Brining is better.

Brine400 I don’t believe in one way to do most things in the kitchen. Using a masher or ricer for mashed potatoes are both fine options, and the ratio of butter to milk is up to you. I know a dozen good ways to cook sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts are delicious roasted, steamed or sauteed in bacon fat.

But when it comes to making the turkey, I believe in the brine.

When I was a food writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, we spent one fall determining the best way to cook a turkey. We roasted and fried, at high temperatures and low, cooking breast side up and breast side down and about every variation in between. But what really made a difference in a great bird was brining.

A soak in a salt-water solution makes the meat juicy and flavorful. Even the leftovers the next day taste better.

In recent years, some experts have switched to a dry-brine method: rubbing the outside of the turkey with the salt several days in advance. While it creates a well-seasoned turkey, I still believe the wet-brine method is the best.

Here are a couple of tips for successful brining:

. Start two days before the meal. Soak the turkey 12 to 24 hours, then let it air-dry in the refrigerator for 24 hours to produce the crispiest skin.

. If you’re using a frozen turkey, make sure it is completely thawed before brining.

. Don’t brine a kosher turkey or self-basting turkey. They’ve already been salted or injected with salt-water solution.

. I brine my turkeys in garbage-bag lined 5-gallon paint buckets in my outside refrigerator. It’s the one we use mostly for beverages, so it’s easy to clean out. If you don’t have an extra fridge, Food Network star Alton Brown recommends using a large cooler, packed with ice. Many people have said that works well, too. The key is the turkey must be stored at below 40 degrees while it brines.

. Make sure the turkey is completely submerged in the brine.

. Do not salt a brine turkey before roasting. It won’t need it.

. Use the drippings from a brined turkey sparingly in gravy. They’re often too salty. But a good quality chicken or turkey broth makes great gravy.

The following recipe is based on one originally rom Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley.

1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar, maple syrup or honey (or a combination)
8 cups plus 1 1/2 gallons water (use beer, apple cider or wine for part of the liquid)
1 head garlic, separated into cloves and smashed (no need to peel)
8 fresh thyme sprigs
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
4 bay leaves

Combine salt, sugar and 8 cups water in a heavy large saucepan. Stir over medium heat until salt and sugar dissolve. Remove from heat. Cool.

Pour brine into clean vessel large enough to contain turkey. Add remaining 11/2 gallons water. Brine turkey in refrigerator 12 to 24 hours.

Categories: Recipes

2 replies

  1. Please tell us if you are cooking a 20 pound turkey what do you do next? Use a oven bag?
    free standing? How long would you cook it to produce the crispiest skin? Cover with foil?
    How long do you leave to rest?

    • I usually cook smaller turkeys (12 to 14 pounds) because I think they cook more evenly. But for a 20-pound turkey, cook it on a rack in a roasting pan at 350 degrees. Rub butter on the skin and cover the breast with foil for the first hour or so of cooking. The bird should be done in about 3.5 hours. Baste turkey with broth every 30 to 40 minutes during roasting. Turkey is done when a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 170 degrees.

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