I've had six phone calls, three emails and a conversation with our landscaper about brining a turkey. Here's what you need to know.
First, I don't have a favorite brining recipe. Pretty much any combination of salt and sugar in equal parts is going to create the desired chemical reaction. Here are some brine recipes you can use Emeril, Alton, and All Recipes.
Now, on to your questions.
Q: Can I brine in a plastic bucket or garbage bag?
A: No! I know that some recipes call for doing this but it is extremely unsafe. Garbage bags and plastic buckets were never meant to hold chemically reactive elements like salt and sugar. Chemicals can leach out of buckets and plastic bags and into your holiday meal.
Q: So what do I use Miss Turkey Pants?
A: That's Mrs. Turkey Pants, thank you very much. You need to use a food grade plastic container. These are available at restaurant supply stores. You could also use a Reynolds Oven Bag (turkey size) to line the inside of any non-food grade container. Another product that shows up this time of year is the Ziploc Big Bags XL. These are food safe and hold up to ten gallons, plus they've got handles and a pleated bottom that helps them stand up.
Another idea is to do your brining inside an ice chest. The insides
are made of food grade plastic, so they're safe to use.
Q: But Emeril says it's okay to brine in a garbage bag!
A: It's not. The big daddy of cooking got this one wrong and I wish they would correct the recipes on the Food Network site.
Q: Can I brine the turkey in my basement/on my back porch/in the garage?
A: It depends (put down that turkey cleaver, answers aren't always yes or no) if you can promise me that the temperature in your basement/ back porch/garage won't rise above 4o degrees, then by all means brine away. You also need to make sure the brine is chilled to 40 degrees or below before you put the turkey into the solution. A temperature above 40 degrees means your making a nice big batch of bacteria soup, and it could lead to illness especially in the very young, immune compromised or elderly folks. No one wants to end the holidays with a trip to the emergency room, so be very, very careful that you keep the temperature below 40 degrees.
If you're going to brine in the garage, my other tip is to put the turkey in front of and not behind your car. One year a friend of mine's husband in a caffeine deprived state backed over their would-be turkey dinner and sent brine and turkey flying all over the garage. I think they got pizza that year.
Though it is cold enough here to brine outside, I'd never put a turkey on our back porch. The furry creatures we share this land with would organize a raiding party and I can guarantee they would have liberated our Thanksgiving bird within a couple of hours. They are nothing if not resourceful.
If you've got any other questions send me an email or leave a comment, I'm here to help. Now go forth and brine with confidence!