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How and why (or not) to cook a turkey



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Outside politics, this may be the most controversial topic of your thank-you table.

I have tried both ways in Thanksgiving past: Oven-roast turkey after brining and oven-roast turkey without salting. I can not point out that one year's bird is superior to someone else's, but it's probably because I'm not joking from sauce on Thanksgiving – or any meal where gravy is offered, for that matter.

Butter your turkey (and your mashed potatoes and stuffing and vegetables) in sauce and you will find it difficult to demand the subtle changes in your turkey's texture and taste.

Since I'm just an enthusiastic home cook, I turned to professionals – Christopher Kimball, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt and Alton Brown – for answers. Each provides a scientific approach to cooking. Kimball and Lopez-Alt wrote two of my favorite books – Cook's Bible and The Food Lab – and Brown has been a favorite since his Good Eats days, my favorite cooking show ever (recently restarted, is Reloaded) [19659006] I broke open both books and traced down an Alton Brown blog post to find out about their thoughts about brining.

Back up – what does it burn?

Brining sucks your turkey in salted water for many hours or overnight. Turkey absorbs some of the water while soaking your brine fluid and the salt dissolves some muscle proteins, which results in the meat contracting less while it is in the oven and loses less moisture when boiling.

What do the experts say?

I was surprised to know that both Kimball and Lopez-Alt are stuck in the anti-salt box. Both say it's a pain to salt a big turkey and its effects are not all positive.

Kimball says that "burned turkey lacked some tooth. It was moist and tasteful but it reminded me of the non-alcoholic turkey breasts sold on delicacies." I like turkey with the right bite. "He says that the mother's slow roasting method is easier and gives The same succulent results.

Lopez-Alt says clearly: "I do not burn my turkey." He points to two problems with brining. Firstly, it's a hassle because you need a giant container to accommodate your bird, and you have to keep it cold, which means you use ice bags or pick up valuable property in your fridge. Secondly, he says that added juiciness comes at the expense of taste: "It's juicy, but the juice is watery" because you forced the bird to absorb water. In conclusion, Lopez-Alt says: "I do not whip my birds because I like that my birds taste like birds, not like watery birds."

Brown prefers a dry brine and spatchcocking his bird before roasting it. However, for people like me who are having trouble planning, he suggests combining the brining and tinning process and pointing to an excessive bird's superiority for residues, "Is the flavor as good as the dry-hardness method? It's not really as intensive but on scale 1-10, I would still give 8.7 and in terms of leftovers (you can say "sandwich") I do not think a burned bird could be beat. "In the end, no turkey sandwiches are on Friday and Saturday and Sunday the whole point for a Thanksgiving -turkey?

Learn more : Here are three ways to thaw your turkey in time for Thanksgiving

I still want to brine – how do I do it?

Get a large storage pot, the crisp box from your fridge or a cooler. And make sure you use a natural turkey (one that has not already been injected with a saline solution).

Add a cup or two kosher salt and then add a hot water pot to dissolve the salt. Allow the salted water to cool and place the turkey in the container. Add cold water to cover turkey.

The relationship between salt and water is not extremely important. You are looking for a ratio of about two cups of salt to one liter of water. Place the container in your refrigerator or, if you do not fit your refrigerator, use ice bags to keep it cool.

If you have a frozen turkey you can thaw it while you burn it with Alton Brown, but plan it takes two days to thaw.

When the big day comes out, remember to rinse over excess salt solution before roasting so you do not end up with insane salt boiler. Because good gravy is the best part of each party. (Check out this Chowhound recipe for burned roasted turkey with cream sauce.)

What about dry burning?

Dry burning means you only rub your turkey with salt – on top of the skin and underneath – and allow it to sit in the refrigerator for a day or two before cooking. It helps your bird maintain moisture without lowering the flavor.

Lopez-Alt says using 1 teaspoon kosher salt per pound of meat. Before starting salting, loosen the skin of your chest using your hand or handle of a wooden spoon and rub a little salt under the skin and throughout the bird. Put turkey on a large tray or baking sheet and press it in the refrigerator – uncovered – overnight or up to 48 hours.

Dry burning is a step in this Chowhound recipe for light roasted turkey.

And flavored salt solutions

You can also make your brine del marinade to add some taste to your bird. Martha Stewart has an aromatized saline recipe containing laurel, garlic, thyme, dried juniper berries, fennel seeds and a bottle of Riesling.

Do you have a tried and true method for preparing a Thanksgiving turkey? Please share your culinary secrets in the comments below.

Originally published November 17, 2017.
Update, November 15, 2018: Added Alton Brown's brining views.


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