To Brine or Not to Brine

Male North American Turkey

With Thanksgiving on the horizon, a lunch conversation with colleagues yesterday turned to a discussion of turkey preparation methods: to brine or not to brine, how to ensure even cooking of dark meat and white meat, to stuff or not to stuff, can I deep fry my turkey without burning down my garage?  Great topics for debate, because it seems that each person (if they’re involved in preparation of the dinner at all) has some theory or tradition or recipe that they’re partial to.  “Well, my Mom does it this way,” or “we never do that,” or “we tried that one year, and never again…” etc, etc.

As the topic of brining came up — and that does seem to be a hot topic in the food world; yes, the blogs are abuzz with brines this week — I mentioned a recent post by Bob DelGrosso at A Hunger Artist, where Bob gives his reasons for why he prefers a dry rub to a brine.  I enjoy reading his blog because he has a ton of experience, he’s clear in how he explains the science of cooking, and he balances all that with practical knowledge about how the thing tastes, which is the point after all, isn’t it?

So here is a sampling of cooking science and opinion to help you solidify your plan as you head towards turkey day:

In favor of brining (Alton Brown), a technique and recipe that many people swear by: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/good-eats-roast-turkey-recipe/index.html

With reservations on bringing — a “nuanced discussion,” in which he clarifies the science of brining, and the benefits of a dry rub (Bob DelGrosso, former chef instructor at C.I.A.): http://ahungerartist.bobdelgrosso.com/2010/11/brining-nuanced-view.html

On deep frying and safety (also Alton; a classic Good Eats episode): part 1, part 2, part 3

On cooking the turkey in parts, home sous vide style (Grant Achatz): http://www.seriouseats.com/2008/11/in-videos-cooking-thanksgiving-sous-vide-turkey-with-grant-achatz-alinea.html

On gravy and turkey stock (Michael Ruhlman): http://ruhlman.com/2010/11/how-to-make-thanksgiving-gravy-it-starts-with-easy-turkey-stock.html

And for one stop shopping and reliable food science and taste testing posts, the Serious Eats Food Lab: Thanksgiving Special: Turkey 101.

So many options, and only one turkey…

Image: photo by en:User:Lupin via Wikimedia Commons

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About Scott

occasionally-bearded teacher/musician/cook
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4 Responses to To Brine or Not to Brine

  1. Teddy Devico says:

    Seperate legs from Breast and put in seperate zip lock bags with duck fat, herbs, salt, and pepper. Cook in 150 degree water, regulate the temperature by keeping a very low heat on the stove to heat and by having ice cubes to lower the temperature when neccesary. Cook for about an hour and a half. Remove from bags and sear in a very hot pan. The meat will be completely moist throughout and the skin will be nice and crisp.

  2. Scott says:

    Thanks for the comment. I like the idea of adding duck fat to the bags. Achatz uses butter and sage in the video above, which I’d also like to try. The only thing I’ve done “home sous vide” style (w/ 130 degree water in a large cooler for an hour before throwing on a hot grill) is David Chang’s Hangar Steak recipe from the Momofuku cookbook. That was terrific.

  3. Dave says:

    Thanks, Scott — excellent resource. I’m going to try the brining with the turkey breast we have, but I’m thinking I’ll skip the aromatics and use our traditional sausage stuffing recipe. However, this is really setting the groundwork for the December turkey project — brine, then smoke the turkey in the ECB.

    • Scott says:

      @Dave, nice! I realized after writing that I left the whole category of turkey smoking out of the post. An eggregious oversight on my part. It could help to have the Weber Kettle extension ring so you can fit the bird in (which I can’t find online), and then cook slow and low. Or you could cheat and just order a Greenburg Smoked Turkey from Texas, which are awesome!

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