Even the best of chefs and pit bosses rely on brining their big birds before a grill, to ensure even heat, and juicy white and dark meat. Depending on how long you choose to brine you can also adjust for a crispier skin and make a delicious gravy out of the leftover brine drippings.
Brining is the process of soaking poultry in a salt and water mixture for anywhere from 6-24 hours before you grill and then allowing this solution* to solve all your problems...No really the salt solution dissolves the proteins in the turkey, allowing the muscles in the bird to absorb the brine and make a juicier and more flavourful dinner. Allowing a raw turkey to sit in a water bath alone, will plump it up some, but without the salt and added flavours you will not get that extra juiciness.
Normally, when cooking meat, the juices will be sucked out of the inside of the bird and pulled to the surface - leaving dry and bland meat inside. Brining helps alleviate this problem by adding moisture to the meat being cooked inside.
How long you decide to brine is dependent on the turkey size, the water to salt ratio and personal taste.
For a bigger bird, approximately 14lbs, you may be concerned with fridge space. This could lead you to brining in a cooler, or a larger pot that is kept outside of the fridge. In this case, the first thing you want to do is ensure the temperature where you will store your turkey and brine adheres to food safety limits, then choose how long you'd like to brine for. Most believe the secret to brining is 1 hour per pound of turkey, however, you could potentially do up to 3 days long, if done safely. If you choose to do this expect a saltier result and drippings far too salty for a gravy, but also a much crispier skin and more moist bird.
To avoid some of the saltiness (and keep a constant cold temperature) on a 2-3 day brine you could continually add ice/cold water to your mixture to dilute. By doing this, however, you may pull away some of the natural flavours, but add more brine juices. Again, the different methods of brining are all up to personal taste and experience.
How To Brine?
After you've made your mixture and caught your bird, use a large roasting and brining bag with a sealable opening. Place your turkey inside and pour the brine over top to fill the bag. With a vacuum seal or by dunking the bag into large pot of hot water remove all the excess air and let it sit in a cold room for your choice of time.
When you wet-brine your turkey you will need to allow for optimal time for air-drying. Brining a turkey can slow down the browning process when cooking, therefore you will first be patting your turkey dry with paper towel and letting it air dry, uncovered, in a refrigerated space for up to 8 hours before. By air drying your brined turkey you are giving yourself a head start and a crispier skin.
What Is The Secret Recipe?
Brine's are made from a base of salt and water, but you can add a number of ingredients to suit your flavor pallet, like orange juice or slices, brown sugar, honey or herbs like rosemary and sage. A good rule for sweetening your brine is to stay until the 1/4 mark of sweetener to salt ratio. Mix and heat your flavoured brine and then bring the temperature back down. To avoid potential bacteria growth, never pour hot or warm brine over a raw turkey.
Our very own, Ken, a king among smokers (barbecue smokers, that is) and a judge at several national barbecue competitions has his own special brine we encourage you to try:
This is a sweet and savory brine and the aromas and tastes of maple and peppercorn will mesmerize you. For an elevated flavour, smoke your turkey over maple charcoal and pull that maple syrup to the top of the bird.
One could dry brine their turkey by using a salt-only mixture. This mixture will allow for more of the natural flavour and moisture of the turkey to be retained and pulled to the top layer, as opposed to your intensely flavoured wet brine which will create a more evenly moist bird, but could create an excess of liquid.
To dry-brine you will want to add baking powder to the mixture, for a crispy skin, and then generously coat your brine evenly on the turkey before loosely covering the bird with plastic wrap, or a cheesecloth, to prevent evaporation.
MORE GO-TO BRINES: