Brining My Bird

I started doing this a little over a year ago when I tried bining my bird for the first time at Thanksgiving. And I liked it so much I keep doing it, whether I'm deep frying the bird as I was back then, or roasting it in the oven the old fashioned way. In fact, I've since done a lot of different meats brined, and they are absolutely terrific! Salt's basic function in food is a flavour enhancer, so in controlled amounts it can be very beneficial in the overall enjoyment of a meal. And as the salt gets drawn into the meat, it takes with it some of the rest of the herbs, spices and sugars that are dissolved in the solution, so be creative but at the same time use caution with ingredients like pepper, and spicy ingredients and when in doubt use less the first time. But onions, garlic and many herbs like oregano and the likes would be pretty difficult to have too much of.

Mix the lower amount of salt in this recipe for a light brine that even at a 24 hour soak will probably not be a "sodium explosion" for anyone who otherwise knows where the sodium in their diet is coming from. For me, I just don't worry about it since I don't eat any packaged foods at all, so the only salt I get is direct. Or most of it anyway - the bakery certainly puts salt in the bread we buy.

For people like my wife who are actually under doctor's orders to get more salt in their diets, use a full brine for 48 hours to make meat for stews and boiled dinners.

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The basic brine consists of :

  • 2 litres water
  • 1/4 (light brine) to 3/4 (full brine) cup salt
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup or whatever you like
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • other herbs and spices to taste

Mix enough of this to cover the bird. I use a standard 5 US gallon / 19 litre white plastic bucket from Home Depot / Rona. They sell them for mixing paint, but they are standard HDPE and are food grade.

As shown in the picture below, some generous sprigs of rosemary is one of my favorite ways to brine. Though this time around I did not have any on hand so in the whole bucket I mixed in about 1/4 cup dried oregano and another 1/4 cup dried thyme. I also used brown sugar this time. Often in the summer when we are having our Brew 'n' Q backyard parties I'll use honey because a good friend and his daughter are hypo-glycemic and processed sugar really disagrees with them.

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For frozen birds I go directly from the freezer to the brining bucket, without thawing it first. The bird thaws in the brine, and the frozen bird helps keep the whole thing cool if you don't have a fridge to keep it in. Normally I do have room in one of my keg fridges for my bucket, but this time around I tried it simply in a cool corner of the basement. I wrapped the bucket in a blanket and monitored the temperature of the brine and it stayed below 40F (fridge temp) the whole 40 hours I had it brining. More than 24 hours can be a bit too briny for some people with a full brine, so your first time around you may want to halt it there. I'm personally not big on really salty foods but somehow the turkey brined more than 24 hours suits me fine. As you see in the video in the comments below, you can take a bird or other piece of meat out of the freezer and put it right into a small cooler, and it should maintain a fridge temperature for at least 48 hours. But be sure to check it with a thermometer - just measure the temperature of the brining solution.

We had a 7.7 kg / 17 lb bird this time around, and it took exactly 4 hours @325F to cook it to perfection. There was quite a bit more food left to prepare when the bird came out of the oven, so I wrapped it in foil and tossed a fleece blanket over it. About 75 minutes later when the rest of the supper was ready, the bird was still piping hot.

I collected about 750ml / 3 cups of pan drippings from the bird, and used them to make a very yummy gravy. I'll follow this up shortly with a recipe.

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Turkey Brining Video

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