There are a lot of important decisions to make when preparing for your Thanksgiving meal. And most of those decisions concern the bird you plan to roast. One of those questions you have to answer well before the meal, do I brine or not brine? I am here to give you my opinion on the subject.
Is Brining a Turkey Worth It?
Absolutely! Brining is your opportunity to introduce flavor to the inside of the meat. There are tons of great recipes out there that flavor the outside really well, but those flavors don't penetrate into the interior like a brine does. That is a reason enough to brine. Another good reason is brining is kind of like insurance. If you overcook the turkey there is still a chance of it being juicy because you choose to brine. You can still dry out a brined turkey but it's more difficult to do than with one that hasn't been brined.
What Do I Need to Brine?
I like using a clean 5 gallon bucket that hasn't been used for some other household project. The turkey goes in the bucket, along with the brine, and ice. The turkey likes a cold bath and if you don't give it one you run the risk of inviting Salmonella to your party.
How Does Brining Work?
It's all about osmosis. The concept is that an area of greater concentration wants to move to an area of lesser concentration to create a balance. Moisture will first move out of the bird and into the brine, but then to attain a balance, liquid will move inside the bird, bring flavor along with it. This process does take time.
How Long Do I Brine For?
This is where you will need some basic math skills. What time do you want to eat? An average 14-16 lb turkey takes somewhere around 2 to 2 ½ hours, adding to that 15 minutes of resting time before carving. So you want to be pulling your turkey out of the brine right before you put it in the oven. You should brine for at least 8 hours, but no more than 16 hours.
I first learned how to brine a turkey from Alton Brown. Below you can watch a video of Alton giving his instructions on how to brine. I think everyone who is going to roast a turkey needs to watch this (and the entire "Romancing the Bird" episode).