Thanksgiving is hands down my favorite holiday of the year. It is however also the most stressful cooking day of the year. With all eyes on the bird, cooking the perfect turkey is first thing on my mind. Most people know the traditional rules of cooking a thanksgiving bird: 1 to 1 ½ pounds of turkey per person (depending on if you want leftovers), cook the bird in a real turkey pan until the internal temperature reaches 165°F, and let the bird rest for 20-30 minutes before carving. In my early days, I simply basted the bird with butter, seasoned with salt and pepper, filled the bottom of the pan with chicken broth, covered half the bird and cooked in a 325° oven. As I became a more practiced chef, I discovered the art of brining a turkey. While I’m not sure it’s exactly an art or a science, I do know that once you start brining a turkey, you’ll never go back.
There’s many reasons why brining a turkey is the way to go. First and foremost brining makes the turkey moist and flavorful. No matter how you decide to cook your turkey, the brine will make for a better bird (even if you overcook it). Brining is similar to a marinade. It relaxes the proteins in the meat muscles so the turkey can absorb the liquid and spices, which results in the mouthwatering flavor and moist.
- Begin with a natural bird – no added salt (kosher birds) or chemicals. This will result in too salty of a turkey. I recommend ordering ahead of time (like now) from your local butcher
- Allow the bird to rest in the brine for an hour per pound. Depending on the size of your bird, you will most likely to begin this process the night before Thanksgiving
- You will need a large pot or plastic bag and plenty of room in the fridge
- I recommend using an ice filled cooler (to save fridge space)
There are many different brine recipes out there and an assortment of pre-made kits that you can buy at your local grocery store. There is however a basic brine formula that one should follow.
- 2 cups of kosher salt to 2 gallons of water
- Sugar (up to 2 cups of brown or white) and spices (your choice depending on your palette)
- Heat all the above on the stove, until the salt (and sugar if using) have dissolved
- Cool your mixture and pour over the turkey in a large pot or plastic bag
- Brine in a fridge or large ice filled cooler overnight (one hour per pound, typically 12 hours)
- Drain, rinse the bird well, and dry before roasting
After twenty some years of being the official “Thanksgiving Host”, it seems like we’ve tried it all. While brining is my favorite way to prepare the bird, there are plenty of different ways to cook the turkey, and even more to prep it. Stay tuned over the next few weeks, as I will continue sharing my Thanksgiving Turkey Tips.