Technique: How To Brine and Roast A Turkey
Brining poultry is standard, whether it is chicken breast, a whole chicken or turkey. Brining is the process of submerging meat (in this case poultry) in a saline solution to create moist meat.
The process of brining works by the salt penetrating into the meat. Salt naturally retains water, so the salt will keep the water infused in the meat while cooking.
The simplest brine is salt and water. Simply use 1 cup of salt per gallon of water. The amount of water needed depends on how much meat you need to brine. As a general rule, the water line should be about 4" - 6" above the meat being brined. You can never have too much water; however, you can always have too little. Other recipes may add brown sugar, spices, and different fruit juices to the brine; this is optional, and depends on how one will plan to season the meat before cooking.
Time is a beneficial factor in brining. Under brining can actually cause the meat to taste saltier. This is because if taken out too quickly, the salt is laying on the surface of the meat and was not given enough time evenly distributing. This then brings up another important factor, the meat must be FULLY DEFROSTED, or the same will result. When brining large whole poultry, 1 hour per pound is sufficient; so if you have a 25 lb. turkey, it will take 25 hours before the turkey is ready to be taken out of the brine. The only exception to this rule is if the poultry is cut into pieces, then if enough brine liquid is present, 1 - 3 hours is sufficient (this is primarily the time to brine chicken breast, legs, thighs and wings.)
You will need an accurate meat thermometer to gauge exactly when the meat is done. Don't rely on the pop-up thermometers; they are calibrated to an extremely high internal temperature! The result will be a dry piece of meat.
Place the turkey, 4 cups of table salt and 2 cups of brown sugar in the bucket. Cover with 4 gallons of cold water and submerge the turkey upside down. Turn the turkey a few times to mix the salt and sugar. Place the bucket in a cold place for four hours for a smaller turkey and as much as six hours for a larger one, no more no less. To keep the brine cold replace some of the water with a few bags of ice or even throw in some freezer packs.
Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse well under cold running water. Let rest uncovered overnight in the refrigerator. This will drain any excess moisture and help dry out the skin so it will brown better.
Rub the turkey with butter, ground pepper and your favorite herb or spice mix. Stuff the turkey with fresh herb sprigs, garlic cloves and large chopped pieces of carrot, celery and onion. Place breast side down on a clean well-oiled roasting rack in a roasting pan. Add two cups of water to the pan.
Place the turkey in a preheated 400 oven. Roast one hour then, without opening the oven, turn the heat down to 250 and continue roasting for two hours longer. For a 20 to 25 lb. turkey or larger roast for three more hours. If you have a convection oven only roast for 45 minutes first before turning down the oven heat, no other adjustments are needed.
Flip the turkey breast side up and baste it thoroughly. Add two cups of water to the roasting pan. Turn the oven back up to 400 and continue roasting until the breast meat is exactly 165 and the thigh reads 170. Baste and check the temperature every 15 minutes or so. This finishing heat will help brown the skin. Let the turkey rest covered with foil for 20 to 30 minutes before carving then serve immediately.
Try brining for the best tasting, juiciest holiday turkey ever! It's a centuries old trick that the pros use. Best of all it's very simple and it really works. Brining encourages the tightly wound proteins in meat to uncoil, bump into each other and form a web of sorts that sets with the heat of the oven and traps moisture.