Didn’t brine your Thanksgiving turkey? Don’t worry (by Justin Yu)

“You have got to brine it,” said Andrea Van Der Heyden of Van Der Heyden Vineyards as she hulked over my monstrous 28¼-pound Heritage turkey (a beautiful find, as it was feasting on Zinfandel vines the day before). Clearly, Andrea, like many across America during this time of year, was going out of her way to help me overcome the pitfalls of dry turkey.

As she should.

But with “brine turkey” at #12 on Google Trends today, it’s clear that the turkey-brining craze has hit new levels this year. Is the Food Network driving this bus? Alton Brown (who comes up in the first page of hits) preaches it. Sara Moulton swears by it. Just like roasting your turkey with a wine-soaked piece of cheesecloth was last year, or basting your turkey with orange juice was a few years earlier, it seems as if every Thanksgiving seems to come out with a new line of tools, gadgets, and fool-proof plans for housewives all across America to jump all over like the fall fashion line so they don’t serve the notorious dry piece of poultry to their in-laws. This year, there was an entire section of my local grocery store dedicated to brining needles, brining bags, and other brining accessories.

Don’t get me wrong: brining works. (On why it works, I’m sure the Food Network is running Good Eats Turkey episodes left and right, but Serious Eats really nails it here.) But brining can’t save an overcooked bird. It also takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of space, and there are more important things to be worrying about before Thanksgiving Day (like making sure your fantasy football team is set for the shortened week).

In my case, brining the 28¼-pound turkey that I acquired from Andrea would have required, at the least: (1) a bathtub; (2) a time machine, to go back another day; and (3) cruelty to animals (it’s considered really bad form to brine a turkey while it’s still alive).

If you haven’t brined, don’t worry about it. Forget brining. Get rid of your brining guilt. Just don’t overcook the thing. The trends come and go, but in reality, your turkey is dry because it’s very lean meat, and more often than not, you, your mom, and your great aunt cook it too long, perhaps because you follow some misguided FDA directive, a recipe from cookbook from too long ago, or (wince) the directions on the turkey wrapper or supermarket pamphlet about minutes per pound.

So instead of buying another gadget that will inevitably sit in your kitchen drawer for the rest of eternity, I suggest buying a temperature-alarm thermometer that will let you know to pull the turkey at around 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike whatever trend may hit next year, this kitchen tool will be your friend year after year. Or you could go the old-school route and separate the legs from the rest of the body and roast them separately, as the breast cooks a bit faster. Either way, you don’t need to be scouring the web for the next big answer when the answer is pretty simple—plus it makes gravy all the more viable.

Let’s just hope, for humor’s sake, that home sous-vide-ing is next year’s trend.

Housewives with immersion circulators fretting over sealing numbers?

Oh hell yes.

[Guest post by chef Justin Yu]

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6 Responses to “Didn’t brine your Thanksgiving turkey? Don’t worry (by Justin Yu)”

  1. Blaise Pascal 2009 25 November at 8:30 am #

    I suggested to a friend a couple of days ago that we should make an OstEmTurDuckenQuaGeon (a pigeon inside a quail inside a chicken, duck, turkey, emu and ostrich), and that sous-vide was the only way to cook it.

  2. Kent Wang 2009 25 November at 11:36 am #

    I sous vided my turkey this year. It was awesome.

  3. Mike Licht 2009 25 November at 3:13 pm #

    Real Guys deep-fry turkey.

    See:

    http://notionscapital.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/turkey-torching-tips-for-guys/

  4. Karen Man 2009 26 November at 3:55 am #

    Totally agree that deep frying is the way to go, but it’s hard enough to find a pot big enough with enough oil to deep fry a 28 1/4 lb turkey….Maybe breaking down the turkey and cooking it in all the non-traditional ways is the way to go.

  5. Foodies Heaven 2011 31 March at 2:09 am #

    Butter, Butter and more butter
    Herb butter under the skin to self baste the bird as it cooks, occasionaly turning the bird so the juices run back, when resting rest on the breast so all those basting juices flow back and make the bird juicy and tender.

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  1. Ryan Sager - Neuroworld – Top Ten Turkey Takes - True/Slant - 2009 25 November

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