A turkey brine is a brine in which a turkey is soaked prior to cooking. Brining imparts more flavor to the turkey, and can also be used with other white meats such as chicken and pork, in addition to birds such as goose. Brining is often recommended for meats which tend to overcook, as a way of keeping the meat moist while adding flavor. While a turkey brine can take several days to prepare, some cooks feel that the results are worth it.
The brine itself needs to contain one cup salt (180 grams) and one cup sugar (190 grams) to every gallon (3.8 liters) of water. In addition, most people add spices which are intended to enrich the flavor. Some people use apple juice, cider, or even beer as the liquid in a turkey bring for extra flavor. Enough liquid must be prepared for the bird to be fully submerged.
The brine ingredients need to be cooked together and refrigerated for at least eight hours before a refrigerated bird is slipped into the turkey brine. Then, the mixture should be refrigerated, or packed into a cooler or bucket with ice and stored in a cool place. Many people like to start the turkey brine the night before they plan to cook, or even the morning of the cooking, depending on when the bird is slated to go to the oven, with at least four hours of brining being needed, and more than 12 being potentially problematic.
During the brining process, the brine penetrates deeply into the turkey, carrying flavors along with it. It also denatures the proteins in the meat, which helps them to hold moisture. When the bird is cooked, it will stay moist and tender, and areas which often dry out, such as the breast, will stay moist even if they are a little overcooked. This benefit of turkey brine makes the turkey more likely to be a success. In addition, a turkey brine will cut down on cooking time by around half an hour.
The major drawback to a turkey brine is that the skin does not crackle up during cooking, and in the case of deep fried birds, the skin can blacken. Fortunately, people can get the best of both worlds if they start the turkey brine the morning before they cook, and then pull the turkey out in the evening and let it sit uncovered under refrigeration overnight. This will allow the skin to crisp up nicely during the cooking process. Simply patting the bird dry after brining can also help.