me, making enough room in the fridge is the hardest part of this project. The turkey should sit in the brine for at least 10 hours. It can process for as much as 24 hours but the turkey will have absorbed all the brine it needs in 10 hours. Brining for too long can ruin the flavor. If you are using a small turkey cut down on the brining time or reduce the amount of salt in the brine
Now, if you don’t have room in the refrigerator, try a cooler or ice chest. A cooler big enough to hold your turkey makes a good container for your turkey and brine. The cooler will help keep it cool and allow you to brine your turkey without taking up precious refrigerator space. If the weather is cool, but not freezing you can put the whole thing outside until you need the turkey. If the weather is warm I put ice in my brine to make up some of the water. Then I fill a half gallon milk carton or something about that size with water and freeze it. Place this in the cooler with the turkey, brine and ice and it will hold down the temperature during the brining process.
When you are ready to start cooking your turkey, remove it from the brine and rinse it off in the sink with cold water until all traces of salt are off the surface. Safely discard the brine and cook your turkey as normal.
Pat the turkey dry and coat it with salad oil or melted butter. Season with salt, pepper thyme etc, whatever you like on your turkey.
Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes then turn the temp down to 325 degrees and roast 1 ½ hours for every 10 lbs. If you stuff the turkey you’ll need to cook for 1 hour for every 5 lbs.
Always check the internal temp with a thermometer by stabbing in into the ribs with the thermometer to get the temp along the bone and check the meatiest part of the thigh to see if the juices run clear. You should reach an internal temperature or at least 155 degrees to 165 degrees. Your turkey should be nice and juicy and have a crispy crust.
If the skin starts to get too crispy cover the whole thing with foil.