Brine? That’s saltwater, isn’t it? Like really salty water? Well, yes. However, it is one of the very best things you can do to your turkey. But first, a little backstory:
When I roasted my first turkey for my then in-laws, I was terrified. If any of you are old enough to remember, it was back when Butterball had that commercial where the elderly women of a family were over at the new bride’s house for Thanksgiving and they were whispering, cattily, “I bet the turkey’s dry.”
I was terrified that my turkey would be dry. I was a really young bride and felt I had to prove myself. The Thanksgiving turkey was the way to do it. I bought my frozen turkey, I called the Butterball hotline for information, I consulted my mother. I thawed my turkey according to the instructions. I basted the hell out of that bird. Every 30 minutes, I had that bird on the counter with my basting bulb in hand, squirting butter all over it. The turkey had one of those built-in, pop-up thermometers and I had the timetable for all the sides down to a science. It was perfectly planned and all the sides were almost ready for serving as I began carving the turkey.
My turkey was not dry.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t done, either.
Oh, and did you know that you’re supposed to remove the “parts” before you roast it?
I don’t know if it was a faulty thermometer or the repeated removing of the turkey from the oven but you can’t serve reddish-pink turkey. As the side dishes cooled, I stuck the turkey back in the oven and felt like a failure. I think we ended up taking several slices of the turkey and popping them in the microwave. I know, I know: Blasphemy!
I learned some hard lessons that day. Don’t trust the built-in thermometer. Remove the neck and giblets before roasting. I also suspected that, maybe, the turkey hadn’t been completely thawed.
The following year, I was ready. I had a meat thermometer. My frozen turkey had been thawing, per the instructions, in the refrigerator for days. On Thanksgiving morning, I cut the plastic wrapping from the bird and went to remove the giblets. They wouldn’t budge. They wouldn’t budge because they were still frozen in the turkey. Nearly hysterical (I was such a drama queen in those days), I called my mother. She said I needed to thaw it in cold water and that I should probably call everyone and plan on having dinner a little bit later.
I lived in an apartment that had doll-sized sinks. There was no way I was going to be able to submerge my turkey in cold water and thaw it. The only container big enough was, ew, the bathtub but I had no options.
I went and scrubbed the bathtub. I scrubbed it again. I rinsed it repeatedly. I thawed my turkey.
It wasn’t dry. It wasn’t raw.
No one other than my then-husband and my mother knew that the turkey started it’s day in the bath and they weren’t telling.
I have used fresh turkeys every year since.
Oh, yeah, brining!
The short version:
This site has a LOT of information about brining (Q&A, recipes, brining times, etc.)
I use a cold brine and I rinse, dry, and put it in the oven. I still get crispy skin and I don't have to let it rest in the refrigerator after taking it out of the brine. One of the tips on the above site said you'd have to do that. I disagree but the rest of the information is really good.
Oh, one more thing. The turkey NEVER tastes salty. It's just moist and flavorful.
Here’s what I do for my brine:
1 gallon water
1 cup kosher salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 ounces cracked black pepper
Any other seasonings you want (I use a bit of sage, some garlic, and whatever else strikes me as I rifle through the spice cabinet)
NOTE: You may need to double this for a large turkey. I figure out how much liquid I need by putting my turkey in whatever I’m using as my brining container and, with a measuring cup, I pour in water until the turkey is fully covered. Then, I know how much brine to make.
Bring all ingredients to a boil in large pot then simmer 15 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
To prepare turkey: Remove contents in main and neck cavities, reserve for other uses if desired. Rinse turkey with cool water. Place bird in cooled brine, fully covered, for 8 to 10 hours in refrigerator (assuming a 20 lb bird).
Remove from brine and rinse turkey, inside and out, with cool water and pat dry. Roast as usual (although I've found my turkeys seem to cook faster when they've been brined).
Some sites say you can brine for up to 24 hours; others say that brining that long can mean mushy meat. 8-10 hours has been perfect for my turkeys.
I need to tell you something else. My dad has, in recent years, become THE bargain shopper. Seriously, we can’t let him go to case lot sales anymore. When we had to move everything to the center of their house for the de-brown-reclusing (long story), he had 1,120 light bulbs. Really. Not special lightbulbs, not Christmas lights. Nope. 1,120 standard light bulbs. Case lot sale. I’m never buying lightbulbs again. Ever.
My dad called me last week from the commissary. They had turkeys on sale for THIRTY-FIVE CENTS A POUND. (He was so excited.) He really wanted to buy one for me.
They were frozen.
I was less than excited.
He was SO excited.
I let him buy the turkey.
I’ve been waking in a cold sweat every night since.
I’ll let you know how it goes.