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Holidays, Recipes

Countdown to Thanksgiving: to brine or not to brine?

This is it, foodies! Thanksgiving is officially less than one week away. Are you as excited as I am?! (I’m not even American and I love this holiday! It represents some universal themes like gratitude, togetherness, family, and of course, good food that I think everyone can relate to regardless of nationality).

Have you ordered your turkey yet? If you’ll be using a fresh turkey this year, be sure to put your order in with the butcher asap if you haven’t already, to ensure a prime pick. And if you’ll be using a frozen one, start thinking about buying it in the next few days so it has time to thaw properly. The recommended method for thawing a frozen turkey is to leave it to gradually thaw in the fridge, which requires approx. 24 hours for every 5 pounds. However, if for some reason you’re unable to buy your turkey in advance, the fastest way to thaw it is the cold-water method, which can thaw your turkey at a rate of approx. 30 minutes per pound (just make sure to keep the turkey in its packaging or else it’ll absorb water and lose some of its flavor).

Now the question remains…to brine, or not to brine? I say brine. Being a relatively lean meat, turkey is prone to becoming very dry very quickly, particularly if you are planning to cook a bigger bird that requires longer time in the oven. And the last thing you want after all the time and energy you’ll spend putting your Thanksgiving feast together is to end up with dry turkey meat. Brining was actually first used as a method of preserving meat (salt is a natural preservative), but the brining we’re after in this case is known as “flavor brining” and the purpose is to help make the turkey juicier and more flavorful by soaking it in a saline solution for up to 24 hours before cooking. I won’t get too scientific here- but brining works because the saline solution you submerge the turkey in contains a higher concentration of water, salts and other flavors than the meat, so the processes of osmosis and diffusion will result in the turkey cells absorbing some of these substances to achieve equilibrium, resulting in moist, juicy and flavorful meat. Suffice it to say that trust me, it works! Brining also helps cut down the need for frequent basting during the cooking process, so you can focus your attention on other things.

Here is a simple brining recipe that I have used before (to great results!) and will be using it again this year:

  • 2 gallons water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 bunch sage
  • 4 sprigs parsley
  • 4 springs mint
  • 2 oranges, quartered
  • 2 lemons, quartered
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

Heat 0.5 gallon of the water in a large pot and dissolve sugar and salt. Remove from heat add the remaining 1.5 gallons of water (preferably very cold water to bring the temperature down faster), as well as the other ingredients. Crush the herbs and garlic cloves a little bit before adding to the mixture to release their oils and flavors. Squeeze the juice of the lemons and oranges before adding the pieces to the pot. Don’t worry about neatly chopping your ingredients – you’re just using them for flavor and they will not make it into your final dish. Make sure the mixture is cool before submerging the turkey in it (otherwise it’ll partly cook the turkey, so refrigerate it first if necessary!), and if the pot is big enough you can use it for the brining. Otherwise, use a brining bag. Place the fridge for up to 24 hours before cooking (NEVER leave uncooked poultry at room temperature for longer than 15-30 minutes unless you are using the cold water thawing method. Even then, you need to ensure the water stays icy cold by replacing it frequently with new water). Brine recipe can be scaled up or down depending on how big your turkey is.

In good health,


* Image courtesy of Food Network



2 thoughts on “Countdown to Thanksgiving: to brine or not to brine?

  1. I believe in brining a turkey to insure a nice moist bird.

    Posted by Karen | November 19, 2011, 3:21 AM
  2. Keep up the good work!

    Posted by Kyle Hubbard | November 23, 2011, 10:11 PM

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