I have been writing about the importance of brining your Thanksgiving Day turkey for almost two decades now. Every year I hear from readers who tell me they finally brined their turkey and it was definitely worth this extra step.
So, just what is a brine and why should you do it to your bird? A brine is just a salty solution you mix up and immerge your turkey in for an overnight bath. The salt and seasonings penetrates the turkey meat and results in a perfectly seasoned turkey.
Of course you need a large vessel that is big enough to “house” your turkey, and you need a spot in the refrigerator that is big enough to hold it as well. My friends who live in colder climates than we do say they brine their turkey in a cooler that they leave in the garage or on the patio overnight. Our weather isn’t usually cold enough for that, but who knows with the crazy weather we have had lately.
A brine can be a simple solution of sea salt and water, or you can go crazy and add all sorts of seasonings. You can also purchase brine that is already combined. I have seen these mixes at specialty stores, online and even some “regular” grocery stores. Most of the ingredients are things you likely have on hand.
I used to just use water as the base for my brine, but for the last few years, I have added apple cider and some fresh orange juice. Fresh herbs, especially rosemary and sage, complement the juices and bay leaves and peppercorns round everything out.
It is imperative that you cool the brine completely before adding your turkey. In fact, I recommend making the brine a day or two before you want to soak your bird. So go ahead and mix up your brine on Monday or Tuesday of next week and then brine your turkey on Wednesday night.
One more thing about turkeys. I know many people think “bigger is better” when it comes to buying a turkey. I always say it is better to buy two smaller turkeys than one giant one. Smaller turkeys cook much faster and you can often cook other things in the oven while the turkey is roasting, whereas when you have a large turkey, it usually takes up the entire oven.
If you have a big group of people coming for dinner, consider cooking one turkey the day before Thanksgiving and carving it. Cover and refrigerate the carved bird and just reheat before the meal.
Roast the second turkey on Thanksgiving Day and bring it to the table on a beautiful platter, garnished to the hilt. Now, everybody can help themselves to the already carved turkey and you can carve the second turkey as needed. There is nothing as beautiful as a garnished whole roasted turkey as a centerpiece for your table.
Favorite turkey brine
4 cups apple cider
2 cups brown sugar
1 ½ cups sea salt
3 tablespoons black peppercorns
6 bay leaves
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed from the stems
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves
Peelings from 2 oranges, in long strips
Juice from 2 oranges
In a pot, combine apple cider, brown sugar, sea salt, black peppercorns, bay leaves, garlic, rosemary, sage leaves and orange peel. Bring to a boil and stir, making sure sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from heat and add fresh orange juice. Cool completely and then cover and refrigerate until chilled.
When ready to brine turkey, pour brine in a large pot, and then add whole, thawed turkey (giblets and neck removed). Add enough water to cover the turkey. Cover and refrigerate overnight and up to 24 hours. Give the turkey a quick rinse in cold water before patting dry and proceeding with your turkey recipe.
One last thing. You can brine things other than turkeys. I always brine whole chickens when I cook those. Even things like thick pork chops can benefit from a short brine. Just an hour or two of brining can make a big difference with bone-in chicken breasts or thick pork chops. You can even brine shrimp — just brine for a half hour in salty water.
Don’t forget to look for my food column on Friday. You will find my favorite roasted turkey recipe as well as my recipe for foolproof gravy and other turkey tips.
South Forsyth resident Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.