Best to Brine
Brining is best for lean meats such as poultry (chicken, Cornish hens, turkey), pork (roasts, tenderloin, chops) and shrimp that tend to be mild flavored, more easily over-cooked and prone to drying out. Vegetables can also be brined.
Water is the most common base for brining, but other liquids can also be used. Apple juice, beer, wine, apple cider, chicken or beef broth, tea, orange juice or vinegar may be used to replace some of the water.
Kosher or not? Although iodized table salt may be the easiest to grab, kosher salt is probably a better choice for brining. Kosher salt does not have iodine or anticaking agents (which table salt does), so it has a more subtle, clean flavor. Another good choice is noniodized table salt. Kosher salt is more coarse and less "salty" than table salt, so you'll want to use a bit less table salt than you would kosher salt.
Regular granulated sugar, as well as brown sugar, honey or molasses, can be used as a sweetener. Sugar in the brine provides a delicate sweetness to offset the saltiness, and sugar can lend a bit of color to bland poultry as it caramelizes.
Flavorings are optional, but more adventurous cooks may want to season their brine with garlic cloves, onion, rosemary, thyme, basil, bay leaves, ginger, chilies, peppercorns, mustard seed, vanilla, cloves or cinnamon. Start with 1 to 2 tablespoons of a flavoring to experiment and add more next time if you prefer a stronger flavor. You may want to try fresh rosemary leaves and chopped onion with pork tenderloin, grated lemon peel and garlic cloves with chicken or chopped gingerroot and soy sauce with shrimp
Turkey Brining ABC's
A - Plan Ahead
Because brining can take several hours, you'll need to plan ahead. The larger the food you're brining, the longer the time. If you want poultry to have crisp skin after brining, you'll need to remove poultry, like turkey, from the brine, then cover and refrigerate it for several hour or overnight before cooking.
B - The Container
Your container will depend on the size of the meat you are brining. In turn, the container size will determine the amount of bring you need to prepare. You can brine in any large container that is nonreactive, such as a plastic food-storage bag, plastic container, glass, crock or stainless-steel bowl. Use a cooler or stockpot for large cuts of meat. If the container is too large to refrigerate, place frozen gel packs or plastic bags of ice in the solution (you do not want to dilute the brine). Check the temperature every one to two hours to ensure it stays below 40º.
C - The Solution
How much brine? If you don't have a specific recipe to guide you, place the meat in the container and add enough water to completely cover the meat. Remove the meat, then measure the water. This is how much brine you will need.
Heat water to boiling. Add salt, sugar and other liquids and flavoring agents, stirring to ensure the salt is completely dissolved. Heating also enhances seasonings in the brine.
Slightly cool the brine, and then refrigerate until chilled before adding the meat to the brine.
Foods should be completely submerged in the brine. You may need to place a heavy plate or bowl on top of the food to keep it submerged.
There is no need to rinse the brined food unless you use highly seasoned brine or a specific recipe calls for rinsing. If you're not ready to cook the brined food, remove it from the brine, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until time to cook.
Discard all used brine; do not reuse.
How To Brine Recipes
Liquid - 8 cups total (1/2 gallon)
Salt - 1/2 cup kosher salt or 1/4 cup table salt
Sweetner (as desired) - 1/2 cup sugar
How Long To Brine
Use the information below as a guide to brining times. As a general rule, milder, less-dense foods will need less time, and you can approximate about 2 hours brining per pound of food. Longer brine times will produce more-intense flavors. Also, brines with a higher salt concentration will require shorter brining time.
Shrimp - 30 minutes
Salmon Fillets - 1 to 1 1/2 hours
Chicken Pieces - 1 to 2 hours
Cornish Hens - 1 to 2 hours
Whole Chicken (about 4 lbs) - 8 to 12 hours
Turkey Breast (4-6 lbs) - 4 to 8 hours
Whole Turkey (12-14 lbs) - 12 to 24 hours
Whole Pork Tenderloin - 8-12 hours