Getting to know the bird. Or, how brine is my best friend this time of year.

November 19, 2011

Posted By: Shaunescy

I am a recovering vegetarian. Yep, I didn’t eat any meat for about 17 years and then pregnancy changed all of that. The best thing that came out my time as a vegetarian was that I had to learn how to cook. So many moons ago, when I decided stubbornly that it was my path, there were few obvious vegetarian options for a girl from the sticks. When I fell off the veggie cart, I fell hard. And now, I love meat.

One of the biggest challenges has been learning how to cook traditional holiday fare. Gone are the days of a non-traditional Thanksgiving meal. No more veggie sushi rolls or veggie Pad Thai for the holidays. At least until one of my kids stages their own food rebellion, then I’ll be ready.

We’ve been hosting Thanksgiving for the past few years and this year is the first time I don’t feel completely like a fish out of water. So I thought I’d share a piece of turkey making gold. What is the secret to making a delicious, moist and tender, fall off the bone turkey? Brine that bird!

The first turkey I brined, I had used a basic salt and brown sugar recipe; everyone loved it.  Now that I found that brining was the way to go, it was time to search out the recipe. The recipe here is from my dear friend, Judy Rasmussen.  She is a constant source of culinary inspiration. She gave me her pumpkin pie recipe too . . . but a girl has to keep some secrets.

Ingredients for Brine:

1 cup salt

1 cup brown sugar

2 oranges, quartered

2 lemons, quartered

6 sprigs thyme

4 sprigs rosemary

Start a couple days in advance.  In a large stockpot bring 1 gallon water to a boil and add brine ingredients.  Don't be afraid to change up the herbs or citrus, it really doesn't make a lot of difference.  Slowly simmer the concoction on the stove for at least an hour; gives the house an interesting potpourri aroma.  Now put the lid on the stockpot and put it outside or in the garage, somewhere cold enough for the liquid to get to refrigerator temperature or around freezing. 

While the brine is simmering, get to work on cleaning your bird. You’ll want to make sure to have the needle nose pliers handy to remove any remaining pin feathers, A sharp knife and scissors to cut out anything you don’t want to cook, and string to truss up the legs. Now is the time to get grandma’s apron out of the linen closet. Wrestling a 20-pound turkey is serious business.

Once the liquid is very cold, pour it into a cooler large enough to completely contain your bird. Drop in the cleaned out turkey. Now you can add extra water to ensure the turkey is fully immersed. I do this the night before, so the turkey marinates for at least 12 hours.  This is where winter has its benefits; place the cooler in your giant walk in refrigerator known as the garage.  After marinating, rinse the bird well, pat dry and prep it for roasting.

At this point, I simply give the Turkey a full rubdown with softened butter and place it in the roasting pan, cover with foil and place in the pre-heated 350-degree oven. Take the foil off when the meat thermometer reaches 150-155 degrees and cook until the turkey reaches the safe temperature of 165 F.


If you have a big turkey and need more brine than this, use 1/2-cup salt and 1/2-cup brown sugar for every gallon of water.

Also, I’ve found that the brining process eliminates the need to stuff your turkey and in fact will only slow down your cooking time.

This brine also makes for a fantastic roast chicken any time of the year!

Have a great holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!

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