Thursday, November 10, 2011

Brining the Bird 101 (Repost)

This is a repost from a Thanksgiving series I did in 2009. I won't repost the entire series, but brining your turkey before smoking is both essential and simple. Without further ado....
For Turkey Week today the Barbecue 101 class is about BRINES.

What is brine? It is a combination of water or other liquids, with salt and often sugar. Brines add flavor and more importantly, moisture to the meat.

How does it work? For a brine to do it's magic, it must a) fully cover the meat and b) be saltier than the meat itself. The meat draws in the salt, and the liquid with it, to equalize the salt ratio. It makes sense, when you think about it. There aren't "salty spots" in an ocean, or "almost fresh water" areas. Salt water is salt water. I know there is a scientific answer for this, but it's late while I'm writing and I don't want to get on an oceanography google fest tangent. If any of you want to chime in, please do.

What goes into a brine? Water and salt are all you really need, but it's fun to add other flavors. A large turkey isn't going to take on much flavor inside the meat from a rub. That will remain on the skin, or just under as we will discuss in the Thursday recipe. A brine is an excellent way to infuse other flavors into your turkey. Sugar and vinegars are popular. So is beer or other alcohols. I like these on large cuts of pork or beef, but find they overpower turkey.

I get surprisingly traditional at holiday time. I just can't teriyaki my turkey. I love the simple flavors of citrus, garlic, and herbs. Below is a variation of the Citrus and Clove Brine featured in She-Smoke (pg. 63). For examples of other brine recipes, click here. My turkey was pretty big for smoking (14lbs), and I used a 5-gallon bucket so I made a brine batch and a half. If you fill a large plastic bag with your brine and turkey, you can make less brine solution.

Holiday Turkey Brine

2 gallons water
2 cups kosher salt
3 tbls. pepper corns plus 1 tbls. ground pepper
1 red onion, cut into wedges
1 orange, cut into wedges
1/2 grapefruit, cut into wedges
1 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
5 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves

As a general rule, you need to submerge a turkey an hour for every pound, for a maximum of 48 hours. Too long in the brine and the meat can get mushy. Once brining is done, rinse the turkey and pat it dry with paper towels before adding your rub and cooking. The Thursday recipe will cover preparing and smoking a turkey.

Any questions, class? Please post them in the comments so that everyone can benefit from the discussion.

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