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NYT/Harold McGee - Don't Brine!

applehome Nov 18, 2008 01:25 PM

Why you *SHOULDN'T* brine that turkey. Finally common sense (and science) prevails:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/12/din...

  1. a
    Avalondaughter Nov 18, 2008 01:49 PM

    This article seems to assume that brines are only made of salt water. The first time I tried a brined turkey, my mother made a brine with juniper berries and some other herbs. I made my first T-day last year and used a cider brine. In both cases, there was lots of flavor in an otherwise bland meat.

    I had a pretty good gravy with mine too. It wasn't too salty at all.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Avalondaughter
      applehome Nov 18, 2008 02:16 PM

      With the addition of acid (cider) you were marinading - not brining. Brine is mostly salt, some sugar. Brining is typically done for a day or two (to get the full effect of the salt), whereas marinades are done for a shorter time.

      1. re: applehome
        Phaedrus Nov 18, 2008 03:28 PM

        Plus, you need the brine to open up the muscle fibers as McGee said in the article. Soa marinade doesn't do anything for the juiciness, but it does enhance the flavor.

    2. b
      Blueicus Nov 18, 2008 02:04 PM

      I don't like to brine a bird for more than a few hours, since the salt does alter the physical texture of the meat unpleasantly. I feel that brining should be done in moderation... I still don't think there's anything wrong with it. Besides, it's more of a personal preference and less an absolute value judgement.

      1. e
        embee Nov 18, 2008 02:57 PM

        I have a tremendous amount of respect for Harold McGee, and I've read his books from cover to cover. Still, I disagree with him on this one.

        The comparison of home brined turkey with the commercially "enhanced" meats is not valid. It isn't valid because, when you do it yourself, you control what you use, how much of it you use, and for how long you use it.

        The solutions used in enhanced meats generally contain things such as phosphates, which cause the meat to retain the maximum legal amount of added liquid (paid for at meat prices). The flavours are generic and, often, artificial. These products may be "juicy", but I certainly agree with McGee that the result is more often flaccid meat and salt gravy than good tasting meat.

        When I do it myself, the results are very different. Sometimes I simply dry salt a chicken, or a small turkey, as gleaned from the Zuni Cafe method. Sometimes I rub the chicken or turkey with a seasoning mix that amounts to a dry cure. A high quality kosher chicken, though lacking any additional flavourings, will simulate the result of these methods.

        Sometimes I put the bird in a seasoned brine solution, which rests at room temperature for a time span that I control. It certainly doesn't spend three days in the fridge or gain 10% in weight. I recognize that this is not possible when processing food for sale, but it's really quite safe in the real world of home cooking. A turkey that spends some time in a brining solution, and is then cooked to 155/165, isn't going to harm anyone.

        With all of these methods, the results speak for themselves. The meat is much more flavourful and, depending on the method used, the breast meat can be noticeably juicier. The drippings are not horribly salty and gravies, where appropriate, come out fine.

        So, yes, McGee is correct when he describes commercially "enhanced" meats and poultry. But doing it yourself does not involve pumping the weight up by 10% or more using salt and sodium phosphate.

        Is a brined turkey less "meaty" or "turkey like" than an unbrined turkey? That depends. Most commercial turkeys have so little natural turkey flavour that they need a flavour boost to be worth eating. If I have a turkey from a source that I expect to have real turkey flavour, I'll likely salt it rather than brine it. However, my experience has been that these very special turkeys can also be especially dry - in short, a Catch 22.

        McGee also contradicts himself with his serving suggestions. Earlier in the article, he notes that "Thanksgiving is an occasion for roasting the whole bird". Then he suggests serving what is, essentially, "pulled turkey". That does away with the whole traditional show of carving the whole bird at the table. And what is Thanksgiving about but tradition?

        I've also found that his suggestion of letting the thinly sliced, or shredded, turkey rest in the gravy doesn't work. Kept hot, the meat dries out even more. The alternative is cold turkey in tepid gravy. A whole turkey may retain its heat for quite a while, but thin slices or shreds definitely do not.

        I also have a very simple method for dealing with the differing temperature requirements of the white and dark meat. I butterfly the turkey and cook it in a convection oven. Today's turkeys are so breast heavy that the dark meat will reach 165 as the breast comes to 155. Indeed, the dark meat will sometimes reach 175 by the time the breast is cooked through. This means I'm not bringing that majestic whole bird to the table. However, it is sufficiently intact that the carving ceremony can still take place.

        Harold McGee is a great food scientist and a more "curious cook" than I. However, I'll bet my turkeys taste better than his.

        9 Replies
        1. re: embee
          applehome Nov 18, 2008 07:18 PM

          McGee isn't actually a scientist, but a food writer that understands and relates food science and lore very well - an unusual combination, indeed. You're picking at him (he contradicts himself? - you can't tell style from content?), for whatever reason you have, but it no more makes him wrong than you right.

          Turkey is a notoriously hard bird to cook for all the reasons he gave. People have come up with various solutions, and one, brining, has been touted for a few years now based on somebody's article somewhere. These fads go around like widfire. A few years before, it was deep-fat frying. I hated my brined turkey last year at a friend's house, and I generally do not like brining anything, other than my salmon before I smoke it. In that process, the meat is supposed to lose it's fibrous structure, to become more interconnected. So it is a pleasure for me to see this whole brining fad exposed as the idiocy it is when what you want is a flavorful, moist, but firm and chewable (but not chewy) meat.

          Is it possible to use brining as a technique successfully? Yes, in limited situations - perhaps you've come up with one. After all, nobody would have thought that grilling something to a complete char would be tasty, but someone (I think Prudhomme) invented blackening. That doesn't mean that you can burn anything and everything every which way and still have edible food.

          Dry-rubbing with salt is curing, not brining. When it is left to sit in it's own water (as with barrels of salmon), it is pretty much the same as brining, but with no extraneous water drawn back in. It typically doesn't process the meat as deeply in the same time. But if the water is drawn off, the osmosis process doesn't come into play, and you have ham - eventually prosciutto/serrano/schwarzwald shinken.

          The idea of food science, and what good writers are supposed to explain, are the mechanisms of how techniques do what they do. That you or anyone else has worked out a specific set of procedures that works for you is great, but doesn't mean that their explanations are inaccurate. It wouldn't surprise me if your turkey was better than something he cooked, any more than if any one dish of anybody's was particularly good. That doesn't mean that brining is generally a good thing to do with Turkey or any other meat. It doesn't mean that he's wrong to warn against brining as a general purpose technique for creating better tasting meat.

          I don't think that McGee or This or Adria or anybody else is God and unapproachable. They may in fact get something wrong here and there - especially where they go beyond objective and repeatable experiments and observations, and venture into tastes and preferences. But I don't believe that he does so here.

          1. re: applehome
            e
            embee Nov 19, 2008 03:29 AM

            We'll just have to disagree. McGee certainly does contradict himself in that article, and his ultimate solution was to serve pulled turkey. Egad.

            I do, indeed, differentiate between dry rubbing and brining in my post, and I stated that I use different methods at different times and for different reasons.

            McGee et al are not gods and, in this case, my suggestions have as much validity as his do. My palate represents anecdotal evidence rather than a scientific experiment, but my point, to those sufficiently interested to read my post, is that it is possible to do much better than McGee suggests through some personal trial and error.

            I do not, and never have, brined a turkey, or anything else (curing deli meats excepted), for three days and I certainly don't use sodium phosphate. When I have a really good bird from a proven reliable source, I don't brine it. With chicken, this is frequent. With turkey, it is rare.

            I believe it was Cook's Illustrated that started the brining fad, which was then taken up by others. It's not applicable to every situation, as I've noted, but it isn't idocy either. It is also quite possible to smoke a salmon without brining it. It depends on the effect, and flavour, you want to achieve. I remember the lox of my childhood, which was intensely salty. Few people could even tolerate a mouthful of this cure today.

            BTW, "blackening" is NOT burning. Failure to master this technique explains why most "blackened food is borderline, or totally, inedible. Prudhomme's blackened foods were not burned.

            1. re: embee
              applehome Nov 19, 2008 10:16 AM

              You're right that it was ATK that pushed the Turkey brining. And it points to the major problem with that show (and magazine), which is the pushing of techniques like brining. They concentrate on making things more foolproof for home cooks, rather than more delicious. To that extent, brining may work for people who regularly overcook their birds. But for people like you and Palmer (and me - and probably the great majority of us here), we've obviously done it long enough to figure out some really good solutions to the turkey problem. Perhaps McGee's article ought to be taken as simply counterpoint to ATK, and not as advice for experienced cooks.

              1. re: applehome
                e
                embee Nov 19, 2008 12:05 PM

                Yes, I can agree with you on that point. I read CI, and I find it useful. I have changed some of my cooking habits significantly, for the better, based on material in that magazine. I have changed even more of my cooking habits based on McGee.

                While I read CI, and even have a handful of their cookbooks, there is much to dislike about their magazine and even more to dislike about their business practices. I rarely watch ATK, but I've seen it enough to recognize that it is a better COOKING show than almost anything left on the Food Network.

                I'm one of those people who rarely cooks anything (baking excepted) verbatim from a recipe. When it comes to the quality of specific recipes, as opposed to general techniques, CI doesn't do all that well. Their committee decisions, and requirement that all ingredients can come from a Boston supermarket, tend not to create taste thrills. But when you consider that much of mainstream North America cooks their industrial turkeys until those little plastic gizmos pop up, brining would bring an extreme improvement to their cooking.

                Addressing one of your other points, I've never eaten, much less cooked, a deep fried turkey. I do know people who have made, or eaten, these. It seems almost impossibly simple, but still comes down to the cook having developed a very specific skill. At least the brining craze isn't likely to lead to third degree burns or the loss of one's house.

              2. re: embee
                t
                ThanksVille Nov 22, 2008 10:41 PM

                Tremendously insightful dialogue on the idiosyncracies of brining but, for the record, the first reference that I encountered for turkey brining predates the existence of Cooks and originates with John Ash, a great Napa Valley cook and restauranteur. His published turkey brine was in a 1996 Bon Appetit and had tons of flavor enhancers (ginger, garlic, soy, bay, thyme, rosemary, etc.) and relative low percentage of salt allowing him to use the brine for a recommended 24 to 72 hours. We have followed it as a guide for turkeys since then, but never exceeding about 30 hours brined and at least 12 hours post brine to allow skin to dry out for crisping. Despite the fact that we've added apple cider and maple syrup to the mix, the results have been a tremendous infusion of flavors that are discernible even when eating cold leftover turkey in sandwiches. As for the actual roasting scenario, we continue to abide by the detailed roasting of large birds (20+lbs) via Cooks publications (ice the breasts before cooking, start upside down and rotate the bird, etc. and have never again had to endure the dried leather bird that we grew up with courtesy of a great aunt who believed you started the bird in the over 24 hours from when you were going to sit down to dinner going from a very hot to a moderate to a very hot and thoroughly dried bird that was only carvable when she bought an electric slicer. Pre-slicer we had toasted turkey hunks.

            2. re: embee
              paulj Nov 21, 2008 09:00 AM

              I don't think McGee was contradicting himself about the whole roasted bird. What he suggests doing with the breast - slicing thin and moistening with gravy - can be done at the table. He's trying to contrast this with a 'casual last-minute saucing'. In other words, intentionally slice the breast first, and have a way of keeping the moistened meat warm while you carve the rest of the bird. For example, instead of laying the breast slices out on a serving platter, put them in a deeper bowl (preheated?), and top them with sauce directly from the hot sauce pan (as opposed to the cold gravy boat).

              I caught the last bit of Alton's turkey help line show. He cut both breast halves off the bird whole. He sliced them after cutting off the other parts, but I can imagine following Harold's idea, and slicing and saucing right away.

              A recent ATK episode butterflied a chicken as you describe.

              1. re: paulj
                e
                embee Nov 21, 2008 09:18 AM

                We seem to have read somewhat different meanings into McGee's article. On rereading, I still view him as suggesting that the white meat be either shredded or cut much thinner than most non-professional cooks could do.

                The method you attribute to Brown does make sense. The whole breast pieces would, presumably, retain more heat than thin slices or shreds. This would also be a much easier slicing job. When I worked for a caterer while in my teens, they did remove the breasts in two whole pieces, slice them, and replace the slices on the carcass, though this presentation was served cold. It's likely still a popular catering presentation.

                1. re: embee
                  paulj Nov 21, 2008 09:34 AM

                  It is easier to keep the sauced white meat slices warm when done in the kitchen. For example you could use a pan on low heat, or even in the oven. Doing the same at the table calls for more planning, or movement back and forth between dinning room and kitchen.

                  Getting good slices while the breast is still on the bird is difficult, because it is easiest to cut along the grain of the meat. It takes a good eye to cut at a bias, getting large slices while keeping the meat fibers short.

                2. re: paulj
                  dcdavis Nov 21, 2008 09:41 AM

                  AB's method for brining and roasting turkey has produced the best birds I have ever had. I agree that you should not over-brine(3 days and 2 days to dry???). The double aluminum foil over the breast keeps it from over cooking. Also, as with most meat, I find that having it as close to room temperature when begin to cook it is the secret to a juicy and perfectly cooked entree.

              2. m
                mpalmer6c Nov 18, 2008 07:43 PM

                Cutting off the turkey breast and shredding it? That's borderline nauseating. Hey, let's cover it with KC Masterpiece!

                The way to get moist turkey breast is to cook it part of the time breast side down. If you have a crowd, then cook two smaller birds.

                1 Reply
                1. re: mpalmer6c
                  e
                  embee Nov 19, 2008 04:16 AM

                  That certainly works, but butterflying is much easier.

                2. b
                  bnemes3343 Nov 19, 2008 12:07 PM

                  He is totally off base and totally wrong. I guarantee you a brined bird would win in a blind taste test over an unbrined bird 100 out of 100.

                  1. m
                    ML8000 Nov 19, 2008 12:51 PM

                    I've experienced the "spongy" meal syndrome he's describing. It's real. It's tastes good but if over-brined the texture gets odd and you definitely notice it....not turkey roll or anything but leaning in that direction.

                    The LA Times has an article comparing several different methods, steam roasting, brining and dry brining.

                    They like the dry brining...which is basically salting/seasoning a bird a day ahead and letting it sit. Funny thing is, my mom use to do that but it wasn't called "dry brining", it was call putting salt on the turkey a day ahead of time. (Brining by contrast was used to "save" old meat...the salt killing bacteria and the accidental discovery of water retention.)

                    http://www.latimes.com/theguide/holiday-guide/food/la-fo-turkeycontest,0,3586629.story
                    http://www.latimes.com/features/food/...

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: ML8000
                      b
                      bnemes3343 Nov 20, 2008 09:57 AM

                      Well, you definitely don't want to overbrine. And the advocates of bring (like Cooks Illustrated) will tell you that. For dry brining though, you really need to get the salt under the skin and rub it on the meat.

                      1. re: ML8000
                        BarmyFotheringayPhipps Nov 21, 2008 09:59 AM

                        Then the obvious solution is...don't overbrine.

                        My turkey spends about 12 hours in a salt/seasonings solution, none of this "three days" crap that keeps being mentioned as if that's something people actually do.

                        1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
                          m
                          ML8000 Nov 21, 2008 10:03 AM

                          After reading the LA Times article, I'd just assume to salt the bird a day ahead, or "dry brine" it as they call it. It worked for my mom forever. 12 hours however does sound reasonable.

                      2. sharonanne Nov 22, 2008 05:11 PM

                        On a related but obviously different note Heston Blumenthal proved that a yogurt based marinade moved the spices further into the meat than spices rubbed on alone. He used a university scanner of some sort. He was making Chicken korma and the point was yogurt and not brine but I thought it was interesting.

                        1. alanbarnes Nov 22, 2008 09:22 PM

                          Sorry, but McGee - one of my food heroes - is wrong here.

                          Maybe he doesn't consider the difference between properly-brined and poorly-brined turkeys. Maybe he has a palate that's exceptionally sensitive to salt. Or maybe he's just blowing smoke out of his ass. But a well-brined turkey will taste better than an unbrined turkey 100% of the time.

                          What makes me call BS on the whole article is the claim that you can't use the pan drippings from a brined turkey to make gravy. That's just silly. I've been making gravy from brined turkey drippings for years, and nobody has ever complained.

                          Maybe there's a point at which the brine becomes overkill. I'd certainly agree that a pickled turkey is a bad idea. But this article seems (for McGee) to be unusually poorly informed and poorly reasoned.

                          1. k
                            karenfinan Nov 23, 2008 12:09 PM

                            I've been using Alice Water's recipe for brining and cooking a turkey for about 5 years now, always comes out terrific. I'll take Alice over Harold on this one.

                            1. g
                              grant.cook Nov 25, 2009 06:31 AM

                              He compares home brined birds to the store bought pre-brined ones on flavor alone, but I had thought one of the arguments against buying a store-bought brined bird was economics - you are paying for water weight.. but brining it yourself wouldn't cost you anything more than the price of salt and sugar.

                              1. n
                                Normandie Nov 25, 2009 06:41 AM

                                TY, K. Since when have we (general we) become so resistant to, and afraid of, discussing different ideas and offering opposing points of view? I saw nothing offensive in HMcG's tone, and he's doing what I believe his job calls for--to present POVs on cooking and food that each of us is free to accept, reject or remain neutral about, upon having read them. With cooking as in other concerns, I see no benefit to taking personal offense at other people's different preferences , but many benefits in being willing to entertain varied ideas and then make our own decisions. JMO.

                                19 Replies
                                1. re: Normandie
                                  k
                                  KTinNYC Nov 25, 2009 07:08 AM

                                  Harold McGee is the top science of food writer in America today. I've heard nothing but praise about him from chefs and his On Food and Cooking is a virtual must read for all culinary students. Without McGee there would be no Alton Brown.

                                  He has no agenda except to scientifically explain what happens to food as it goes through different processes. I've never read anything from him that is condescending or demeaning. Anyone can choose to disagree with him but to attack as pompous is completely off base.

                                  1. re: KTinNYC
                                    e
                                    embee Nov 25, 2009 08:09 AM

                                    Please refer to my posts in this thread from about one year ago.

                                    I have read McGee from cover to cover, including the pure science elements. I've learned a great deal from him and agree that he's probably the best food science writer around.

                                    But I take exception to his OPINIONS about this topic. One can express one's opinions, and describe the impact of a food on one's palate, without necessarily proving or debunking a scientifically derived truth.

                                    When it comes to skillfully seasoning and cooking a tender, tasty, juicy turkey at home, I disagree with McGee. YMMV.

                                    1. re: embee
                                      k
                                      KTinNYC Nov 25, 2009 08:30 AM

                                      I support your right to disagree with McGee. He expains what happens to proteins when brined and then expresses his opinions as to what he prefers. But nothing he wrote was "pompous" or "self-promoting". He has opinion and you have yours neither is right neither is wrong.

                                      1. re: KTinNYC
                                        e
                                        embee Nov 25, 2009 02:18 PM

                                        The "pompous and self promoting" comment wasn't mine. I was simply observing that McGee was offering his opinion in that article, and that I don't agree. Not to mention that most people don't want pulled turkey at their holiday dinner table.

                                        I certainly do agree with McGee's comments with respect to commercial "enhanced" meats, with their high water and salt content and their yummy phosphates.

                                        1. re: embee
                                          n
                                          Normandie Nov 25, 2009 03:12 PM

                                          One of my *personal* objections to brining my turkeys--it's none of my business what other cooks choose to do with theirs--is that most formulae that *I've* seen call for a significant amount of salt. I spend my shopping trips reading labels and passing on by when a label indicates salt has been added. So why, then, would I purchase a product that meets my own personal no-sodium-added standard, take it home, and soak it in a sodium-solution that I had eschewed in the first place?

                                          Now, that's a rhetorical question, embee, just to posed to explain my POV. I *do* understand why so many others choose to do it, and that's their right; it's just that I'm looking for a different result--e.g., turkey rendered juicy and tasting through means other than adding salt beyond seasoning.

                                          Nevertheless, I thought McGee was "fair", on the topic. He spent a good part of the article affirming that, yes, brining does improve certain qualities about the bird before he went on to discuss the specific changes brining brings about that he personally doesn't like.

                                          1. re: Normandie
                                            BarmyFotheringayPhipps Nov 25, 2009 07:03 PM

                                            Ah. Erm. Well. See, it's just that...of course brine recipes call for a significant amount of salt. That's kind of the whole idea. By definition, a brine is a solution of salt and water. So...brines have salt in them. They wouldn't work if they didn't.

                                            1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
                                              n
                                              Normandie Nov 25, 2009 08:32 PM

                                              Yes, Barmy.

                                              I'm aware of brines' content.

                                              I should think my statements that sodium is the reason I don't brine would have illuminated that.

                                              1. re: Normandie
                                                paulj Nov 25, 2009 09:05 PM

                                                You are going to be adding salt, in one way or another, to the bird. It could be via the brine. The cook could salt it in and out just before cooking. There could be salt in the basting liquid. You could sprinkle salt on individual slices. Or you could smother the slices in a well seasoned gravy.

                                                As long as the meat that you end up eating does not taste too salty, does it matter how the salt is added?

                                                1. re: paulj
                                                  n
                                                  Normandie Nov 25, 2009 10:06 PM

                                                  But that's the thing, paul. I have not enjoyed brined poultry, whether I have made it or others have, because it does taste too salty, to me. I also don't care for the texture, very much, but for me, personally, the real issue is food sitting in a salty solution for several days just isn't appealing, to me. I don't really care for other brined foods, either.

                                                  So IMO your question is the right question, and I'd say, you're right. It doesn't matter how the salt is added, as long as the individual ingesting it *likes* the amount of salt he/she tastes.

                                                2. re: Normandie
                                                  BarmyFotheringayPhipps Nov 25, 2009 09:06 PM

                                                  In fact, your statement "most formulae that *I've* seen call for a significant amount of salt" did the exact opposite of illumination. It was the word "most" in particular (which implies that you've seen brine recipes that did not contain salt) that made it sound as if you were not aware of either the purpose or nature of brining.

                                                  1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
                                                    n
                                                    Normandie Nov 25, 2009 09:57 PM

                                                    Actually, there are quite a number of "low salt" recipes for brine floating around. Whether those recipes result in "brine" may be debatable, but they certainly are extant. For some reason, you seem to have "zeroed in" on the word "most", instead of the word "significant", and it also appears that you did not read the rest of the post, or my other posts in threads discussing brining. Had you done that, you probably would have been aware that, yes, dumb little Normandie understands what a brine is and she understands its various purposes, depending on the food being brined.

                                                    I don't blame you, however, for not having read my entire post, which would have given the phrase you stopped at some context. Frankly, I didn't find it that interesting to write, either.

                                                    Happy Thanksgiving.

                                                    1. re: Normandie
                                                      BarmyFotheringayPhipps Nov 25, 2009 10:28 PM

                                                      The funny thing is, I still question some of your assumptions about brining. Shortly after you wrote this post, you wrote another above that refers to "food sitting in a salty solution for several days." I agree with you wholeheartedly that any turkey that sits in a brine for several days is going to be disgusting. And for that reason, no credible recipes for brining turkeys advocate a soaking of several days' length. (Note that I am not saying that such recipes do not exist, merely that they suck.) As I posted in this very thread last year, my own brine recipe requires 12 hours, maximum, in the solution. I trust you agree with me that there is quite a difference between 12 hours and several days, and that a turkey that is brined for 12 hours will not have the same properties of taste and texture as one that has been brined for several days. It appears that our disagreement is based on this mutual misunderstanding.

                                                      1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
                                                        n
                                                        Normandie Nov 25, 2009 11:12 PM

                                                        <<(Note that I am not saying that such recipes do not exist, merely that they suck.) >>

                                                        Well, she said wryly, on that we do agree. ;-)

                                                        I've seen all kinds of time prescriptions. A rule of thumb I've seen quoted multiple times is one hour per pound of bird. Obviously, if someone follows that suggestion, he or she will brine a 20-pound turkey for longer than the twelve hours you practice. Emeril Lagasse has a recipe that suggests a minimum of four hours and a maximum of 24. That makes sense to me, depending on the weight. OTOH, I've seen more than once recipes that call for 24-48 hours. I've seen various recipes that call for changing the water daily. What does that imply? Then, moving away from the cookbook and professional chef's arena, you find all kinds of nutty recommendations on the Net. I saw one person posting on some recipe site somewhere that she and her husband had once brined a bird for two weeks. Two weeks; I kid you not. That must have been one gargantuan turkey; I wonder how they got it home from the stockyards. (Yes, yes, Barmy...I know, I know...stock, not poultry, comes from the stockyards. I was being snarky there.)

                                                        Anyway, of COURSE I agree with you that there is a difference between brining poultry for twelve hours versus several days. But our disagreement is not based on any mutual misunderstanding. *I* didn't brine my poultry for several days--believe me, my powers of concentration on any one thing don't extend that long. Our disagreement is based on the fact that you enjoy a brined turkey and I do not. It's as simple as that. No need to make it any more complicated than the circumstance that some people enjoy turkey that has been brined and other people do not. Still others, like Making Sense, don't see that it makes any difference one way or another.

                                                        Pretty much like a lot of foods, a lot of recipes and a lot of techniques.

                                                        1. re: Normandie
                                                          m
                                                          MakingSense Nov 26, 2009 04:57 PM

                                                          While I don't brine regular turkey, I do brine most wild game birds, particularly some waterfowl. In some cases, it was to moderate the strong flavor, such as for waterfowl that eat fish. Sometimes for large birds like geese that may be older and tough. One year, there were so many wild geese that we were brining them so we could cook them on the grill and still have them tender and juicy.

                                                          I agree with you about the recipes being all over the place. And then, people wing it.
                                                          Some recipes used massive amounts of salt to cut down brining time and the birds were way too salty. Or cooks decided that if this many hours were good, than a few more must be better, especially if they were trying to flavor the bird with the brine too.
                                                          That kind of stuff gave brining a bad reputation.

                                                          1. re: MakingSense
                                                            n
                                                            Normandie Nov 26, 2009 10:25 PM

                                                            Well, per my posts, my feelings about brined turkeys aren't based on brining's reputation; they're based on having eaten turkey I and others have brined, and I'm just not partial to it.

                                                            I honestly don't know whether I've ever eaten other types of game birds that have been brined. I wouldn't necessarily know, if I had them at restaurants. It's my guess that some menus might indicate it, and some might not. So on the issue of birds other than turkey and chicken, I'm going to defer to your experience and first-hand knowledge and that of Barmy and any other posters.

                                                            I think there are two themes contained in your post, one about personal preference and one about technical understanding, and if the two don't intersect, we cooks (homecooks AND professional chefs) can do some wacky things.

                                                            It was interesting and pertinent, what you had to say in general about people "winging it" ;-) (nice touch, btw, LOL). Adapting, modifying, taking liberties with recipes or formulae is what we humans do, and if the changes we make are based on some foundational understanding of how foods work, how foods work in combination, cooking methods, equipment, etc., the results can be spectacular. I'm going out on a limb to guess that most of us on this board are grateful for those cooking masters who took risks to come up with some of history's greatest dishes, first of all, but more universally, new preparation methods that turn ingredients into something memorable.

                                                            But, then, yes, we do have so many folks winging it, and I'd venture to say that most of us have also done that from time to time in our cooking adventures, whether from curiosity or necessity (say we ruin Christmas dinner and have to create a feast out of a can of tuna, some saltines and three oranges). Creativity and innovation are good things, but it's just as some of us have been discussing on the "Next Iron Chef" threads, that innovation can be....well, let's just say, "risky"...if it's not based on technical knowledge.

                                                            1. re: Normandie
                                                              f
                                                              FED Nov 27, 2009 01:50 PM

                                                              it's important to realize that not all brines are created equal: some contain LOTS of salt and should be used only briefly (but if it's briefly, how much can the brine penetrate?). if you use a more moderate amount of salt, you can soak longer. My objection to McGee is that while he's a really good writer and researcher, whenever I read his opinions on actual cooking, they don't seem to square with actual experience. Knowing HOW and WHY cooking works is not the same as being a good cook.

                                                              1. re: FED
                                                                alanbarnes Nov 27, 2009 02:35 PM

                                                                Exactly. He has a good grasp of the concept, but treats the process as binary - either a turkey is unbrined or it's pickled. If you find that you enjoy the taste and texture of brined turkey but find it a bit too salty, it doesn't take an arugula scientist to figure out that next time you should use less salt.

                                                                1. re: alanbarnes
                                                                  dave_c Nov 27, 2009 03:08 PM

                                                                  "... it doesn't take an arugula scientist..."

                                                                  LOL! That's a good one! I'm a former NASA guy who has brined, deep fried, bagged and just plain salt and pepper roasted turkey.

                                                                  I've come to the conclusion, especially with a MIL who is afraid of eating turkey that's cooked to 165F, let someone else cook the bird. I'll make the sides, gravy and the pies.

                                                                2. re: FED
                                                                  n
                                                                  Normandie Nov 27, 2009 02:49 PM

                                                                  FED, I may not care for brining, but I support your last sentence wholeheartedly. Sometimes, one of the most important things a good cook brings to his/her good results is an intuition. It doesn't replace technique, but then, I don't think technique replaces it, either.

                                    2. ChefJune Nov 25, 2009 02:50 PM

                                      There are a number of other ways to ensure a oist turkey besides brining. I have never brined, and have never had a dry turkey. Basting, rubbing butter under the skin, cheesecloth poultice soaked in butter, etc. are all techniques you can use, alone or in concert.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: ChefJune
                                        m
                                        MakingSense Nov 25, 2009 05:35 PM

                                        I'm with you, ChefJune! Oooooh, I jumped on that brining bandwagon years ago and it worked well. Then I skipped it for a lack of time, and the turkey was still moist, juicy, and flavorful. Brined again. Didn't brine. Finally decided that it wasn't worth the effort since there was no difference in the final product.
                                        I don't baste, and still get perfect results. I started substituting olive oil for butter about 20 years ago and never looked back. Less chance of burned drippings, and much easier to coat the bird.

                                      2. Robert Lauriston Nov 27, 2009 01:57 PM

                                        Based on personal comparisons over the years, brined turkey tastes better than unbrined, but salted ("dry-brined") tastes better than brined.

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