Even though Abby Slutsky owns a bakery business, she likes to find a balance between nutritional foods, interesting side dishes, and sweets.
Brines Infuse Flavor and Hydrate
Although not everyone brines their turkey, it is a popular way to prepare it because this technique infuses flavor—and, at the same time—hydrates the bird. The added liquid makes the turkey juicier and moister when it is cooked. Brines are typically made with a combination of salt, spices, and liquid. Years ago, brining meat helped preserve it when refrigeration was not yet invented.
Many people debate whether or not to brine their turkey. The turkey cooks a little quicker, is flavorful and moist, but many commercially prepared brines are very heavy on salt. If you are on a salt-restricted diet or use very little salt for cooking, a brined turkey can taste overly salty to your tastebuds. Fortunately, you can infiltrate liquid into your turkey without overdoing it on the salt. Here are some suggestions.
Pro Tips for Reduced-Sodium Brines
Adding liquid to turkey can get messy because the liquid can leak out of the turkey or brining bag.
- If you are injecting liquid into the turkey, place the turkey in a large pan first.
- If you are using a brine or marinade, put your brine bag inside of a pan. If the bag leaks, the pan will prevent liquid from dripping onto your refrigerator or countertop.
- If you are brining, rotate the bag every four hours to ensure that the turkey is evenly submerged in liquid on all sides.
- Buy additional brining bags to have on hand for future use. The Liquid Solutions brining bags are large, heavy-duty, and seal well when you are marinating or brining large poultry, ham, or other meat.
- A cup or two of ice can help cool off the brine before you add it to the turkey. Brine kits usually recommend refrigerating the brine to make it cool, but ice (combined with refrigerating) can speed up the process.
How to Reduce the Salt in a Commercial Brine
Commercial brines are usually packaged for a 25-pound turkey. However, I usually use only a small portion of a commercial brine when I prepare a turkey. Many would consider what I call a brine a marinade because the salt ratio will be far less than the salt in a brine. Nevertheless, I have created many juicy turkeys by using only a small amount of brine mix.
For years, I have doctored a commercial brine. I like the herb-flavored Fire & Flavor brine kit, which includes a sealable brining bag.
I mix the seasoning and brine mixture well, and then follow the package directions. However, I only use 2 or 3 tablespoons of the brine mixture. I add additional seasoning of my own. Often I add 1 tablespoon of chopped, fresh rosemary and 1 tablespoon of Herbs de Provence.
Then I brine the turkey as directed. I find that the turkey absorbs sufficient liquid and tastes a lot less salty than if I use the entire box. Many will say that this method of brining is really marinating because salt is essential to brining. However, I find that the results produce a juicy bird and use a lot less salt. I also get a lot more bang for my buck out of my brining kit. If desired, purchase extra brining bags for other turkeys.
Use a Flavor Injecter to Add Flavor
Brining is not the only way to add liquid flavoring and moisture to a turkey. Prepare a salt-free, flavorful liquid and inject it into your turkey a full day before you plan to use it. When injecting a turkey you want minimal holes in your turkey, but you also need to inject it in multiple areas so that the flavor is evenly distributed.
A flavor injector (a syringe-like tool) allows you to inject liquid into the turkey. I have the Dimeshy heavy-duty 304 injector kit. The syringe is extremely sturdy and includes three needles and brushes for cleaning. I have taken mine apart and cleaned it in the top of my dishwasher with ease. The three-ring handle is comfortable to use, and the chamber holds a lot of liquid.
Basic Orange-Flavored Injection
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 1½ teaspoons orange-flavored oil
- ½ cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon orange juice
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Melt the butter over a low stove flame. Then add the other ingredients, and stir until the ingredients are well-combined.
- Turn off the stove, and let the mixture cool until it is slightly warm.
- Put the mixture into a flavor injector, and inject it into the turkey using the process above.
- Cover the turkey and let the injected turkey sit in the refrigerator overnight.
- Lemon and ginger: Modify this basic brine by substituting lemon juice and oil in place of the orange flavoring. You could also add a touch of powdered ginger instead of the garlic powder.
- Beer: For beer lovers, try reducing the broth to half the amount and adding a ¼ cup of beer instead. The beer version is nice with apple cider instead of orange juice, and if you want a slightly sweeter injection, add a tablespoon of warm honey. (Cold honey may not inject well because it will be too thick.)
Get creative! The variations are endless.
How to Inject the Turkey
- Put the mixture into a flavor injector, and inject it into the turkey breast. Then pull the needle partially out of the meat, but not fully out of the skin.
- Move the needle to another area without creating a new hole to inject the turkey in another area. Use this method as much as possible to minimize punctures in the turkey.
- You will need to make a puncture in the opposite breast and the thighs, but you can use the same method.
- Gently, massage the injected turkey to help distribute the flavoring. If desired, while you are massaging your turkey, massage a spice mixture of your choice under the skin.
- Cover the turkey and refrigerate it overnight.
- Let the turkey come to room temperature before you start roasting it; leave it out for about 1 hour.
More Tips to Reduce Salt After Injecting or Brining
- Wash off the brine with water: Douse the turkey with water after removing it from the brine bag (or after it has been sitting after being injected). Running it under water for five or ten minutes will help wash away stray salt. You can also submerge your turkey in a clean basin of cool water to help get rid of excess salt. If desired, sprinkle some additional salt-free seasoning on the turkey before cooking it. Choose seasoning of your choice.
- Do not use excess brine to baste the turkey: Once the turkey has marinated overnight in the brine mixture, do not use the excess mixture to baste the turkey. Instead just baste the turkey with the juices in the pan that accumulate as it cooks. (This way you will only be basting with liquid that you have tried to remove excess salt from.)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Abby Slutsky