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How to Brine Your Turkey

November 18, 2015

There are more than a million ways to make a fantastic turkey for your holiday table. So many, in fact, that the possibilities are overwhelming!

Among the many ways to impart more flavor into your bird: roasting, barbecuing, frying, paper-bagging....and of course brining. We've all *heard* about brining the turkey, but what is a brine? How does it work? Why do it? And, how on earth do we do it once we're convinced to try?

What is brining? Brining meat is a process similar to marinating, but is focused on moistening the meat as opposed to imparting flavor. Brining your holiday bird by soaking it in liquid prior to cooking will help ensure you have a deliciously moist and flavorful turkey.
How does brining work? Brining improves your turkey's ability to retain moisture. This happens for two reasons, the first being osmosis. Osmosis is the tendency for water to move across a membrane from an area of low solute concentration to an area of high solute concentration. (Basically, the salty liquid in the brine solution will migrate into the less hydrated meat molecules, plumping them up.) Secondly, brine helps makes meat moist because the salt in the brine dissolves certain muscle fibers in the turkey, which makes the fibers less capable of contracting when they cook. Less contracting of the muscle fibers means less moisture is lost during cooking, which leads to a juicier bird.

Why brine? Well, banishing dry, tough meat that requires an entire boat of gravy from your holiday feast is one reason. Welcoming juicy, delicious and more flavorful turkey to the party is the other.

So, how to brine? There are two ways to brine a turkey these days; either with a dry brine or a traditional wet brine. Dry brining (which is a process basically consisting of coating your dry turkey with salt and allowing the salted bird to sit for 12-24 hours) is convenient because it doesn't require your turkey to sit in brine taking up valuable refrigerator space in the days before the holiday. We had plenty of fun playing with different brine solutions this year (see Allen's brine experiment video below, or on our youtube channel) and learned some interesting things about constructing your own brine. Here are our top suggestions:

MAKE SPACE: Clear a space in your refrigerator large enough to hold a container that will fit your turkey. It's important that you keep that bird cold!

PLAN AHEAD: Your turkey will need to sit in the brine for 12-18 hours for maximum moisture absorption so start early!

STICK TO SALT: Salt molecules are smaller, and more magnetic than the molecules of other compounds or flavors you might add to your brine and thus, it's very likely that even if you make an elaborate, flavorful and fragrant brine, much of the flavor of the brine won't be absorbed by the meat (Think of this similar to a lot of small people trying to shove their way through a small door, and a larger person trying to fit through the same door). So, we suggest saving yourself some time on the brine, using a straight salt solution, and putting more attention into delicious side dishes and make your own herb butter, or to-die-for-gravy instead.

MAGIC SOLUTION: The weight of your turkey will dictate how much salt to use in your brine. These proportions seem to be:

8 to 12 pounds: use 2 gallons water and 2 1/2 cups salt

13 to 17 pounds: use 2 1/2 gallons water and 3 1/4 cups salt

18 to 22 pounds: use 3 gallons water and 3 3/4 cups salt

PATIENCE, PATIENCE: Mix up your solution, put your bird in it's container, put the container in the fridge and let it sit. Then, roast or cook your bird as you do and enjoy!

Check out Allen's brining experiment in the video below, and have a happy turkey day, all!


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