Thanksgiving made easy: Brines to make your turkey moist and delicious

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TOLEDO, Ohio (13abc Action News) - Do I, or don’t I? That’s the all-important question a lot of people are asking this week. And, if you’re even considering it, the time to act, is now. Of course, we’re talking about brining your Thanksgiving turkey.

Why brine? Well, even though you can get a flavorful, moist turkey without brining, putting the bird in a bath of deliciousness will help improve the odds of Thanksgiving success.

Some methods take up to three days, others just a few hours. No matter which method you choose, you’ll be adding flavor to your bird, and that’ll go a long way to making you a holiday hero!

There are two types of brining: wet and dry. Wet brining involves liquids, aromatics, herbs, and other ingredients. Dry brining involves no liquids. The one thing both have in common is salt. Salt is what triggers the reaction that works like a flavor bomb in the turkey. It also helps to keep the cooked bird moist. The method you use is up to you, and the time you want to put into it.

Let’s look at dry brines, first. About the easiest dry brine to pull off is to just use salt. That's it. You need to do it at least two days in advance. You'll want to use a tablespoon of kosher, coarse, or sea salt for every five pounds of turkey. So, if you have a 15-pound bird, you'll use three tablespoons of salt. Rub it all over the bird. Put the turkey in a plastic bag or a brining bag (available at most grocery stores), seal it, and refrigerate it.

About a day into the process, you'll see some liquid in the bag. Don't worry, that's the salt doing its thing. Just gently rub the turkey through the bag and put it back in the refrigerator. After another day, much of the liquid will be reabsorbed, and along with it, flavor.

You can add any combination of dried or fresh herbs, spices, black pepper, citrus zest, and sugar to the salt to provide a wide range of flavors. Once you have your turkey dry-brined, pull it out of the refrigerator and get it into the oven. We suggest roasting the turkey at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees, and let it cook until your bird reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. The great thing about dry brines is that they pull fats and proteins close to the surface. That helps your bird to brown very nicely.

On to wet brining. The process is a little more complex, but the wet-brine faithful swear that the flavor and moistness payoff is worth the effort. You’re going to need a container large enough to hold 10 gallons of liquid; a large bucket should work, or maybe an ice chest.
A basic brine includes some combination of salt, sugar, and water. The easiest brine is just three gallons of water, a cup of granulated sugar, a cup of brown sugar, and a two cups of coarse salt. Mix up all of the ingredients in your container, add the turkey, make sure it’s submerged, and keep it in a cool place – at least 40 degrees or lower.

Let the bird brine for at least a day, but two days is better. Remove the turkey, pat it dry, then place it in your refrigerator for at least two hours. Roast it at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees, and let it cook until your bird reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

You can add chicken, turkey, or vegetable broth to your brine, as well as herbs, fruit or fruit, juice, liquor like bourbon or rum, vegetables like carrots, aromatics like onions or garlic, and spices – cinnamon or all spice berries work really well. If you do add any extras, it’s best to place your brine in a large pot on the stove, bring it to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for five to ten minutes. After cooking, let the brine cool to room temperature before pouring into your container and submerging your bird.

Hopefully, that takes the mystery out of brining. It’s a great way to impart flavor and moistness to your holiday turkey. Of course, your guests don’t have to know how easy it is, only that the turkey tastes good.