Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Turkey Part I - The Brine

I've wanted to do a brine for a long time, so I talked my mother in law into letting me deep fry a turkey for Thanksgiving this year. After doing hours of research on the web, I decided there was probably no "right" way of doing a brine, and there are countless recipes out there. I wanted to do this carefully and scientifically, so I chose Morton Salt's recipe and this is how it went down:

First, being a food scientist, I needed a graduated cylinder. Since I didn't have any in the lab that would hold a 10 pound bird, I decided to make my own. Luckily for me, a gallon milk jar became available after dinner and I snagged it. I measured to the top of the screw on lip, not all the way to the top. That became "my" gallon. Pouring in water into a new 5 gallon bucket and marking a line with a sharpie gave me the following:

After making the graduated cylinder, the brine was easy to measure. I boiled about a gallon of water and added the brine ingredients, until dissolved. Then I chilled it in the refrigerator for an hour. Pouring it in revealed a little over a gallon needed to be added to bring us to 2 gallons.

After the brine was properly mixed, I added the turkey, breast side down. This bird is 9.74 pounds, and displaced 1 gallon, so the density of the bird is 0.674632034632035 ounces per cubic inch, just in case you were wondering, and the volume of the bird is 231 cubic inches of potential energy that will be turned into chemical energy, creating an exothermic reaction and increasing the mass of the subjects, while acting as a mild anesthetic.

Here's some real science: Brining keeps the meat moist by a process called osmosis. Osmosis works by drawing fluids from the meat's cells to the stronger saline solution surrounding the turkey. But that's only half of it-- the water on the outside is diluted by the turkey's juices, and water can flow in and out of the meat stabilizing to equilibrium and pulling salt and seasoning into the meat. Then the brine changes the cellular structure of the protein, locking in the liquids into the meat, and won't dry out during cooking.

That's real food science! (Lab coats optional)



  • 1 cup morton kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 2 gallons water
  • Ice
  • 5 gallon bucket

Begin by boiling about a gallon of water. Add the dry ingredients and whisk until all salt and sugar is dissolved. Once ingredients are combined, remove from heat and put in the fridge for an hour. Go watch Mythbusters on Netflix. Once the brine stops steaming in the refrigerator, take it out and pour it into the 5 gallon bucket, which you so smartly turned into a graduated cylinder above. Fill with water to the 2 gallon line. Remove thawed turkey from the refrigerator, taking out of plastic, removing any accessories that have been put inside the cavity, and if you are deep frying, remove any pop up timers. Place the bird breast side down in the brine ensuring that it is completely submerged. Fill bags of ice and place inside the brine. Place in cold garage near the door. Wait 8 hours, but I don't recommend watching 8 hours of Mythbusters in one sitting. Try sleeping. After the 8 hours, remove the turkey from the brine and thoroughly rinse off all the salt and sugar. Pat dry and let rest for 30 minutes prior to cooking.

Bon Appetit! The Outdoors Start at Your Back Porch!

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