If you have ever hosted Thanksgiving dinner, you know that it takes a lot of time, effort, sweat, and in some cases, tears, to put together the perfect meal. Anyone can mash potatoes or turn a perfectly good green bean into a casserole, but what the perfect meal comes down to is the perfect turkey: Juicy with a crispy, browned skin that slices easily and tastes delicious. Not an easy task you say?
Ah, but I hold the secret to the perfect turkey…
Brining does take a little more effort than traditional preparation and should be done the day before Thanksgiving, or the day before you are serving turkey.
Brine is a measured mixture of Kosher salt, sugar, and water in which the turkey is submerged for a specified number of hours (according to weight), resulting in a juicy turkey with lots of flavor. The science behind it is the processes of diffusion and osmosis, where the water, sugar, and salt will all flow naturally into the turkey and sustain a high moisture level during the cooking process for a perfect end result every time. I found this method in the December 2001 issue of Cooks Illustrated and still refer to it every time I use the brining process. In addition to brining the turkey, I also use the high heat method of cooking (500F!) and this brine recipe below is safe for high-heat cooking. High heat cooking requires less sugar so that the skin doesn’t burn, so the amounts of sugar and salt are lower for high-heat cooking. The sugar and salt needs for traditional cooking are included in the recipe as well.
How to Brine the Perfect Turkey
The key to a juicy inside and a crispy outside
- 1 1/2 cups Kosher salt 3 cups for traditional heat
- 1 cup sugar 4 cups for traditional heat
- 2 gallons cold water
- 8 pound Turkey or larger organ bag removed
Line the bucket or cooler or large vessel with a garbage bag. Combine the water, salt, and sugar in the bag and mix to dissolve.
Submerge the turkey in the brine.
Tie the bag closed to prevent spills.
Refrigerate the turkey for one hour per pound but no more than 8 hours. Turkeys larger than 8 pounds needs to brine for no more than 8 hours. If you live in a cold area and outside temperatures will be between 34 and 40 degrees F, you can brine at your own risk outdoors. Or, make room in your refrigerator for 8 hours.
When the brining process is complete, remove the turkey from the brine and place it on a cookie sheet topped with a cooling rack, or in the roasting pan on a roasting rack. Pat the bird dry with paper towels. This gives the skin a chance to dry so that it will crisp up in the oven.
Put the bird uncovered back into the fridge on the rack and allow it to air-dry overnight.
In the morning, take the turkey out of the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature before cooking to ensure even cooking, usually 2-3 hours.
Remember, one quart of brine solution should be used per pound of bird, but not to exceed two gallons, regardless of how big the turkey. If you make an 8-pound turkey or larger, you will always need to make the same amount of brine.