I have never been a big fan of Thanksgiving turkey, at least not the white meat. When I have eaten turkey I have always gravitated toward the dark meat because it has more flavor and is much more moist. I have read about brining turkeys for some time now and had my first one last year at my sister's in Michigan. It really turned out well, was moist and full of flavor and I had to try it on my own this year finally. I wasn't able to take pictures of the process this time because my camera is in the shop getting some under-warranty work done to it.
To brine the turkey I used a large cooler that I sanitized with a MILD bleach solution first. Then I rinsed it WELL, you don't want any remnants of bleach left in the cooler. A clean, never-used 5 gallon bucket would have probably worked better, since it took 4 gallons of water to cover the bird in my cooler.
You will need a bag of ice for the brining process. For every gallon of water that is needed to cover the bird (in whatever clean container you choose to use), you will need:
- 1 gallon water
- 1 Cup Kosher salt, canning salt or sea salt. I used my canning salt.
- ½ Cup sugar
There are many options that you can add to the water for flavoring, I chose to use:
- a small handful of fresh sage, thyme and one good stalk of rosemary.
- 2 quartered oranges
- 2 quartered lemons
- 3 fresh bay leaves
First mix the salt and sugar in a small amount of warm water. It won't dissolve easily in very cold water. Then add the solution to your cold water.
Make sure the bird is completely covered in the water, add your salt/sugar solution and any flavoring you want, then add a layer of ice. THIS IS IMPORTANT. The temperature danger zone for food is 40-140 degrees, so you want the water to stay under 40 degrees the whole time it is in the brine. The recipes I have seen call for brining for anywhere from 4 to 24 hours (a few called for a few days) and I ended up brining mine for about 18-20 hours.
When you are ready to roast the turkey, remove it from the brine and rinse it WELL to get the extra outer salt off of it. Pat it dry and follow your favorite turkey-roasting recipe and you should get outstanding results from brining it beforehand.
How I roasted my turkey
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Yes, 500 degrees. Make a square of aluminum foil and fold one corner over to meet the opposite corner to form a triangle. Push it over the breast of the turkey with the point of the triangle pointing toward the rear of the bird. Form it over the bird, then remove it from the bird but keep the resulting shape of the foil. This will be placed over the breast meat later, and you don't want to form it over a 500 degree turkey!
Place the bird in a roaster that preferably has a raised rack to it, and place in the 500 degree oven for 30 minutes. This will brown the turkey very nicely. Now lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and cook the turkey until the temperature of the thickest part of the breast (don't touch bone with the thermometer) reaches 160 degrees. This should take a 2-3 hours. Let the bird rest for 20-30 minutes before slicing. Eat hearty.