What is the best way to brine a turkey?


People, it seems, are scared to cook turkey, remembering past meals of overcooked, dry meat. Today, we turn to brining and a short cook time to give us the perfect bird.

There are two kinds of brining: wet and dry.

Wet brining involves submerging your turkey in litres of heavily salted water. I never wet brine because the turkey absorbs some of the liquid during the process, making the juices watery. Plus, you need to empty out your refrigerator to make room for such a large container of brining turkey.

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Dry brining is my go-to solution – for turkeys (even just turkey breasts) and all other poultry. With a dry brine, the salt interacts by osmosis with the turkey juices to create a strong natural brine. This equals juiciness, tenderness and flavour.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Use Diamond Kosher salt for brining. Its texture and flakiness are best for absorption. If you use table salt, cut the amount in half.
  • The ratio I prefer is 1 tbsp (15 ml) Kosher salt to every 4 pounds (2 kilograms) of turkey.
  • Mixing a 1/2 tsp baking powder in with the salt makes the skin crispier.
  • Herbs give another level of flavour. Add rosemary, grated lemon zest, tarragon, paprika or whatever else you like.
  • Liberally salt the bird inside and out and refrigerate, uncovered, for one to two days. Then, pat the turkey dry but do not rinse. Because the bird absorbs about 1 tbsp of the salt mixture during this process, do not salt before roasting.
  • Kosher turkeys are prebrined, by Jewish laws, to remove all the blood. If you want a brined turkey but cannot be bothered to do it yourself, this is the perfect solution.

To make sure your turkey is perfection, use the high-heat method. Start at 400 F. Roast for 15 minutes per pound for the first 10 pounds, and then 7 minutes per pound for each successive one, turning the heat down to 375 F after one hour. (A 14-pound turkey, for example, will cook for 150 minutes for the first 10 pounds (10 x 15 minutes) and 28 minutes for the last 4 pounds (4 x 7 minutes), giving a total cooking time of about three hours. For stuffing, add an extra 15 minutes.)

Roast it on a rack so that air circulates around the bird. If the skin is browning too much, brush butter or turkey drippings onto cheesecloth or parchment paper, and lay it over the skin for the last hour. Never cover with foil or you will get a steamed bird.

Good technique takes the terror out of cooking your holiday dinner.

Need some advice about kitchen life and entertaining quandries? Send your questions to lwaverman@globeandmail.com.

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