Thanksgiving Turkey Brine and Pre-Roasting Prep

Okay, quick diversion from cookbook recipes into “recipes from my imaginary friends”.

Like so many folks, I spend some time around various internet haunts that are not, in fact, this blog. Crazy talk, I know, but it’s still true.

Awhile back I wanted to do Thanksgiving for the first time ever. I asked at one of those haunts and got all kinds of useful advice about what to do. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the folks there might qualify as “some of them.”:

Anyway, one of “them” gave me this brine recipe, saying it was from “Alton Brown.”: I used it that first year, and I used it again this year. I’ll probably use it until eternity. Or I stop making turkeys. Whenever.

h2. Ingredients

1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 gallon vegetable stock

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1/2 tablespoon allspice berries

1/2 tablespoon candied ginger

1 gallon iced water

h2. Instructions

Combine everything but the iced water, and bring to a boil. Stir to encourage the sugar, salt and ginger to dissolve. The peppercorns and allspice won’t, and that’s okay.

On the day of brining, add the water to the rest of the brine, then put the turkey in breast side down. Feel free to weigh it down to immerse it fully. I didn’t bother. Keep it cold and brining for 8 – 24 hours. Turn it once (or, you know, twice) during the brining.

h2. Other Prep Work

Okay, that’s all fairly straightforward. And since I didn’t taste the brine before dumping a turkey in it, I’m not going to try to do notes. Instead, I’ll tell you about the stuff I did and didn’t do.

I didn’t weigh down the turkey because I didn’t have anything to weigh it down with. Simple enough. I’m honestly not sure how much it matters, though.

I did flip the bird twice1. The motivation behind this was basically that I didn’t weigh anything down, and since white meat tends to dry out faster, I wanted it more exposed to the brine than the dark meat. Again, simple motivations.

Beyond that, I didn’t want to mess too much with this turkey. I figured I’d bring it to room temperature before roasting, but that’s about it. It was enormous, and so I wanted to deal with it as little as possible. Thus, I stole my imaginary friend’s last trick2. It’s brilliant. Are you ready for this?

I iced the breast.

Indeed. So, the breast meat often dries out because it doesn’t need to cook to as high a temperature as the dark meat to be safe. I have no idea what the science behind that is, I just know it’s true for poultry. So my imaginary friend said that if you put ice & water in a gallon bag and place it on the breast of the turkey for about 20 minutes just before you pop the turkey in the oven, the breast meat cooks slower. You have a better chance of cooking the two parts to the right temperature at the same time.

Told you it was brilliant. Even if I change up the brine someday, I’ll never let go of this trick.

fn1. Tee-Hee! Sometimes I’m 14 at heart.

fn2. Truth in blogging: I did the first time too, with a much smaller turkey.