Salt for Brining
Not all salts are the same. There's iodonized table salt, uniodonized table salt, sea salt, kosher, course sea, various colored and textures combinations of salts. Some are good for baking, some are preferred for cooking, some are preferred for finishing, and lastly some are favored for their dissolvability in liquid which makes them more desirable to use in a brine. A good rule of thumb for a brine for a basic 14-16 pound turkey using most available basic salts we have in the market:
Table Salt (without iodine) - use 1 cup
Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt - use 2 cups
Morton Kosher Salt - use 1 1/2 cups
Refrigeration Is Mandatory
First, before you even decide to brine anything, you need to make sure you have room to keep the brine. If you're planning to do a turkey, then buy a 5 gallon bucket and see if it can fit in your fridge.
If it doesn't, then you need to go to Option B: Find turkey brining bags that will hold your turkey. They make some as big as 20 pounds. Check out this link from What's Cooking America's online store for brining bags and more supplies. Now see if you have room for your bag of turkey in your fridge.
If not, there is still hope with Option C: Get a cooler. One of those big tailgate guys and throw your turkey bag brine of goodness in there. Adjust with cooling packs as needed. Do NOT use ice please -- you can control the temperature in the cooler with ice packs much easier. If you don't have ice packs then take gallon-sized freezer bags and fill them with ice cubes. You just spent days defrosting your turkey; let's not refreeze it right before cooking! The basic goal is to keep your turkey under 40 degrees.
How Long To Brine?
This will directly depend on how large your turkey is. Obviously, a smaller turkey will need less time to brine while a larger one will need longer. So make sure you plan ahead with your defrosting time and brining. Here's a good table to help you:
Whole Turkey 12-14 pounds 10 hours
Whole Turkey 14-16 pounds 16 hours
Whole Turkey 17-18 pounds 18 hours
Whole Turkey 18-24 pounds 20-24 hours
Turkey Breast 5-8 hours
Again, these are estimates. Give or take 2 hours is great. So for example if you forgot and leave your 14 pound turkey for 18 hours, you're not going to ruin the whole dish. The longer you leave the turkey in the brine, the saltier is will get. Conversely, if you need to pull the turkey an hour before brine then don't sweat it either. Do not leave your turkey longer than 30 hours even if it's 24 pounds!
Other Spices and Flavorings
You can create vertually any flavor combination you like. You're limited only to your imagination! Here are some commonly used combinations and liquids used to create the perfect brine. Tailor it to what else you plan to serve at the table. If you have decidedly sweeter dishes for the sides, then a more savory turkey would balance out the meal. Conversely if you have all savory dishes, then perhaps a sweeter turkey would be a nice touch.
- fresh rosemary -- woodsy smell; slight pine; very aromatic; savory; balances out sweet very well
- fresh thyme -- slight woodsy smell; hints of lemon; bright flavors; use in savory
- fresh marjoram -- like a cross between thyme and oregano; citrus and savory flavors; savory
- fresh sage -- strong savory flavor; deep woodsy smell and flavor
- fresh oregano -- very pungeant; savory; strong base flavor
- bay leaves -- deep, rich flavor; savory; slight bitter undertone which acts nicely to balance out flavors
- black peppercorns -- peppery, slightly spicy; used in savory and to balance out sweet
- red peppercorns -- consdierably sweeter than black; often in briningn to balance out salt and spicy
- allspice berries -- hints of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg; gives underlying warmth in taste and smell
- juniper berries -- peppery in flavor similar to black peppercorns; historically used for brining
- star anise -- licorice like flavor; sweetness used to balance out spicy and savory
- cinnamon sticks -- warm and distinct flavor; used to bridge sweet and savory flavors together
- coriander seeds -- sweet flavor with hints of savory; used as a bridge again
- fennel seeds -- similar anise flavor like star anice although not as strong; much more mellow
- cumin seeds -- smokey flavor; works very nicely with sweet and savory
- mustard seeds -- slight spicy flavor
- raw onion -- used as a base flavor for sweet and savory
- raw garlic -- used as a base flavor with punches of intense savory
- celery -- slightly bitter taste used as a base flavor
- apple juice -- sweetener
- peach juice -- sweetener
- orange juice -- sweetener with hints of sour
- chicken broth -- sweetener with hints of sour; used as a base flavoring
- white wine -- dry or sweet wines used as a baseline for flavor profile in brining
- beer -- used as a baseline for a brine
- granulated white sugar -- sweetener
- brown sugar -- sweetener; hints of molasses
- molasses -- sweetener; more concentrated than sugars
- barley malt -- sweetener; more concentrated than sugars but with a bitter taste as well
- honey -- sweetener