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V's Turkey Brine
The Brined Bird in the Oven
Every time I cook I turkey, I use a brine, especially for the Thanksgiving meal. The turkey is the star of the show and therefore must be as moist and delicious as possible. Brining will greatly enhance the moisture and flavor retention of the bird.
I have tried numerous kinds of salt for this brine recipe. Table salt gives the bird an odd, flat after taste and only minimally improves the moisture retention. Sea salts—in their many varied splendor--pack a flavor punch, but do not increase the moisture level as much as other salts. Kosher salt is acceptable. My hero, Alton Brown, loves Kosher salt. There’s no after taste and it improves the moisture of the end product.
My top choice (discovered entirely by accident when I happened to run out of Kosher salt many Turkey Days ago) is pickling salt. It has proven to me to be the best kind to use. There is no after taste, indeed the other flavors added to the brine carry into the meat much better using the pickling salt than with any other kind. The real test is in the moisture, and this type of salt will yield melt in your mouth meat.
I used to be a dark meat person when it came to turkey, until I began brining. With my brine recipe, even the breast meat is moist and delicious. If you doubt me, just ask my step dad! Better yet, give this recipe a try on your next turkey.
Prep the Bird
Brine the Bird and Free Up Fridge Space
- 44 Cups Water
- 32 Ounces Turkey or Chicken Stock
- 3 Cups Pickling Salt
- 1 Cup Sugar
- 1 Large Yellow Onion, Quartered
- 1 Head of Garlic, Halved
- 2 Lemons, Quartered
- 2 Celery Stalks with Leaves, Cut into 4 inch lengths
- 2 Carrots (washed but not peeled), Cut into 2 inch lengths
- 1 Habanero Pepper, Whole
- 12 Sprigs of Thyme, Whole
- 6 Sprigs of Sage, Whole
- 6 Sprigs of Parsley, Whole
- 4 Bay Leaves, Whole
- 1 Tbsp Satan's Spice Rub
- 1 tsp Allspice, Whole Berries
- 6 Sprigs of Rosemary, Whole
- Mix all ingredients in a large stock pot.
- Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Allow to cool completely. Place in fridge if needed.
- While the brine is cooling, prepare the turkey by removing it from its package. Remove the giblets and neck from the bird's cavity. These can be refrigerated for later use in gravy or stock.. Rinse the bird thoroughly inside and out with cold water.
- Place the bird inside the cooler. Pour the cooled brine over the bird and cover with ice. Put the lid on the cooler and place in an out of the way location for at least one hour per pound. Add more ice as needed.
- When you are ready to roast the bird, remove from brine and rinse thoroughly in cold water.
Roasting the Turkey
I usually opt for a 20 pound bird. I brine it for three days. Any longer than that and the brine will actually cause the bird to be drier instead of mouth-wateringly moist.
Once the turkey is thoroughly rinsed, I place it on the roasting rack, breast side up so that it can come to room temperature. I have tired cooking it breast side down and then rotating in the last hour of cooking to improve the moisture retention during cooking. However, turning a really hot twenty pound bird over is difficult, and I don’t like the texture of the skin nearly as well.
I preheat the oven to 375º F. While the bird and oven are warming up, I make an herb butter. I use two sticks of salted sweet cream butter and the same herbs that I brined the bird in: Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, and Parsley. I use fresh herbs and chop them fine. I melt the butter and then stir in the herbs. I also add the zest and juice of one lemon and two cloves of crushed garlic and stir it all together. It smells fantastic.
I stuff the bird with more fresh herbs. Six whole sprigs each of Rosemary, Sage, and Parsley plus a dozen sprigs of fresh time. I do not chop them; I just shove them in whole. I add one large white or yellow onion, cut into quarters. Finally I shove in two lemons along with what is left of the lemon I used for the herb butter.
I tuck in the wings to hold the skin in place. I also seal the cavity. Then, I coat the entire bird with the herb butter. The butter might tighten up a bit as it is rubbed on the bird, and that’s okay. I will use the remaining herb butter for basting the bird until the drippings are well developed and available.
Finally, Mr. Turkey goes into the hot oven. I baste every hour. My usual twenty pounds of bird will require about five to six hours of cooking, until the thigh temperature reaches 165º F—which always seems like it will take forever. In the end, the entire house will be packed full of the heady aroma of herbs and slow roasted turkey…the smell of Thanksgiving.
Once the correct internal temperature is reached, I remove the bird from the oven. Do NOT touch it for at least half an hour. Just leave it alone. Mr. Turkey has been working hard in the oven and he must have a rest before you cut into him. This step is critical for a juicy bird. It also gives me time to finish up the other items that need to be made in the oven, namely the green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, and the stuffing.
Cooking the Brine
Better safe than sorry when it comes to poultry! Do NOT cross contaminate other foods by placing them on surfaces where the raw turkey has been or by touching them with utensils (knives, forks, etc) that have touched the raw turkey. After handling; wash your hands!
Remember to sanitize any surfaces and utensils after they have contacted any part of the raw bird.This includes the sink! I have an old fashioned porcelain sink, so after the bird is in the oven, it gets a vigorous scrub with baking soda. Then a rinse of warm water, and finally I fill the sink full of hot water and 1 cup of bleach.
I only use one cooler for brine. I don’t recommend reusing it for say, iced tea or anything like that because it will put off some of the brine flavors into the beverage no matter how well you clean. The brine cooler is labeled as such and stored separately from other coolers. To clean, I recommend filling the brining container with hot water and a good dish soap like Dawn and a ¼ cup of bleach, let that soak for a good 20 minutes and then wash it, rinse it and let it dry completely before storage. (Don’t forget all about it and then leave it sit on the porch for a year! Super EW!)