From now until Thanksgiving, we’ll be answering some of the most commonly asked holiday meal questions. Have one you’d like us to consider? E-mail us or join our weekly live Web chat on Wednesdays from noon to 1 p.m.
For complete Turkey Day coverage, visit our Thanksgiving Central page.
Q: Should I brine the turkey?
A: Brining helps poultry stay moist and tasty. (Kosher or self-basting birds should not be brined.) For an explanation of how wet brining works, we turned to “The America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook”: “Salt in the brine seasons the poultry and promotes a change in its protein structure, reducing its overall toughness and creating gaps that fill up with water and keep the meat juicy and flavorful.” Sounds nice, right?
Some people choose to dry brine their turkey — rub it with salt, basically. In that situation, salt draws the meat’s juices to the surface of the bird. The juices then mix with the salt, forming a brine that is then reabsorbed by the meat.
A few years ago, deputy Food editor Bonnie S. Benwick tried both methods and decided she preferred a wet brine, which required less effort and resulted in more uniformly moist and seasoned meat. When you remove the turkey from the brine, make sure you pat it thoroughly dry to get crisp skin.
Here’s the technique she used: For a 12-pound turkey, line a bucket with a large brining bag. Add two gallons of very cold water, three cups of kosher salt, a tablespoon of black peppercorns, two bay leaves and two peeled garlic cloves; mix well. Add the bird (giblet packet, etc., removed) and seal the bag; refrigerate for four to six hours.
If you’re using a turkey breast (bone-in, six to eight pounds), America’s Test Kitchen recommends using a wet brine of one gallon of water with 1/2 cup table salt for three to six hours.
If you’d like to try a dry brine on a whole turkey, America’s Test Kitchen suggests using one teaspoon of Diamond Crystal kosher salt per pound (2/3 teaspoon for Morton kosher salt), applied evenly inside the cavity and under the skin of the breasts and legs. Wrap the turkey tightly in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours. To dry-brine a turkey breast, apply 3/4 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound (1/2 teaspoon for Morton kosher salt), between the meat and skin if the skin is attached. Let the breast sit in the refrigerator for six to 24 hours on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet; wrap in plastic if salting for longer than 12 hours.
P.S. You can roast a bird that’s flavorful and moist without brining at all. Look for Pam Ginsberg’s Roast Turkey au Jus recipe in the Nov. 19 Food section.
Today’s plan-ahead tip from Bonnie:
Stock up on wine, beer, cider and sparkling water; check out Wine columnist Dave McIntyre’s recommendations this week . Map out a plan for the best place to set up a drink station — away from the kitchen — so guests can help themselves.