I’m doing a segment on Tom & Sandy’s 805 tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. on KVTA-AM about turkey.
To brine or not to brine. Is that the question?
No. 1 and MOST important: Read the label on your turkey. The vast majority of turkeys, even those that are labeled organic, are already injected with a saline solution. Do Not Brine these birds. They are already brined and adding more liquid would create a mushy, salty mess.
If your bird, however, says “may contain 6% retained water from processing,” its good to go.
If there is no added water in your bird the next question is: dry brine vs wet brine vs no brine at all.
Here’s the thing. Turkeys are too big to roast properly because by the time you get them to the preferred USDA temperature of 165 degrees, the breast meat is getting dry. This is why brining is so popular.
The downside can be a turkey that some consider too salty and those who are on sodium restricted diets would have to pass.
Regular brining consists of a bunch of liquid – water of course, but people are being really creative these days, using apple juice and all kinds of other concoctions. The second addition is a bunch of kosher salt. Finally add herbs, spices, fruit peels – whatever sounds good and either submerge in a cooler or in a brining bag and soaking for about 8-14 hours.
After brining, you will have to wash your turkey.
It is not generally recommended to wash poultry because apparently salmonella and other bacteria tend to splash all over the place. But when you brine a bird there’s just too much salt on the skin, so it has to be washed thoroughly. Afterward, make sure to not only completely clean your hands, but wash down the area around 4 feet of where you washed the bird with a bleach-based cleanser.
There is also the option of dry brining. According to adherents, the salt will pull out all of the juice from the turkey then the turkey will reabsorb the water as it gets saltier. So generously salt your turkey with Kosher salt, along with any herbs you like. Place the bird in a large brining bag and place in refrigerator for about 3 days. You will see liquid come out of the bird and then it should be reabsorbed, although a thawed frozen bird might still have some water.
This bird has to be carefully washed too. So follow all the above steps.
After your turkey has been washed, pat dry with paper towels. Allow to sit in refrigerator for an hour or two before cooking.
I cover my bird with foil for all but the last hour of cooking to keep in the moisture. I also like to rub all over with melted butter and sage before it goes in the oven.
Wings: I never, ever tuck my wings under. I adore the delicious crunch of wing tips eaten with cranberry orange relish and the wings never get crispy if they’re tucked.
Stuffing or dressing: Stuffing is generally a bad idea. It has to get really hot to be safe to eat – 165 degrees – and by then the breast meat really is drying out. But man, oh man, the taste of the drippings drenched bready goodness is hard to resist.
This leaves dressing. Prepare and cook in a pan outside the turkey. You can always add drippings after the fact, but it’s just not the same as stuffing.
If you do stuff your bird, remember to remove it immediately on taking the bird out of the oven and serve it separately.
When is the turkey done? The USDA recommends a temperature of 165 degrees taken in the thickest part of the breast, which I always check. But if there is a hint of pink in the juices that run when I cut the turkey where the leg meets the breast, I’m putting the bird back in the oven. Personally, I would prefer to serve an overcooked, safe bird than a bacteria-riddled one. But that’s just me.