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Brining the bird

  • m

Well, it's time to think about that Thanksgiving turkey. Fresh vs. frozen, natural, organic, pre-basted???? Last year I followed the advice of a chef friend of mine who recommended brining the turkey in a solution of equal parts brown sugar and salt. The resulting bird was deliciously moist and tasty however...the pan drippings produced a gravy that was very salty. I still haven't decided what type of bird to buy. I really liked the idea of a brined bird but think I should reduce the salt in the brine solution. Any suggestions out there?

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  1. I've always read that if you brine your bird, your drippings will be too salty. Some friends of mine won't do it, just because of that. You could try reducing the salt, OR just use your giblets and "parts" (neck and such like) to make a wonderful stock without salt, and only use a little bit of your drippings for flavor.

    1. You can definitely safely reduce the salt in your brine to produce a better balanced gravy...but please try the Marthastewartliving.com - recipe finder. And look up Turkey 101 with the search feature. SHe did an amazing bird with a butter and white wine baste that was outstanding (that I believe was brined. The gravy was not salty but it was a recipe for a dark gravy with the giblets and all ground in. If I can find it in my files...I'll add the post

      Turkey brine is also great with a 1/3rd to 1/2 ratio apple juice or cider replacing that amount of the water.

      1. Here's a question I have: I saw a recipe a few years ago for turkey with chopped bacon butter under the skin, and I've been wanting to try it, because I have a love for anything bacon. However, I've been brining my birds for the past few years and have been very pleased with the results: do you think that the bacon + a brined bird will make for a too salty turkey?

        1. We do a heritage turkey every year. We start by brining, then air-drying, then smoking and finally roasting it. I seldom bother with gravy because DH and I don't like it but last year we were taking it to SIL's house so I made it from stock and added drippings. It was horribly salty, presumably from the drippings.

          I don't intend to change the way the turkey is done, it makes a fabulously smoky, juicy, tasty bird which everyone loves. But I wouldn't use the drippings for anything, just discard. You can make gravy from the stock made with the neck, giblets etc. and it should be fine.

          1. I brined my turkey last year in equal parts apple cider and chicken broth. Just enough salt to get the diffusion/osmosis reaction going but not enough to mess up the drippings. It turned out very well.

            An alternative would be to buy a kosher turkey which you would not have to brine at all. They are essentially brined in the koshering process but never produce overly salty drippings.

            1. If you're using a kosher bird, don't brine. Just about any other decent bird can benefit from brining. We've been using the brining proportions and instructions from Cook's Poultry book and have never had a problem with the gravy being too salty. We even use a different gravy recipe every year, and still no problems.

              1 Reply
              1. re: rockycat

                That's one of their books I don't have. Could you post the proportions, please? Gravy eaters everywhere will thank you!

              2. If you brine your turkey with Alice Water's recipe, it won't be too salty. I've done this turkey every year since I got the recipe. It will make you the best turkey, ever. I've posted it on Chowhound many time.


                2 Replies
                1. re: OnceUponABite

                  I have always used the Chez Panisse recipe also and my drippings are never too salty either.

                  1. re: OnceUponABite

                    I just looked at your post and I use a different Chez Panisse brine recipe than the one you have linked to. The one I use was posted in the SF Chronicle 7 years ago. This is the recipe I use:


                    CHEZ PANISSE'S BRINE FOR MEATS


                    -- 2 1/2 gallons cold water

                    -- 2 cups kosher salt

                    -- 1 cup sugar

                    -- 2 bay leaves, torn into pieces

                    -- 1 bunch fresh thyme, or 4 tablespoons dried

                    -- 1 whole head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled

                    -- 5 whole allspice berries, crushed

                    -- 4 juniper berries, smashed

                    INSTRUCTIONS: Place the water in a large pot that can easily hold the liquid and the meat you intend to brine.

                    Add all ingredients and stir for a minute or two until the sugar and salt dissolve.

                    Leave poultry in the brine for 24 hours; pork for 3 days. If the meat/ poultry floats to the top, use a plate or other weight to keep it completely submerged in the brine.

                    Note: The recipe may be halved or doubled; the important thing is to have enough brine to completely cover the meat or poultry.

                    To roast a brined chicken: Drain well. Pat dry and stuff with onions, lemons and herbs. Rub the skin with oil to help browning and sprinkle with pepper (salt isn't needed because of the brine). Roast in a 400 degrees oven until done; generally about 1 hour and 15 minutes for a 3 1/2- to 4-pound bird.

                    To roast a boneless brined pork roast: Place the meat in a roasting pan and roast at 400 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes per pound, until the center is just pink, or until the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees to 160 degrees.

                  2. The Chez Panisse proportions of salt/sugar to water look pretty spot on.

                    Cook's Illustrated claims that it is a mistake to use too little salt in the brine -- you won't get the desired effect. For their "quick brines" they use a LOT of salt.

                    I have brined poultry (chickens and turkeys) for maybe 10 years using the 1 cup of kosher salt to 1 gallon water ratio (with sugar and aromatics) and now reduce the salt a bit and add soy sauce to up the umami.

                    I almost always make gravy with the drippings, but I do, like "LT from LF" suggests, above, make unsalted giblet broth and use that to balance out the saltiness of the defatted drippings. I have never had a problem making an excellent deep, rich tasting gravy this way.

                    I don't stuff my birds because of the food safety/quality issues that presents, but wonder if brining makes the stuffing salty.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: C. Hamster

                      I stuff my brined bird and it's also never too salty. The broth I use for the gravy is usually a homemade version from a local grocery store that is low in salt, so that might help.

                    2. I've been making a brined turkey for the past few years using Emeril's Brined and Roasted Turkey recipe. For 2 gallons of water, he calls for:
                      1 cup salt
                      1 cup brown sugar
                      2 oranges, quartered
                      2 lemons, quartered
                      6 sprigs thyme
                      4 sprigs rosemary

                      It's delicious!!!!!!!