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To brine or not to brine?

I have been roasting supermarket turkeys (successfully!) for 25 years, and never heard of brining them until a couple of years ago. I always cover the turkey with cheesecloth soaked in oil, baste occasionally, and that's been sufficient to produce a juicy bird. But this year I'm getting a turkey that's natural, organic, etc. etc. and I wonder if I will need to do anything different, like brining, to get the result I'm used to getting. It sounds like a lot of trouble. Is it really worth it?

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  1. This question may spark the whole debate once again. While it is not necesary, a brined bird is a good one. The easy way around it is to go for an Empire Kosher one. Plucking the feathers that remain is annoying but less time consuming and messy than the brining route. (Feathers remain on Kosher turkeys since they must be plucked under cold water so its not as efficient.)

    1. Basting doesn't make for juicy meat as the bird's skin (like yours) is a very effective moisture barrier. You have to get something (butter, oil, brine) underneath the skin.

      Try brining a chicken and see what you think. I am a huge fan and have been for years.
      It's no trouble at all, except that you have to take into account the hours "in the drink" and the hour or so air drying.

      I am also a huge fan of dry brining, ala Judy Rodger's Zuni Cafe Chicken. You rub the chicken with salt and pepper (I also use a little sugar) and let it sit overnight.

      I would VERY HIGHLY recommend trying the Zuni Chicken with bread salad recipe. You'll find lots of discussion here at Chow about how fantastic it is.

      Here is the recipe: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9123872/

      It seems like once you try brining you are either a lifelong convert or you dislike it. The only way to know is to try it! Good luck.

      2 Replies
      1. re: C. Hamster

        We buy organic free-range birds and I wholeheartedly recommend brining for a juicy bird, as our turkeys are very lean. Hardly any fat to speak of after roasting. I brine a 12 - 14 lb turkey for 24 hours in a regular picnic cooler -- I find this is an optimal time for tenderness/juiciness. What I do is roast the turkey upside down (ie breast side down) on a rack under 450F for about an hour. The bird's back will be crispy and brown. Then, turn the heat down to halfway between 325 and 350, flip the bird over and roast until done. Flipping is usually not difficult as I find most organic free range birds to be not more than 14 lbs.

        Baste every 20 minutes. I add about a cup of water/white wine mixture to the pan for basting and moisture. I guarantee you the juice will spray out of the breast when the turkey is done. I do not stuff the turkey, I make dressing on the side. Sometimes turkeys get dry because people roast it to cook the stuffing.

        When everyone raves about your turkey, you will find it is well worth the effort.

        1. re: sweeterpea

          While I totally agree with you about brining, I disagree about basting. It's been scientifically proven that basting does nothing more than brown the skin of the turkey -- which generally browns pretty well on its own. The turkey's skin is basically waterproof and will prevent the liquid from being absorbed by the meat. And opening the oven door so often isn't such a great thing either. Your turkey sprays its juice only becasue of the brine.

          http://www.realsimple.com/realsimple/...

          http://www.norbest.com/d_cooking_perf...

          http://www.goodeatsfanpage.com/Refere...

      2. Most "supermarket" or mass produced turkeys are injected with a brine like solution. Media chefs bad mouthed the injected turkeys and home cooks followed, however they found their turkeys dry and lacking in taste.

        Seems the choices are: buy a injected turkey or brine one that hasn't been injected.

        My first experience with a brined turkey was, "too salty". I know of 4 families that tried brining and went back to injected. The latest "fad" is deep fried injected turkey.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Alan408

          Oh wow, I never knew that they were already injected thanks for the info. I think for the OP, if brining is too much, try injecting with a homemade brine. I'm not sure exactly how effective injection is but it's always a good way to add flavor to the inside of the turkey.

        2. I brined a chicken once, way back, and it was too salty for us. My DH, who salts salt, even thought it was far too salty. I ended up discarding it. Never have trie again. Now I use injectables, or I have a great herb basting sauce.

          5 Replies
          1. re: danhole

            too much salt in the brine and leaving it to brine too long can make your meat taste salty. We use very little salt in day to day cooking and we find when we brine our turkey, it's not salty at all. I forgot to say, when preparing for roasting, don't add any extra salt to the bird.

            1. re: sweeterpea

              are you supposed to wash the bird after brining? And, what if you are seasoning before roasting; adding lemons, herbs, pepper, etc? Do you also need to add some more salt?

              1. re: mschow

                I've rinsed and not rinsed and can't tell much of a difference. It is really important to let the bird completely air dry before you cook it though, otherwise it's hard to get the wet skin crisped up. So if you rinse it, make sure you do that before you air dry it.

                I stuff the cavity with aromatics like onion, garlic, celery and fresh herbs and some cut up lemon if I have it. I also soak some bread chunks in white wine and stuff them in there too. No salt.

                Make up some UNSALTED broth with the giblets and combine it with the salty pan drippings for your gravy. The drippings alone are usually too salty.

                Brining is actually a very easy process. It just takes a bit of advance planning. Brine. Air Dry. Roast. Yum..

                1. re: C. Hamster

                  I don't rinse, and after taking the turkey out of the brining solution, I let it rest at room temp for about an hour. Because we brine in ice cold water in a cooler, this allows to bring the temp. up a bit for more even cooking, as well as to dry the skin. I towel dry as well. Like C Hamster, I tuff the cavity with herbs and lemon (squeezing the juice into the water/wine solution) I also slip sage and rosemary under the skin of the breast and the thighs as well.

                  We don't find the drippings salty at all, plus the water/wine solution with lemon adds a fantastic flavor to the gravy. However, it is important to note at no time do we add any additional salt.

                  1. re: sweeterpea

                    As with the poster below I also rub the bird with extra virgin olive oil; I also use a little paprika (not too much), and freshy ground pepper. The paprika gives the bird a beautiful color as well.

          2. You're an old pro at this and won't have any trouble making the switch to a natural, organic turkey as long as you're buying it from a reliable producer from whom you've been buying other poultry. The popularity of organic birds has gotten some people onto the market who ain't quite ready for prime time, so there has been some inconsistency in the birds that have reached stores and farmers' market. As always, a trusted source is your best friend. I didn't notice any difference in cooking between them and the supermarket bird. If you buy a good turkey, you'll cook a good turkey if you know how to cook them, except for wild and heritage birds, but that's another thing altogether.

            I've been brining game and some birds for a long time but only brine large (over 18 pound) turkeys to keep the breast from drying out before the dark meat is done. I also use a fairly light brining solution and wash the turkey or other meats well before cooking (I even soak them for a little while in plain water sometime) after getting drippings that were far too salty to use for gravy.

            C. Hamster has it right about basting. It doesn't do anything to promote juiciness and only lowers the oven temperature. I've even stopped wasting cheesecloth on covering the breast. I switched to olive oil rather than butter for rubbing the turkey down before cooking with a mixture of herbs, garlic, s&p, which I rub well under the skin, getting it as far up into the spaces as I can. Having the oil on top of and under the skin makes it crisp as potato chips and it browns beautifully. If the turkey is very large, I might have to tent it with foil during the last 1/2 hour or so of cooking. Other than that, I open the oven when I put it in and when I take it out.
            There are few things as easy to cook as a turkey.