Brine me

God I hate brining.

Sure, the concept is nice. The results are even good. But the actual brining is a royal pain in the ass.

This year I’m brining two turkeys, about seventeen pounds each. They started the day in our boat cooler, submerged in ice water with three others – the five that remained of our flock of six. I needed a vessel that would A) hold the turkeys and the brine and B) fit in my refrigerator.

Because I’m a genius, I decided to use my super-jumbo twenty-gallon Ziploc bag. I put the bag on the floor and wrestled the two turkeys into the bottom of it – no small feat, given that the legs of one always wanted to go in the cavity of the other. In went some six gallons of brine. It was only after I cleaned off the kitchen table and the sink that I realized there was a leak in the bag. As I watched, Lake Listeria was forming on my kitchen floor.

Genius. A regular fucking Brinestein.

I had to get the thing in the sink. Any idea how much two turkeys and six gallons of brine weigh? Yeah, that would be eighty-two pounds. And, genius that I am, I embarked on this godforsaken venture when my husband wasn’t home to help.

I took the turkeys out, one at a time, and put them in the sink. I plugged up the drain and poured in the brine. The leaky bag, I threw away.

But now what? The only other bags I’ve got big enough to hold a turkey are the kitchen garbage bags, and those have some nasty scent block thing.

No, wait! In the recesses of my memory I see the mental image of a little yellow box with “turkey brine kit” written on it. Is it possible that it’s still up there in my cabinet?

Yes! There it was, behind the summer roll wrappers that I never did master.

I open it up, and find that it’s so old it has the texture of cellophane. I’m afraid it will shatter in my hands. But I don’t have a lot of options, so I put a turkey in it, along with a gallon or two of the brine. I seal it, and put it back in the cooler full of ice water, where it sinks a bit and the brine actually seems to distribute around the turkey and, miracle of miracles, looks to be contained by the bag.

One down, one to go.

There’s a standard-size cooler on the porch, but it doesn’t look big enough. I try to put the turkey in it and, sure enough, it isn’t big enough. Or at least it isn’t big enough if you’re being persnickety about actually having brine in between turkey and cooler wall.

I gave up on persnickety years ago, and I manhandle the thing into the cooler. I put in the rest of the brine, and make another gallon or so to cover. I scoop some ice out of the big cooler to make sure everything would stay cold enough, and there it will stay until morning.

Come morning, I have to take both behemoth birds out of the brine, find bags big enough to hold them, and make enough space for the them in the refrigerator.

Whose idea was it to make birds the size of carry-on luggage standard-issue for this holiday? Quail are native to this country, and would make a perfectly respectable Thanksgiving dinner.

Quail. Any takers?

14 people are having a conversation about “Brine me

  1. Well now I’m curious- wasn’t it you who grew them to behemoth size?

    I talked my boss through brining his turkey today. He’d decided that’s what he wanted to do, and his cooler is way too big for his turkey, so I told him to stop by a grocery store with a bakery and ask for a 5 gallon food bucket for it. Since we’re both buyers, a free bucket sounds good. The question is whether he can cram it all in there.

    And Tamar? I really liked your Brinestein pun. Actually, that sounds like a product waiting to hit our televisions. You need to trademark that.

  2. Brinestein! Hilarious! I brine two 15lb turkeys every year. I’d been doing them in a designated ice chest, and was offered two bags this year (I never seemed to remember to get them myself). One of them is too small (I actually thought “big enough for a mess of quail”). I have the most awesome mother in law ever, who lives with us, she ran out to grab another. I’ve decided it was dumb to start brining them, because now everybody loves them. I’m with you on the quail. I even have a bag for them.

    Have a great Thanksgiving!

  3. What a great post- I had never heard of brining until this year when my daughter told me she was going to do it…I was like “what??”- we were figuring out how to find a container to fit in the fridge etc etc- and then I came across this blog post of yours and it is absolutely great!! I’ve, of course, forwarded it to my daughter 🙂

    I found you via the Chesven blog- she highlighted your blog a few years ago in a Thanksgiving post.

  4. Oh, dear. It does sound like quite a quandary to have to brine two birds simultaneously. You must be feeding a LOT of people. Our 20# bird fit just fine in our cooler. FWIW, I’m not particularly anal about the temperature of the brine. I put the cooler on the porch, fill it with brine and a few ice cubes, and leave it outdoors overnight. Given that these are your birds, and you know them to be clean meat, and that they’re soaking in a salty solution, maybe next year don’t worry about keeping them at refrigerator temperature so much. We have a “clean” bird too. I think we had temps in the mid-40’s range on Monday, and I certainly didn’t sweat it. This is my standard Thanksgiving procedure and no one’s gotten sick yet from the bird.

  5. I like the Brinstein pun too, but I’m casting my vote for the Lake Listeria comment which made me laugh out loud.

    I was just about to try brining a chicken, but after reading your tales of woe and bacteria, I will make sure I’m prepared with a brineworthy vessel and a manly man to help me move it. Now if only I had an oven big enough to fit a whole turkey.

    Quail, you say?

  6. Well, it’s Thanksgiving morning, and the brining tsuris is behind me. Now comes the smoking tsuris and the deep-frying tsuris, but those are mostly Kevin’s tsurises.

    The only reason we’re doing two birds is that we have friends who host a a post-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving, and we provide the bird. Our dinner is only six people.

    I wasn’t too worried about bacteria because I knew the birds had been raised with plenty of space and slaughtered carefully, but still, poultry is poultry, and I’m always careful. It was some sixty-plus degrees outside when I was doing this, so I decided I couldn’t leave them in a cooler witout making sure they were pretty cold. Usually, at this time of year, I can use my porch as a giant walk-in fridge.

    A happy holiday to all. I can’t help but think that having a day when we think about what we’re thankful for is a good thing, corny as that may be. My list is long.

    Next year, cheeseburgers.

  7. Accidental Mick says:

    Great post Tamar but – I’ve never heard of brineing a turkey. Does it make a significant difference to the taste?

  8. Greg the Beeman says:

    I am still trying to fiugure out how brining a bird improves the flavor, but clearly it does help torture the cook! Somehow, even with 3 full size home refrigerators and a big freezer unit, I never seem to have enough room in cold storage without scheming and plotting how to access it. The visual I get of trying to put an aquarium with soaking poultry in one of them defies description. Something about strange and unnatural acts comes to mind.

    HOW DID IT TURN OUT? If it’s good, I may have to pass out earplugs if there are byustanders present.

  9. I won’t speak for Tamar, but I’m completely sold on brining turkeys. It’s been proven that birds gain weight during the brining process, and the extra weight isn’t all salt. They absorb water too. This results in the meat being both pre-seasoned and juicier. It’s best if the bird gets the chance to air dry for at least one full day, which can happen in the fridge by just leaving the bird uncovered. We aim for two days. Our bird is also cooked on a Weber grill, where we get the chance to smoke it as it cooks. We smoked with rosemary and apple wood chips this year. I can tell you that the pasture-raised, brined, air dried, and smoke-grilled, birds we’ve enjoyed for the last several years are simply UNbelievably good. It makes us understand why the turkey is the main feature of Thanksgiving dinner.

  10. Kate, you can speak for me any time! At least on the subject of brining and smoking turkeys, because I agree that a smoked (or grilled) turkey is best brined. Roasted, I’m not so sold, since the oven helps contain moisture and a tent can keep a bird moist.

    Greg and Mick, give it a try and see what you think. Report back, if you will.

    Our turkey was delicious. We brined, smoked, and then briefly deep-fried. The only problem was that we all missed the inside-the-bird stuffing, which I know you’re not supposed to do unless you have a death wish, but we throw caution to the winds every year and do it that way.

  11. I am also a fan of brining, both for the taste and because my husband takes care of the task. He brines everything he grills except brats and burgers. He brines everything in a giant stock pot that just barely fits in our basement refrigerator if you really lean into the door to close it.

    Thanks, Kate, for the tip on air drying after brining!

    My mother-in-law also cooks her stuffing in the bird and no one has dropped dead yet.

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