Todd's Notes on Brining a Turkey

This page is an offshoot of our Roast Turkey recipe page.

This step is not mandatory, though it did increase the juiciness and flavor of our turkey slightly. For a 19-20 pound turkey, I use the ubiquitous 'toddler killer' five gallon bucket to brine.

Two gallons of brine and a 20 pound turkey will pretty much fill a five gallon bucket. At that concentration, I brine for twelve hours. This works out pretty well for me, as I can start brining the evening before and do my post-brine turkey prep work the next morning, setting myself up for a traditional mid-afternoon serving time. 'Joy' recommends doubling the concentration to two cups of salt in two gallons and halving the time to 6 hours; I can't make that work for my traditional serving time without getting up in the middle of the night to start the brining. Cover the bucket and set it in a cool place for the twelve hours. I use my closed garage, setting the bucket near the door where it's coolest.

This past year, Sharon was watching a cooking show during the run-up week to Thanksgiving. They had a significantly more complex brine recipe, and we thought we'd give it a shot as an experiment.

In the hot water, stir in the salt till dissolved. Add Molasses, Honey, Soy, stir till dissolved. Add Sage and Garlic. At this point, the hosts were raving about how this recipe, "Makes the house smell like Thanksgiving a day early!" Whatever, the Garlic and other ingredients were a little overpowering for us in the aroma department.

Pour the hot mixture into ice water in a 'toddler killer' five gallon bucket to brine. The goal is to have about 2 gallons of cool brine.

Add your Turkey to the brine. We did a 22 pounder, and it was still pretty frozen when it went into the brine, despite four days of defrosting in our refrigerator. Put a lid on it and set it someplace cool (like the garage) overnight (12 hours or so).

The next morning, we carefully pulled the Turkey out, rinsed it off (inside and out), and proceeded with our usual Roast Turkey recipe from there. A little more caution was taken with the brine than usual due to the potential for sticky stains (it can be a challenge to maneuver a 22 pound Turkey and a five gallon bucket of brine in one sink and not spill a significant amount).

During cooking, the smell of the garlic was strongly noticable early on. As the Turkey cooked, the more familiar "Thanksgiving" smell finally took over. The extra sugars in the brine led to strong coloring due to browning. 2 hours in, and my notes say "pretty black", with still an hour to go before the flip. After the flip, the "beauty side" of the bird was also "pretty black" at 90 minutes, with still another 20 minutes till "done" was achieved. I wouldn't say the color was objectionable, but I prefer the rich brown of our normal recipe.

The bird was excellent, with heightened flavors, especially near the skin. Having said that, our standard bird suits us fine with great flavor and moistness for less trouble (and cost of ingredients). The gravy was a little harder to make in that all the sugars are bonded to the roasting pan making the scraping about twice as hard as usual. Still, this is complaining about "too much of a good thing" in that this will make more gravy than you're likely to need.

A fun experiment, though one we're unlikely to repeat. Log it for the archives.......

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