How To Cook A Brined Turkey

November 17, 1999. The Detroit Free Press.

Brining a turkey requires soaking a whole turkey in salted water for hours -- usually overnight. Pam Anderson, a leading advocate of brining turkeys and author of "The Perfect Recipe: Getting It Right Every Time" (Houghton Mifflin, $27), says brining cleanses the turkey, seasons it throughout and keeps it moist during roasting.
"Brining kind of firms up the turkey breast," says Anderson, who has used the method for about six years. "It creates ...a firmer, juicier texture instead of a soft, dry texture."

After brining, Anderson oven-roasts the turkey at 400 degrees in a V-rack in a pan no more than 3 inches deep. She first places the turkey breast side down; after 45 minutes, she turns it to one side for about 20 minutes, then the other side for 20 minutes. Then she turns it breast side up for the last 45 minutes or until done. "It's not a fad, but a timeless technique I will always use," she says.

HOW TO BRINE THE TURKEY: For this easy, inexpensive method, you need a 12-to-14-pound turkey, kosher salt, water and a large stockpot or clean bucket (such as a 5-gallon plastic pail). Oh -- and clear some room in your refrigerator; you'll need that, too. Remove the giblets and neck from the turkey cavity. (You can use them for making stock.) Rinse the turkey under cold water and pat dry. Place it in the bucket and add the salt (2 cups per 2 gallons of water). Add enough water to cover the turkey by about an inch. Swish the water around to dissolve the salt and, as you do this, rub the salt into the skin. Set the bucket in the refrigerator for 10 to 12 hours. Just before roasting, remove the turkey, discard the brine and rinse the turkey under cold water until all traces of salt are gone. Place it on the V-rack, breast side down to start and roast at 400 degrees. Follow Anderson's instructions for turning the turkey, or use your own favorite method. That's it. The turkey is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 170 degrees and 180-185 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh.

WHAT WE FOUND: This method was so simple and produced such excellent results, we're sold on it. Everyone raved about the meat, which had great flavor with only a hint of saltiness. Gravy made from the pan drippings was not too salty, either. Following Anderson's advice for turning the bird during roasting was a little tricky, but it produced nearly even browning all around and a turkey breast done to perfection. If you're hesitant to do this, start with the breast side down; turn it up after about 45 minutes and continue roasting. Or roast it breast side up the entire time, but shield the breast with foil if it starts to brown too much. The downside of this method is that refrigerator space is at a premium at Thanksgiving and Christmas and the bucket takes up quite a bit of it. If you're short of space or time, use a more concentrated brine and shorter soak. For a quick brine: Double the amount of salt and soak the turkey for four hours in a cool spot (use frozen ice gel packs sealed in plastic bags to keep the water cold and place the bucket in an insulated cooler) or in the refrigerator.

COOK'S NOTE: A fresh turkey is best for this recipe, but we also brined a thawed bird that had been treated with a 3 percent solution of broth, salt and other ingredients. This turkey tasted somewhat saltier than the fresh turkey after roasting but still was delicious. Anderson does not advise brining a kosher or a self-basting turkey that has been prebasted with a stronger broth-salt solution.

Printed by permission from the Detroit Free Press. 1999.

Please visit our free recipes pages 1, 2 & 3 for additional recipes to use for your holiday meal.

BACK to turkey help page