Thanksgiving is just around the corner and today we’re talking about the perfect turkey brine and how to brine a turkey breast before roasting!
Brining is different from marinating. Usually for a marinade, you’re coating the meat with some type of dressing or sauce that’s a mix of oil and acid (vinegar or citrus) with fresh herbs to add flavor. Brining uses salt and water and is a method to infuse moisture to meat that may otherwise dry out. Salt can be used to preserve meat, but in this case, we’re infusing the meat with flavor from the inside out. Brining is particularly helpful for Thanksgiving because it can make the turkey more moist, tender, and flavorful after roasting. You can completely customize the brine and can mix up flavors however you want. It’s an easy step to elevate your turkey breast for any occasion! In today’s post, I’m sharing tried and tested tips and tricks on how to properly brine a turkey breast before roasting.
I’ve cooked for Thanksgiving only a few times in my life. When we were first living in Georgia, I made “healthified versions” of Thanksgiving classics (my husband is still married to me because I got him catering from Honeybaked Ham), I made a whole turkey in San Diego when P’s reflux was too bad to travel, and I cooked last year, when our usual giant family festivities were canceled. It was small and lovely, and honestly one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories. The girls chased my brother’s puppy around in the backyard, and even with the weirdness of the world, time stood still on our little patio.
It was also my first year making turkey breast instead of an entire turkey, and I’m NEVER going back. I didn’t think cooking a turkey was that big of a deal – don’t let it intimidate ya. It’s really like a big chicken – but turkey breasts are so much easier, and the meat tastes much better to me. If you’re having a smaller family gathering this year, I highly recommend going bone-in turkey breast instead of an entire turkey!
Something that will take it over the top: turkey brine!! Brining used to scare me, but it’s literally the easiest thing ever. (At first I thought you poached the turkey in the brine. Don’t do this, lol.) You take a large pot and fill it with water, salt, beer (the secret ingredient!), heat it to cook out the alcohol, add fresh herbs and citrus, and then submerge the turkey in it overnight. When you’re ready to roast, you remove the turkey, lightly pat it dry, and season and cook as usual.
How To Brine A Turkey Breast Before Roasting
What You Need
Here’s what I use to brine the turkey:
– A large stock pot, big enough to hold the turkey breast(s)
– 6-7 lbs of bone-in turkey breast
– Equal parts water and beer (I prefer a light beer, like a blonde ale). Not a beer fan? Just use chicken or turkey broth instead!
– Lots of sea salt. You want it to be SALTY like the ocean. I used about 4 tablespoons.
– a handful of peppercorns
– 3 small sliced oranges
– 2 heads of garlic, cut in half
– a bunch of scallions
– 1 tablespoon of sugar (tip: it’s a good idea to always add a little sweetness to a brine!)
Like I mentioned above, you can customize the brine based on the flavors you love! Feel free to add in some thyme, sage (lovely for Thanksgiving), bay leaves, lemon halves, onion, whatever you enjoy and have on hand.
In a large roasting dish on the stove, fill it 1/3 with water and 1/3 with beer. (This way, there should be enough room to add the turkey breast without it overflowing!) Season extremely well with salt, a tablespoon of sugar, and bring the heat up to medium.
Use a whisk to stir the mixture as it heats up, allowing the salt and sugar to completely dissolve and to cook out the alcohol from the beer. Remove from heat and let stand until it comes to room temperature. (Usually it takes 20 minutes or so.)
Add your remaining herbs, garlic, and onion, along with a small handful of whole peppercorns, and sliced scallions if using. Stir gently to combine.
You do not need to rinse the turkey before adding it to the brine. I feel like it makes more a mess and can spread the germs around more easily when water splashes it everywhere! Just gently pat dry with a paper towel. Place your bone-in turkey breast into the mixture (depending on its size, you may need to pour out a little so it doesn’t overflow!) so that it’s fully submerged in the brine solution. Cover and store in the fridge overnight, for 12 to 24 hours. I wouldn’t recommend brining for longer than 24 hours, as it can affect the texture of the meat.
Roast your turkey!
When it’s time to roast, here’s what I do: follow Ina’s roast turkey recipe. I thought about tweaking it, but why??? Don’t mess with perfection. The brining I mentioned above takes the flavor over the top, and Ina’s method for roasting is the best way to do it. After making it this way last year, I’ll never cook an entire turkey again. The turkey breast meat was so flavorful, not dry at all, the leftovers were bomb. You just remove your turkey from the brine, gently pat it dry, and then follow the rest of the recipe as suggested.
– Use a large roasting dish to cook your turkey with high edges. You may need to split it into two dishes. I used a regular baking dish instead of our roasting dish and while things were a lil snug, it worked out.
– I always recommend using an instant read thermometer to ensure your meat is cooked to a safe temperature. It makes sure that the turkey is fully cooked without being overdone.
– After cooking the turkey, remove it from the roasting dish and let it sit on a cutting board to rest for about 15 minutes. This is when you can make the gravy (or pour the stuff you ordered from Whole Foods onto a separate baking dish you’ll use to serve). Top the gravy with the sliced turkey, and pop back in the oven at the lowest setting. This will keep the turkey warm and moist until it’s time to serve!
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Are you cooking for Thanksgiving? What’s on the menu?