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Feb 23, 2008 09:51 AM

Brining - how to make it less of a pain in the...

My quest for the most delicious home-made turkey-ranch sandwich ever starts with a brined turkey breast that I grill on my Big Green Egg for 1.5 hours with some cherry wood nearby.

The biggest pain-in-the-butt part of this quest is brining the bone-in skin-on 6 pound or so turkey breast.

I want to try the "dry-brining" technique described in other topics, but the problem is it takes so much longer than wet brining (days vs hours). If I pick up a turkey breast on Friday and want to cook it on Sunday, wet brining is the only option. (right?)

Goal: To make the brine, put the turkey breast in, and start brining in ONE MOTION / one cooking session. And immediately put it in the fridge for 1.25 hours per pound of turkey breast.

Obstacles figured out:

1) Not enough space in the fridge

Buy a spare fridge and keep in the garage. I was surprised at how inexpensive the very-basic but full-size refrigerators are, and also how inexpensive they are to run per year. Why did I make so long to do this? Makes entertaining, Thanksgiving, and Christmas a lot easier also.

Helps minimize risk of cross-contamination also while there's all this raw poultry around.

2) Don't have the right size container to brine the turkey breast

Bought a set of those square lexan food-safe plastic containers from a restaurant supply place. I use the 12 quart size for turkey, the smaller ones for other meats marinating or brining. Very handy; and square shape is efficient use of space!

3) Recipes always underestimate how much brine I need to adequately cover the meat,

Double the recipe for brine. I've found 1 BIG (8 pound) turkey breast needs 2 gallons of brine when using the square containers.

I have used those plastic bags which allow for less brine required. However, I don't want to pour hot brine into a thin plastic bag. Easier to make more.

4) Brine takes WAY too long to cool to safe temps for the turkey (< 40 deg) if you use all the water in the boiling part, or if you don't hold back enough for the ice to immediately get the mixture to 40 degrees.

This is the biggest pain.

Example: I called ahead while driving home and asked a relative visiting to start boiling the water for my 2 gallon brine recipe. I forgot to mention holding back some of the water for the ice part. OK no problem, I thought. I'll just let it cool down in the fridge...

Any guesses as to how many hours it took to take 2 gallons of brine solution to cool from hot (barely not boiling) to 39 degrees in my near-empty spare fridge?

Hint: I had to make something else - no turkey that weekend!
Answer: It went into the fridge at 1am. The fridge temp (I have a sensor wiht display mounted on top of the fridge) IMMEDIATELY went up to 72 degrees! At 2pm the next afternoon it was only 49 degrees!!! I think I finally started brining at 5pm. It might have been ready at 4. Good grief.

The other problem (experienced today) if you don't use ENOUGH water to dissolve all the brine, not all the salt dissolves because it's super-salinated. I tried:

End goal: 2 gallons of brine.
Basic Brine ratios: 1 gallon of Brine: 1 cup salt :: 1 cup sweet :: 1 gallon water :: 6 bay leaves :: 0.5 head garlic smashed :: whatever other herbs I want
So for 2 gallons of brine:
2 cups salt :: 2 cups sweet :: 2 gallon water :: 12 bay leaves :: 1 head garlic smashed :: and today I added 2 tbsp of dry Italian herbs

Started with: 1 gallon of water to boil, which would leave 1 gallon for the ice water
Problem: not of the 2 cups of salt would dissolve
Added: 4 cups of water. Then, all of the salt dissolved.

Problem: Adding: 1 gallon (minus 4 cups) of ice water. But that resulted in a temp of 65 degrees. Now I'm having to wait again while that cools in the fridge to 39. Probably a couple hours. Argh.

Next time I'll hold back 50% of water again. I'd rather have some of the salt un-dissolved than have to wait for the brine to cool.

And yes, moist juicy flavorful turkey meat for argula salads, turkey-ranch sandwiches, etc is worth it...

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  1. I have one of those big containers to brine a Turkey breast or chicken in too. I figure out how much water I need by putting the bird in the container while still sealed in plastic, cover with water, remove the bird and read the amount from the markings on the container. As far as getting the brine down to temp, I make mine up the day before or early the same day and only heat it enough for the salt and sugar to melt, let it cool on the cooktop. Haven't tried a dry brine but it sounds interesting.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Eric in NJ

      It sounds like the majority of these problems can be solved by simply using a smaller container to brine the turkey in -- most importantly, if you use a ROUND container instead of a square one, you're automatically going to need less brine, because the brine doesn't need to fill the space in the corners where there's no turkey anyway.

      Every Thanksgiving, I brine our turkey in our 10-quart stockpot, which requires about a gallon of brine (usually a bit less) all told, because the stockpot is only barely larger around than the turkey, maybe a half-inch on either side of the widest part of the bird -- why would it need to be any bigger than that?

      1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

        Thanks Barmy, I just used a round stockpot, and it saved 2 quarts of brine or so for a 8 pound turkey breast, so now I have some for pork chops if I store unneeded brine in the fridge. Using a bag also probably would have saved another 2 quarts. But I only have 1 gallon plastic bags on hand; too small for turkey + brine.

        More timing data: I still had to add more ice to the brine today.
        In fridge 11:30 am - 3:30pm took the temp from 65 to 50 degrees F !

      2. re: Eric in NJ

        Thanks Eric, Good tip for volume estimation!

        I have tried the day-before cool-on-cooktop method also. But what I'm really after is a way to make-it-in-1-step, without advance day-before work, as I frequently don't get back home till Fridays.

        My other worry in doing that is : With the other fresh things in the brine at room temperature (smashed garlic cloves) is there any worry about bacteria growth at room temp?

        I don't know. I do known that I've been food-poisoned before. It was really bad for me, but it almost killed an elderly relative.

        This is why I treat poultry almost like nuclear waste pre-cooking. (I follow the recommendation from a link someone posted here on Chowhound where a scientist tested # of bacteria after combinations after rinsing with peroxide and white vinegar. She found that first rinsing with peroxide, (then rinsing with water?) then rinsing withwith white vinegar (in that order) did was the best combination for removing bacteria from her testing.

        So that's what I do now. The asterisk was around the fact that it's not safe to consume peroxide straight ; - ). Key assumption was that it would be rinsed off.)

      3. Perhaps to cool a hot brine down, you could pour it from one container to another so that it loses heat. Ideally, you could pour it from one container into another container that's immersed in a sink full of iced water. This might be tedious, but the heat would eventually transfer out of the brine sooner so that you could use it. Also pouring a hot liquid into several smaller containers or into a shallow pan would disperse heat faster. Consider setting up a fan to blow air across to cool things down too.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Judyluvs

          re: pouring from 1 container to another

          Thanks Judy. I have tried that, and it does work (cools the brine much faster than in a fridge.)

          What I've done is keep a big picture of ice handy and use 2 stock pots.

          Swirl ice in the empty stock pot; empty out the ice in a 3'rd container.
          Pour hot brine in till the original brine pot is empty. Ice the brine pot.

          My results were each iteration took 1 gallon of brine down 15 - 20 degrees. (as taken with a laser thermometer.)

          I'm trying to find a solution that makes this unnecessary though. It dirties up an extra pot plus 2 other containers, and takes more time than just getting the ice ratio right to begin with.

        2. Instead of using ice water you could use ice cubes. The cubes will last a bit rather than dispersing immediately and will cool more of the surface area of the brine.

          5 Replies
          1. re: JoanN

            Thanks for the tip Joan. I will try that.

            What measure of ice should I use instead of the ice water?

            I'd guess I would need more ice than the amount of ice water called for, but how much more?

            1. re: sweet100s

              I once poured 1 cup of water into my ice cube tray so I know that 8 filled-to-the-brim ice cubes equals one scant cup of water. Since I also use my ice cube tray for freezing stock and other liquids, I know just how many cubes I need to defrost for the amount of stock I'll need. This is probably an easier way to approach it than to try to figure out the volume differential.

              1. re: JoanN

                Excellent! Thanks!

                I have a U-line ice maker in the laundry room adjacent to the kitchen.
                (Originally I had it as part of the kitchen island. When the first one died, I moved it to the adjacent laundry room. Much less noise in the kitchen during the ice cycle.)

                So I'd need to do the reverse of what you do - take out 1/2 gallon of ice and see volume it uses after it melts!

                Thank you for the tip Joan.

              2. re: sweet100s

                You can put your ice in ziplock bags and eliminate any dillution of the brine.

                1. re: sweet100s

                  I don't have nearly enough room in my house to contemplate brining a turkey or a turkey breast nor a garage for the spare frig, but I do know the answer to the question about ice!
                  For the basic ice cube tray, each cube is approx 1/8 of a cup. I freeze extra stock in ice cube trays and then place the cubes into zip lock bags when frozen. 4 cubes is about 1/2 cup, so knowing how much each cube measures makes it easy to know how much to take out.

              3. Others have addressed the brining issue so I won't, but I want to address your cooling issue. I believe the problem with the temperature of the fridge spiking up to 75 and taking hours to achieve a lower temperature is that you are putting your hot brined breast into an empty fridge. A full(er) refrigerator is more efficient and less costly to run. You might consider packing the refrigerator with stuff, if only just bins or containers of cold water, the day before you brine.

                1 Reply
                1. re: janniecooks

                  That would definitely improve the temp situation. I do have some soda in the very bottom drawers; maybe 8 cans or so.

                  I could add more soda cans to the area above it.

                  But then if there's any spillage on the cans, it would require more time to sanitize the area and the cans.

                2. I don't always boil my brine first. Just shake until dissolved but you could boil it ahead of time. I'm sure it would keep for days in the fridge. I have also brined in a thick freezer zip lock bag. Squeezing the air out so a little brine goes a long way and all the meat is in contact. To be safe I do place the bag in bowl so no leaks can mess the fridge.