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forever_young_ca

Brining, basting, and stuffing your turkey

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October 14 is Canadian Thanksgiving. I have always cooked my turkey the way my mother did - no brining, stuffing in the bird.

For this year's bird I am thinking of brining using Alton Brown's method. Has anyone tried it?

I am worried about the gravy being too salty. I will make my own stock and will not add salt to it.

What is your experience with brining birds? There is undoubtedly a previous thread on this, but I was unable to find it doing a search.

Any advice would be appreciated. I will be feeding 11 people, doing about a 16 lb. bird

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If you get a turkey at the grocery store, check to see if it has liquid added to make it self basting or some such. Those turkeys have already been 'brined' and doing it again will make them too salty for sure. I have brined a turkey before and if I recall correctly, it was Alton Browns or one very like it. It had bourbon in the brine. The first year it was too salty. The next year I brined it for less time and rinsed it thoroughly. It turned out very well.

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I used a Cook's Illustrated recipe for turkey one year that called for brining and it came out extremely nicely. People who generally disliked turkey because they found it too dry came back for seconds and thirds. I think you just need to be careful with it in terms of making sure you rinse well and take the brine process into consideration when adding salt at other stages. (Like when making something with the pan juices.)

Unfortunately I don't recall details because I only did it once before we found a really good butcher and everyone demanded beef roasts instead of turkey on traditional family gathering days. (This was when I lived in England, so they didn't really have a concept of Thanksgiving. Turkey was more of a Christmas dinner meal, and hard to find other times of year.) But definitely I would do it again if I had call to make another turkey. I seem to recall feeling like the brined turkey was more robust in terms of getting the timing exactly right, too. (Meaning if you don't whip it out of the oven exactly on time due to the general chaos of cooking multiple dishes with friends and family turning up and popping in to help, a couple of minutes extra in the oven isn't going to turn it from edible into cotton-y dried out ick.)

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I used to brine my birds, but I don't do it any more. I have a much better method - injection brining! You load up your brine into a syringe, then inject it into the bird. A traditional brine is about 6-10% (depending on whose recipe you read) with a prolonged soak between 12-36 hours, depending on the size of the bird. As you can guess, brines work slowly and take their time to penetrate the meat. If you use a very hypertonic brine, the brine will work faster but might leave you with a "salinity gradient" where the meat closest to the surface is more salty than meat further in.

An injection brine takes care of that. The advantage is not only more even brining, but also predictability and speed. The other main advantage is that the skin is not brined. Brined skin holds on to salt and water, which stops it from crisping up. This allows you to rub salt directly onto the skin to help it dry up and crisp nicely.

My typical recipe for an injection brine is: inject 20% of the weight of the bird in brine (sounds like a lot, but a third of this will leak out). The brine should be 4% (i.e. 4gm of salt for every 100gm liquid). So if you have a 3kg bird, you will need to prepare 600mg of brine. That is, 24mg of salt into 600mg of water. You don't have to use water either, you could use stock or milk. Milk has the advantage of containing phosphates which help tenderize the meat even more.

BTW these days, I usually cut the legs off and roast the bird on the crown with no stuffing. I also use low heat (80C) until the breast reaches 62C. I then rest it for an hour, then return it it to the oven at very high heat to crisp up the skin.

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After using this recipe for our recent Thanksgiving get-together of three families, I have been proclaimed the official turkey roaster. 12 out of 12 said it was the best turkey they ever tasted. The most difficult part of this recipe was finding a bucket large enough to accommodate the turkey. Then the bucket wouldn't fit into the fridge. I didn't feel comfortable leaving it out all night, so I found a large cooler, placed the bucket in there and surrounded it with freezer packs. It worked very well - it was still very cold the next morning. After checking out several "brine" recipes, I didn't read of anyone actually stuffing the turkey so I wasn't certain whether the stuffing would end up too salty. I stuffed it anyway, but rinsed the turkey with cold water first. It was excellent! Try this once and you'll never go back to your regular recipe!

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Although I never found that brining made the gravy too salty, I gave it up years ago in favour of presalting, using Judy Roger's method (Zuni Cafe). I use this method for all cuts of meat. Turkeys can be presalted up to three days before roast day.

~Ann

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After using this recipe for our recent Thanksgiving get-together of three families, I have been proclaimed the official turkey roaster. 12 out of 12 said it was the best turkey they ever tasted. The most difficult part of this recipe was finding a bucket large enough to accommodate the turkey. Then the bucket wouldn't fit into the fridge. I didn't feel comfortable leaving it out all night, so I found a large cooler, placed the bucket in there and surrounded it with freezer packs. It worked very well - it was still very cold the next morning. After checking out several "brine" recipes, I didn't read of anyone actually stuffing the turkey so I wasn't certain whether the stuffing would end up too salty. I stuffed it anyway, but rinsed the turkey with cold water first. It was excellent! Try this once and you'll never go back to your regular recipe!

What recipe? (It looks like you wanted to insert a link.)

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I have used the pre salting method on other meats, I don't know why I did not think of it for the Thanksgiving turkey. :rolleyes:

Ann_T do you do the dressing outside or inside of the bird?

I am intrigued by this method as well as Keith_W's straight injection method.

Both methods seem to be less trouble than finding a bucket large enough to hold the turkey and brine and then try to keep the bird cold while soaking. I live on the west coast of Canada and it is not cold enough to safely leave it on the deck overnight. With the other two methods I can easily keep the turkey in the fridge.

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Forever_Young_CA, I'm also on the west coast of Canada. I have done the stuffing/dressing both ways. Presalting doesn't prohibit you from stuffing the turkey. But I do prefer to bake the dressing separate from the bird.

~Ann

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I am intrigued by this method as well as Keith_W's straight injection method.

Not my method. I read about it in Modernist Cuisine. There is a video on how to do it on Youtube:

Trust me, this is much superior to dunking the whole turkey in brine. The downside is that you need to purchase a brining syringe. Or, if you have access to medical equipment like me, you can simply repurpose a 50mL syringe and an 18G needle :)

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For me, I depend a lot on seasoning and marinating to give turkey flavor. I don't want the meat to be over flavored and too salty. I also mostly sous vide turkey. The whole long cooking time of the turkey is kind of like brining and marinating at the same time. Given the fact that I think turkey meat taste good by itself, extra good with good gravy and fantastic with nice stuffing. I feel the single most important issue with cooking turkey is to achieve good meat texture, and with sous vide, it can be done with some degree of assurance.

dcarch

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How does one sous vide such a large bird (serious question)?

And this is a serious answer.

I use a large beer cooler.

You know how difficult it is to time a big frozen turkey, you first need to thaw it in the fridge for three to five days, then you need to figure out how long to cook the bird so that you done overcook too moucu the outside to get the internal temperature to safe zone.

With sous vide, the entire frozen bird goes in the cooker, no thawing, and there will be no overcooking, under-cooking inside or outside.

dcarch

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But I do prefer to bake the dressing separate from the bird.

~Ann

A bit off the brining topic, but still Thanksgiving - I have done the dressing both inside and outside of the bird. This year I am going to do it outside of the bird. In an attempt to save oven space I was thinking of making it in the crock pot. I have never done this before, and don't have a good handle on the time required. Has anybody done this? If so, how long, temperature, etc?

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How does one sous vide such a large bird (serious question)?

And this is a serious answer.

I use a large beer cooler.

With sous vide, the entire frozen bird goes in the cooker, no thawing, and there will be no overcooking, under-cooking inside or outside.

dcarch

HI,

From 0 degrees F. to fully cooked temperature in a beer cooler... How many weeks does that take? What temp is the final?

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How does one sous vide such a large bird (serious question)?

And this is a serious answer.

I use a large beer cooler.

With sous vide, the entire frozen bird goes in the cooker, no thawing, and there will be no overcooking, under-cooking inside or outside.

dcarch

HI,

From 0 degrees F. to fully cooked temperature in a beer cooler... How many weeks does that take? What temp is the final?

I don't remember the exact temperature and time. I have that info somewhere in my several computers. It really does not take long to get the interior temperature up to cooked temperature from frozen. 5 hours? Ideally, the dark meat and the white meat should be sous vided at a different temperature. I often just do it in the middle, still much better than roasting.

There are two issues to deal with doing it this way: 1. the giblets will be cooked in the paper bag inside the turkey. 2. find a way to crispy up the skin.

dcarch

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Thanks to all who replied. After some thought, I have decided to use the Judy Rogers method.

Anne T - how long do you leave it in the fridge for the skin to dry out? I have not been able to find the large plastic bags in Canada - have you?

One more question - do you have a preferred salt that you use?

Now I just have to figure out the side dishes...............

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I thought I would report back on the Thanksgiving turkey that I cooked. I used Judy rogers presalting method linked by Anne T above. It was easy and resulted in a delicious and moist turkey. In addition to the presalting, at cooking time I layered butter under the skin of the breast and put onion and parsley in the cavity. The skin was beautifully crisp. I will do this method again.

For the first time ever I made the stuffing separate. I never thought I would admit this, but I preferred it to being cooked in the bird. I made Anne Burrell's cornbread stuffing and everyone asked for the recipe.

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I used the injection brining, 6%, method and cooked the unstuffed bird at 325 degrees F with the breast and legs covered with double foil then uncovered the bird with 45 minutes to go. I also split the legs away from the body of the bird about half way through cooking to help them get done before the breast was over done. I cooked the stuffing separately as I usually do. If you make a nicely concentrated turkey stock and use that to moisten the bread in the stuffing it makes the stuffing taste like it was cooked in the bird...a little of the fat drippings from the bird also helps.

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I'm a firm believer in brining turkey and the benefits it provides in flavor, texture and moistness. I have not tried the dry-brining method before, but after reading these posts and the linked articles I am looking forward to trying a dry brine this year.

One thing I would note with traditional turkey brines is that many recipes (including Alton Brown's) include some brown sugar. Nothing wrong with this, but I feel that it the addition of brown sugar in the brine contributes to the "hammy" taste that some people notice in brined turkey. It's not a bad taste, but because of that I leave out the sugar on my turkey brines.

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The best decision I ever made was cooking the turkey in parts. I cook it at a low temp and that way I can control what temperature each piece is cooked then I remove it and I can have it out for 2-3 hours and then all it needs is 15-20 minutes in a super hot oven to crisp up. It also frees up my oven to make other things and I also get the carcass to make my own stock and gravy. I literally will never cook a whole turkey again. You can dry or injection brine it still.

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Here it's injection brining for the breast; extended seasoned salting for the drumsticks; meatballs (frikadeller) for the thighs.

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Can someone comment on the effect of basting? Most old school turkey recipes call for frequent basting of the turkey. I am under the impression that basting slows cooking by (1) increasing evaporation from the skin thus slowing heat absorption, and (2) heat loss through opening the oven door. Does basting actually help the skin crisp up by adding proteins and sugar to the skin?

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