Brining is key for yummy moist turkey.
Supplies: To properly brine a turkey you need to start the night before you plan to cook. You will need at least 10 to 12 hours (plan on 1 hour per pound), a container large enough to hold your turkey and enough brine to cover it. You’ll also need salt, water, sugar, seasonings, and enough room to refrigerate it. A large stainless steel stock pot or even a 5 gallon clean plastic bucket would make excellent containers. Whatever container you choose, the turkey must have enough room to be turned, so it should be big. Both Reynolds (Oven Roasting Bag for Turkeys) and Ziploc (XL Storage Bag) make very large food safe resealable bags that are great for brining.
Turkey: Now let’s get to the turkey. The turkey should be cleaned out, completely thawed, and should not be a self-basting or Kosher turkey. Self-basting and Kosher turkeys have a salty stock added that will make your brined turkey too salty. Make sure to check the ingredients on the turkey before you decide to brine. A fresh, “natural” turkey works best, but a completely thawed, previously frozen turkey will work just as well.
Brine Ingredients: To make the brine, mix 1 cup of table salt in 1 gallon of water. You will need more than 1 gallon of water but that’s the ratio to aim for. One way of telling if you have enough salt in your brine is that a raw egg will float in it. Make sure that the salt is completely dissolved before adding the seasonings. Be sure not to add any spice mixtures that contains salt. Brines can be spicy hot with peppers and cayenne, savory with herbs and garlic, or sweet with molasses, honey and brown sugar. Whatever your preference are, you can find a large number of brine recipes on my site.
Sweetening the Brine: Sugar is optional in any brine, but works to counteract the flavor of the salt. While you may choose a brine without sugar, I do recommend that you add sugar (any kind of “sweet” will do) to maintain the flavor of the turkey. Add up to 1 cup of sugar per gallon of brine. Like the salt, you need to make sure that the sugar is completely dissolved.
Set-up: Place the turkey in a container and pour in enough brine to completely cover the turkey with an inch or two to spare. You do not want any part of the turkey above the surface of the brine. Now place the whole thing in the refrigerator. If you are like me, making enough room in the fridge is the hardest part of this project. The turkey should sit in the brine for about 1 hour per pound of turkey. Brining too long is much worse than not brining enough so watch the time.
Keep it Cool!: Don’t have room in the refrigerator? Try a cooler. Make sure it’s big enough to hold your turkey and can contain (without spills) both the bird and the brine. The cooler will not only help keep the turkey cool, but provides the option to brine your turkey without taking up space in the refrigerator. If the weather is cool and not freezing, you can put the whole thing outside until you are ready to cook the turkey. If the weather is warm, fill a a zip top bag with ice. Place this in the cooler with the turkey and brine and it will hold down the temperature during the brining process.
Rinsing: When you are ready to begin cooking the turkey, remove it from the brine and rinse it off thoroughly in the sink with cold water until all traces of salt are off the surface inside and out. This is the single, most important step. If you don’t get the brine rinsed of thoroughly, you will get a very salty bird. Safely discard the brine and cook the turkey as normal. You will notice the second you start to carve your turkey that the brining has helped it retain moisture. The first bite will sell you on brining turkeys forever and after you’ve tried this, you will want to brine all your poultry.