ode on a fresh turkey

I always brine.  I know just by admitting this, I’m an anachronism in the food world, so yesterday.  Even Cook’s Illustrated doesn’t brine anymore.  But I like the slightly slick juiciness that brining gives to white meat, and it’s never hurt my dark meat.

Plus, it’s one slightly gross, slightly perverse aspect of Thanksgiving that Retrogrouch and I share.  He’s not interested in too many aspects of cooking Thanksgiving.  I tried to make a planning list.  I said, what do we need to do for Thanksgiving?  He looked at me as if I had lost my mind.  “Stuffing.  Mashed potatoes.”  I said yes, of course, but what else?

“All ye know on earth,” he said with solemn finality, “and all ye need to know.”

I frowned and returned to my list.  My happy love piped up:

“Oh, and don’t forget to brine the turkey.”

Each year we try to figure out a slightly less inconvenient way to haul the greasy, bloody carcass into a vessel that will hold it and not smell like revolting raw dead things afterward.  It’s always a chore and an obsession to find, scrub, sterilize, KERPLUNK, brine, scrub, sterilize.  Plus the feeling we’re doing something really wrong.  Not to mention that smell on my hands.

For the record, I do a simple brine: 1.75 cups kosher salt (or 1 cup regular salt, if I have it) to 2 gallons of water.  Keep in cold place like the refrigerator overnight, or for 8-12 hours. No sugar, no herbs, nothing fancy.

A few years ago, I discovered my canning kettle was just the right size and relatively easy to clean.  Plus, I boil it each time I use it.  Handy, no?

Well, the increasing size of our guest list, and corresponding increasing size of our turkey finally hit a crisis point this year, and I can’t find anything for the brining vessel.  The canner was an utter failure, as you can see above.  In fact, I’m so stymied, I’m just sitting here with a mess on the counter and bloodlust in my heart.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…

8 thoughts on “ode on a fresh turkey

  1. Mer 25 November 2009 / 4:31 pm

    Try a dry brine this year? I did it last year, on the very first turkey I have ever cooked, and it turned out really well.


  2. Jess 25 November 2009 / 6:37 pm

    I use the clean 5 gallon (I think?) buckets you can get at home improvement stores, load it with ice water, snap the lid on and store it outside overnight.


  3. Eugenia 25 November 2009 / 6:43 pm

    Mer: have a recipe? It’s too late for this year, since I jammed the mofo into the canner and made a thorough mess, but for next year…

    Jess: I’d opt for food-grade plastic if I were you. That was my next move! You can find the food-grade ones at restaurant supply stores like Cash-n-Carry here in Eugene. We’ve stored it on our back porch overnight in the past, hoping the raccoons wouldn’t enjoy a little brined turkey sashimi as we slept.


  4. brandonb 27 November 2009 / 12:35 pm

    I am a very strong believer in brines for almost any and all white meat,pork,chicken,turkey,etc, etc. As my meat idol Mr. Ruhlman says “The brine allows the breast to withstand higher temps while the slowpoke legs and thighs continue to cook”. I find that sugar in a brine helps enhance flavors and impart a dark golden brown color to your bird. Think about brining a pastrami in just salt water. I think you need the pickling spices in your bine to impart that classic pastrami flavor…and dont forget to boil your brines so that all the sugar and salt dissolve and the aromatics can release their flavors.


  5. Mary R 27 November 2009 / 5:24 pm

    I’m back on the brine boat myself. This year, my co-horts and I had a chef at our Thanksgiving get together, and he graciously took charge of two lovely 20 pound, pasture-raised birds. He roasted one, and split the other in two, smoking the breast and deboning the dark meat and stuffing it with all sorts of deliciousness (squash and gizzards, I believe).

    Alas, I wasn’t a fan of the roasted bird (though now I’m thinking of making a tradition of smoking the Thanksgiving turkey…that was phenomenal). Pretty dry despite lots of love and professional attention. Yup…back to brine for me.


  6. Eugenia 28 November 2009 / 4:42 pm

    Thanks, Mer! I might try it next year, but I had such a good bird this year that I’m afraid of being in the same situation as Mary R. We’ll see. How did yours turn out?

    Brandon, the big difference between pastrami and turkey is the length of time — the herbs just don’t do much in a few hours. And the problem with sugar in a brine is that you want turkey to brown slowly, not be encouraged. So I stick with the easy way: just plain salt.


  7. Mer 29 November 2009 / 12:40 pm

    It turned out very well, and my friends all seemed to enjoy it. Since it was my first proper turkey, wild turkeys are not the same, I was pleased with the results.

    You could try a ‘dry’ run with this brine, and which you prefer. Really, turkey shouldn’t just be a holiday food.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s