The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey Brine
For those of us serious about our Thanksgiving turkeys, brining is an essential step. A good brine goes a long way in sealing in flavor and adding depth to one of our most traditional holiday meals. The Related Life recently reached out to Ted Rosen, executive chef at Dickson’s Farmstand Meats, to share a rundown of the different approaches to brining. Keep reading to learn more about the process and see two of his favorite recipes.
Choosing Your Brine Style
The first step in successfully brining a turkey is deciding which method you will tackle. Brining falls into two categories: wet and dry. A wet brine is exactly what it sounds like: Submerging your turkey (or capon! or goose!) in a flavorful, salted liquid that seasons and flavors the bird. A dry brine is, well, the dry version of that: Sprinkling a salty spice blend all around (and inside) your turkey to achieve similar results.
Whichever method you choose, the chemistry is pretty similar: adding salt to your bird actually helps it retain moisture during the cooking process, so you are left with a juicy, succulent bird.
The next thing to decide is how much time and space you have to devote to your turkey. Typically, a wet brine will take 24 hours to be effective. A dry brine will take slightly longer to fully season your turkey (think 36-48 hours). Additionally, with a wet brine you will also need to secure a vessel big enough to hold your turkey and all the liquid, but small enough to fit in a refrigerator. Brining bags are a good solution and relatively easily sourced form amazon or other kitchen supply stores. For a dry brine you just need a sheet tray (i like to place my bird on a resting rack to allow any juices to flow off the bird) and an empty shelf in your fridge.
For either method, you’ll want to prepare your brine in advance.
Recipe for a Wet Brine
○ 1 gallon water
○ 1 gallon ice water
○ 2 cups Kosher Salt
○ 1 cup Brown Sugar
○ 2 tbsp Black Peppercorn
○ 1 tbsp Coriander seed
○ 1 tbsp Allspice
○ 1 tbsp Dry Thyme
○ Zest of one Orange
How to Wet-Brine a Turkey
1.) Bring the regular water to a simmer and dissolve the salt and sugar. Add your aromatics and let them steep like a tea to infuse their flavor.
2.) Turn off the heat and add the ice water (you may need to move your brine to a larger container). Allow your brine to cool to room temperature (overnight on the stove is totally fine).
3.) Two days in advance of when you plan to roast your bird, drop the turkey in brine and allow it to brine overnight in the refrigerator.
4.) Twenty-four hours later, remove the bird from the brine (discard the brine) and place it on a sheet tray fitted with a rack. Place the bird in your refrigerator, uncovered, for another 24 hours to allow the skin to dry out. If you put the bird into the oven with wet skin you will end up with soggy, leathery skin.
5.) On the day of cooking, pull the bird out 2-3 hours before you plan on roasting. Preheat your oven to 350°F and place the bird leg-side facing the back of your oven. Cook until an internal temperature of 150°F is reached in the breast (don't worry, your turkey will continue to cook while resting).
6.) Your bird will need to rest for AT LEAST 1 hour. If you carve the bird straight out of the oven. you’ll be left with dry, shredded meat. Don’t undo all that hard work you just did! Carve and serve with hot gravy and enjoy!
Recipe for a Dry Brine:
○ 1 cup Kosher Salt
○ 1/3 cup Sugar
○ 2 tbsp Dried Sage
○ 2 tbsp Dried Marjoram
○ 2 tbsp Dried Thyme
○ 1 tbsp Paprika
○ 1 tsp Black Pepper
○ Zest from one lemon
○ Zest from one orange
How to Dry-Brine a Turkey
1.) Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Store in a sealed container for up to a week.
2.) Two days prior to cooking the turkey, cover your bird liberally inside and out with the dry mix (use more than you think you’ll need) and place on a sheet tray in your refrigerator, uncovered. The benefit of the dry brine is that it will both season the bird AND dry out the skin at the same time. This will lead to a flavor bird with the crispiest skin you've ever had!
3.) The day of cooking, pull the bird out 2-3 hours before you plan to roast. Cook according to the directions above.
Some More Helpful Tips
Executive Chef Ted Rosen also shared the following bites of advice intended to keep you calm during the Thanksgiving Day rush.
LET IT REST, PLEASE!
For the love of god, let your turkey rest. It will need AT LEAST 1 hour if not 2 to properly rest. Cooking creates a ton of pressure inside the bird and if you start cutting into it as soon as it pops out of the oven all the juice will come flowing out into your pan and not in the bird. A well rested bird is also more tender and way easier to carve. Your hands will thank you!
Have a big crew coming over? Tell one friend to bring wine, one cousin to bring pie, one sibling to make the green bean casserole. Everyone loves feeling involved and it can be a life-saver especially if you’re entertaining in a NYC kitchen. Asking for help doesn't make you a bad host, it makes you the Executive Chef of Thanksgiving!
HAVE A PLAN
In our restaurant we call it “Mise-En-Place” or planning and prepping ahead of service to allow for smooth execution of all the dishes. Make a shopping list and try to stick to it. Also, lots of thanksgiving dishes can be made days in advance: casseroles, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, breads. Just pop them in the oven while the turkey is resting (well, not the gravy or cranberry sauce but you get it). The only thing you’ll want to definitely make day of are mashed potatoes (they get gummy in the refrigerator).
HAVE A PLAN PART II: WORK BACKWARDS.
Knowing what time you want to eat and working backwards will help you plan out your day. Assume 2-3 hours of cooking time (for any thing 10-15 lbs) and 1 hour of resting time for the turkey. Ideally the rest of your dishes are more or less made ahead and just waiting to be reheated or browned in the oven. I usually cook my turkey first thing in the morning and let it hang out all afternoon on the counter. That way its done and i can move on to sides It’ll stay warmer than you think, plus if you have hot gravy who cares how warm the turkey is??
The Related Life is written and produced by the Related Life Editorial Team. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for the latest events, news and announcements in your area, and tag us for a chance to be featured @therelatedlife and #therelatedlife.