How to Brine a Turkey

Brining turkey is a centuries-old technique that adds flavor and moisture by means of first soaking the uncooked bird in heavily salted water, often infused with sugar, herbs and spices. The process isn’t difficult – you just need to mix up the brine and soak the bird for 12-24 hours – but you will need either a brining bag or a pot large enough to submerge your turkey.

Fortunately, I happen to have a famous friend who is big on brining, and in his best-selling cookbook, The Best of Chef at Home, Michael shares his technique for the best-tasting, juiciest holiday turkey ever.

The way Chef Michael describes it, brining is a simple process that encourages the tightly would proteins in meat to uncoil, bump into each other and form a web of sorts that sets with the heat of the oven and traps moisture.

Brined Holiday Turkey

Reprinted with permission from The Best of Chef at Home by Michael Smith (Whitecap).

Brined Turkey:
one 10 to 25 lb (4.5 to 11.25 kg) fresh turkey
2 cups (500 mL) table salt or 4 cups (1 L) kosher salt
2 cups (500 mL) brown sugar
2 gallons (7.25 L) cold water
4 onions, peeled and halved
4 large carrots
4 celery stalks
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter, melted
lots of freshly ground black pepper

tools needed:
an insulated picnic cooler large enough to submerge the turkey
a few “blue ice” freezer packs, placed in freezer bags to keep packs from being contaminated
a large roasting pan
an accurate meat thermometer to gauge exactly when the turkey is done

Place the bird upside down in the insulated cooler.

Whisk the salt and sugar in the cold water until they are thoroughly dissolved. Pour this brine over the turkey, turning the bird a few times to mix the salt and sugar thoroughly. If it is not fully submerged, make a bit more brine using the same ratio of salt, sugar and water. Add the freezer packs to the cooler and place in a cool place for 12 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse well under cold running water. Thoroughly dry it with paper towels or clean kitchen towels. Remove any excess moisture and dry out the skin so that it will brown well. With the onions, carrots and celery, fashion a bed in the roasting pan for the turkey to rest on. Brush the turkey thoroughly with the melted butter. Season with lots of freshly ground pepper but not salt; the brine is sufficient for salting.

Roast turkey for 1 hour and then, without opening the oven, turn the heat down to 300°F (150°C) and continue roasting for 2 to 3 hours longer, depending on the size of the turkey. This dual-temperature method will first brown the turkey and then slowly finish it so it doesn’t dry out from the initial high heat.

After 2 1/2 hours, open the oven and begin checking the temperature every 15 minutes or so. Continue roasting until the breast and thigh meat have both reached at least 170°F. As a rough guideline you can plan on about 12 minutes cooking time for each pound of turkey.

When done, cover the turkey with foil and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving to give the juices inside the meat a chance to calm down and evenly redistribute themselves throughout the turkey.

Serves 10 or more.

About Chef Michael Smith: Food Network star (and all around great guy) Chef Michael Smith has been cooking professionally for over twenty years and has shared his recipes with audiences around the world since 1998, when The Inn Chef premiered on the Life Network; in fact, its popularity helped to launch Food Network Canada. His contagious love of food has earned him many friends and fans around the world, but when he isn’t traveling with his latest show, Chef Abroad, Chef Michael loves spending time at home on Prince Edward Island, cooking for his partner Rachel and their son Gabriel.

Top photo credit: istockphoto/LauriPatterson

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