You might ask, “Won’t it be too salty?”
No sir, this bird is going to get pulled out tomorrow night, after 24 hours in the drink. Following that, she’ll spend a day-and-a-half air-drying in the refrigerator. You see, brining does such a damned fine job of plumping up all of the turkey’s protein cells with flavor-infused water that it could make it next-to-impossible to end up with the beautiful, mahogany-colored skin that all of us seek to unveil on Turkey Day. The air-dry enables the skin to dessicate a bit so that it will be beautifully burnished upon roasting.
The long, drawn-out process that I’m willing to go through for my turkey and my family (in that order) requires nothing other than proper planning and the ability to make a lot of space in your fridge.
The brine is easy — I adapted it from Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for the Food. His original recipe called for a quicker soak, but I reduced the salt in my version to allow me to extend the time-in-brine to 24 hours. This was purely for scheduling reasons — I don’t think there is any benefit to the extra-long brine as opposed to say, the 6 hours that Alton calls for. I just knew when I’d be available to pull it out of the giant Ziploc bag.
3/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
handful of herbs (your choice — I went traditional and used sage, thyme, and fresh bay)
1 gallon of water
8 pounds of ice
Dissolve the salt and sugar in 1 qt boiling water. Bruise the herbs with your hands, add to the water, and allow to steep for a few minutes. Cool this solution with the remaining 3 quarts of water and then add the ice, bringing the brine to a very chilly temperature (hopefully sub-40 degrees F).
At this point, you can put the turkey and brine in whatever will hold them. I find the XL “Big Bags” by Ziploc can handle an 18 pound turkey and the 2 gallons of brine just fine, but you can get creative, as long as it’s clean and capable of some way maintaining temperatures under 40 degrees.
In order to maintain full contact, I assembled everything inside the largest stock pot I own and then tied up the zip-top part of the bag (see the photo). This fully immersed the turkey in the brine and it will stay just like that in my refrigerator until tomorrow night.