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The secret to juicy chicken and turkey is simple - brine them before cooking!
This is the secret that chefs never tell you about. It's very easy and economical, and requires no special cookware.
Brining is like a marinade, as it keeps food moist and tender. Brining or salting is a way of increasing the moisture holding capacity of meat resulting in a moister product when it is cooked. Salt changes the structure of the muscle tissue in the meat which allows it to swell and absorb water and flavorings which results in a tender turkey or chicken once cooked. Give it a try!
Turkey being brined in a large bucket.
How To Make Poultry Brine:
What is a brine: One of the great things about brining is that there are so few rules. Most brines start with water and salt — traditionally, 3/4 pound of salt per gallon of water, but since we’re not concerned with the brine as a preservative, you can cut back on the salt. The amount of brining time is likewise not set in stone. Even a little brining is better than none.
What type of salt to use in brine: Kosher salt and table salt (without iodine) are the most common salts used in brining. Sea salt can be used, but it tends to be quite expensive. I usually use coarse kosher salt.
A cup of table salt and a cup of kosher salt are NOT equal. Table salt weighs approximately 10 ounces per cup and kosher salt weighs approximately 5 to 8 ounces per cup (depending on the brand). If using kosher salt in a brine, you must use more than 1 cup to achieve the same "saltiness" you would get from 1 cup of table salt.
To learn about different types of salt and how to use them, check out the article Salt - The Spice of Life.
This chart shows substitutions for the two most popular brands of kosher (coarse) salt for 1 cup of ordinary table salt (remember without iodine) when brining poultry.
Table Salt (without iodine) - use 1 cup
Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt - use 2 cups
Morton Kosher Salt - use 1 1/2 cups
What flavorings to add to brine: nbsp; You can add flavor in all sorts of forms such as herbs and spices. Use brown sugar, honey, or molasses in place of the sugar (some sweetness tends to offset a saltiness the brine might otherwise impart). You can also use apple juice, cider, orange juice, beer, wine, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, stock, tea, or other liquids to replace some or all of the water. You can also put together decidedly Oriental flavorings with soy sauce or the Japanese rice wine mirin. In other words, be creative if you wish!
Refrigerate Turkey While Brining - Refrigeration is absolutely required during brining:
The main logistical problem with brining is that you need a container that's large enough to submerge your turkey in the brine, but will fit in your refrigerator or cooler. The meat and brine solution must be kept below 40 degrees F. at all times. Since brining does not preserve meat, the turkey and brine must be kept refrigerated at all times.
If storing the poultry in the refrigerator during brining, check to make sure that the container will fit in your refrigerator first! A container large enough to hold a whole turkey might be too big for your refrigerator.
First, choose a cooler that is large enough to keep the turkey completely submerged during the brining process. It is important to thoroughly clean and sanitize the cooler before and after use.
You must keep the poultry and brine cold without diluting the mixture when using a cooler. Put the meat and brine directly in the cooler, then place Ziploc bags filled with ice or reusable gel packs into the brine solution.
Another approach is to put the turkey and brine into a turkey oven roasting bag inside the cooler, and then pack ice or gel packs around the bag.
Monitor the temperature of the cooler (using a Digital Thermometer) to make sure it stays below 40 degrees F. at all times.
Turkey Brining Bags:
Use large brining bags that can be found in What's Cooking America's Kitchen Store online. These brining bags are very easy to use and take up less room in your refrigerator or cooler. Bags are sold large enough to hold a 20-pound turkey.
Every now and then, turn the bag around and upside down to ensure even brining.
For brining chicken, I use either small brining bags or regular re-sealable plastic bags.
How Long To Brine Poultry:
It is possible to end up with meat that's too salty for your taste. To avoid this, brine on the low end of the time range on your first attempt. You can always brine longer next time, but there's no way to salvage a piece of meat that's been brined too long.
Whole Chicken (4 pounds)
4 to 12 hours
1 to 1 1/2 hours
1 to 2 days
5 to 8 hours
Cornish Game Hens
1 to 2 hours
Selecting the Turkey for Brining:
When purchasing a turkey for brining, choose a natural turkey (not a self-basted bird that's been injected with a solution of salt and other flavorings). Look for the words "natural" or "no additives added."
Choose a 12- to 20-pound turkey. If the turkey is frozen, thaw according to the package directions before brining.
Remove and discard any leg restraints from the purchased turkey. Remove the giblets from the neck cavity and the neck from the body cavity (save in the refrigerator or freezer for making Perfect Turkey Gravy). Trim away any large areas of fat or excess skin around the body cavity, and cut off the tail.
Rinse thoroughly, inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels.
Choose a container large enough to hold your turkey and brine mixture, plus it must be able to fit either in your refrigerator or a large cooler.
Your turkey is now ready for brining.
Poultry Brine Recipe:
Recipe Type: Poultry and Chicken
Yields: enough for one (1) whole turkey
Prep time: 30 min
For each gallon of cold water used in the brine, add the following:
3/4 cup coarse kosher salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup boiling water
1 gallon cold water
1 tablespoon black pepper
Whole Turkey: A heavy-duty large food-grade plastic, stainless steel, or glass container (5- to 6-gallon). Large brining bags may also be used. Weight with a plate, if necessary, to keep the meat fully covered by the brine. See above How To Refrigerate Poultry During Brining.
Chicken: Stainless-steel bowl or re-sealable plastic bag can work as a brining container, as long as the poultry is fully submerged. Weight with a plate, if necessary, to keep the meat fully covered by the brine.
Determine How Much Brine Is Needed
To determine how much brine you'll need, place the poultry (chicken or turkey) to be brined in your chosen container. Add water to cover. Remove the poultry and measure the water.
Dissolve salt and sugar in the boiling water. Add it to the cold water; add pepper and stir to combine.
Chill brine completely in the refrigerator before adding poultry. Place your poultry in the water and place in the refrigerator for the time required.
Rinse poultry twice after removing it from the brine solution; discard brine. If you are not ready to cook at the end of the brining time, remove from brine and rinse the meat. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Do not salt brined meat before cooking. Cook poultry according to your favorite recipe. Do not overcook your brined poultry. Once brined, the poultry cooks faster so be careful and use a Meat Thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat.
This is the type of cooking and meat thermometer that I prefer and use in my cooking. I get many readers asking what cooking/meat thermometer that I prefer and use in my cooking and baking. I, personally, use the Thermapen Thermometer shown in the photo on the right. Originally designed for professional users, the Super-Fast Thermapen Thermometer is used by chefs all over the world. To learn more about this excellent thermometer and to also purchase one (if you desire), just click on the underlined: Thermapen Thermometer.
Turkey Cooking Techniques:
Planning your Thanksgiving dinner:
Thanksgiving Day is the time to gather with your friends and family, turn on some football, and enjoy your Thanksgiving meal. Plan ahead and have a wonderful stress-free Thanksgiving dinner: