I am a huge fan of brining poultry! I use brines in competition and at home. For those of you that have never tried brining, you simply must. There is just no better way to add moisture and get perfect seasoning all the way down to the bone. In addition to dramatically improving the flavor, the added moisture gives you an extra margin for error in avoiding the dreaded balsa-wood-like dry white meat.
I've tried many brine concoctions for my holiday birds, and I've settled on this one, at least for now. Give it a try and drop me a line to tell me what you think. This recipe works very well for both smoking or traditional roasting, and with Thanksgiving just days away, there's not really a better time to post it.
1 1/2 gal Ice water (lots of ice)
1/2 gal Hot tap water
2 cups Dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups Kosher salt
1/4 cup Old Bay seasoning (available in most grocery stores)
1 tsp Chinese five spice (Asian section of most grocery stores -- I like the Sun Luck brand)
Juice of 2 lemons
Juice of 2 oranges
Extra ice as needed
- If you can't find the Chinese five spice, just use allspice.
- This recipe is scaled for a 14-16 pound turkey. You will need to scale it up for larger birds.
- A good time guideline is 45 minutes per pound.
Get a clean food-safe five-gallon bucket, wash it, then sanitized it with a gallon of water and a capful of bleach.
Make the ice water in the bucket.
Bring the tap water to a boil in a stock pot or large pan.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the salt, sugar, citrus juice and all of the seasonings.
Let the seasoning mixture sit in the pan, stirring occasionally, until all of the salt and sugar are dissolved.
Add the water and seasoning mixture to the ice water in the bucket.
Gently submerge the turkey in the brine, breast-side-down. Oh, and make sure you've removed both pouches of innards.
Note: It must be completely submerged, so add more ice and water if necessary. If the turkey tends to float, you can seal a rock in a zip-top bag and stuff it in the cavity.
Set the bucket in the coldest place you can find (I put mine outside or in the garage), cover with foil, wrap with a sleeping bag or blankets, and let sit at least 12 and up to 24 hours.
Caution: For food safety it's critical that the brine be kept at or under 40º throughout the entire brining process, so check the ice and add more as needed.
An hour before you're ready to cook the turkey, lift it gently and slowly from the brine, allowing it to drain completely. I turn it over just to make sure.
Pat the turkey dry with paper towels.
Rub the skin with canola oil and roast or smoke as desired.
Further reading: To Brine Or Not To Brine?