Because of its lean texture, poultry definitely stands to benefit from brining. However, some turkeys are already treated with salt solution before you even bring them home from the supermarket.
Can you brine a turkey that has 8% solution, or will that make the meat taste too salty? Are there any other issues you might encounter as a result? Read on to find out.
Can You Brine a Turkey That Has 8% Solution?
We don’t recommend brining turkeys that have 8 percent solution because this mixture often contains a great deal of salt. While it’s meant to act as a preservative, it can make the turkey taste overly salty. Since there’s no way to tell for sure until the meat is cooked, we prefer to err on the side of caution.
What is Brining?
When you brine a turkey (or any cut of meat), you’re soaking it in a blend of salt and water, often with other ingredients added to improve the taste. The brine is typically made up of 1 cup of kosher salt for each gallon of liquid.
Brining a turkey overnight will allow the meat to absorb plenty of moisture, which leads to a juicier product. What’s more, the salt in the water will loosen the meat’s muscle fibers so that they retain that moisture as the bird cooks.
For example, you could soak a turkey in plain water overnight, and it would absorb the same amount of liquid. But during the cooking process, more of that moisture would be lost. That’s why salt is an essential ingredient for any brine.
In general, you brine meat to help it retain moisture, while marinades are designed to boost flavor. However, you can add aromatic vegetables, fruit, herbs, and whole spices to your brine to give it a more complex flavor profile.
Downsides of Wet Brining
As you’ve probably guessed, brining a turkey is a messy and time-consuming task.
First, you have to make sure you have a container that’s large enough to submerge the whole bird. Even assuming that you’re able to find one, you still have to keep the mixture cold for the entire brining process—which usually means keeping it in the fridge.
While your refrigerator may be big enough to accommodate the brining vessel, rearranging its contents can be a real challenge. This is especially problematic during the holidays, when you probably have the ingredients for numerous side dishes on hand.
The Dry Brine Alternative
The numerous issues associated with wet brining have led many pitmasters to seek alternatives. One of the most popular options is “dry brining,” which could also be described as just plain salting.
When you apply a healthy amount of salt to the turkey, the natural juices in the meat will be drawn toward the surface. As the juices dissolve the salt crystals, they form a more concentrated version of a wet brine, which breaks down the muscle proteins.
As the muscle fibers relax, the juices will be reabsorbed into the meat—only this time, they’ll be infused with the salt solution. This will improve the flavor of the turkey while contributing to its juicy texture.
What Does “8 Percent Solution” Mean?
Some companies, such as Butterball, will treat their turkeys with a solution in order to prolong their shelf life. Since salt is a natural preservative, it makes a prominent appearance on the list of ingredients.
Most of the time, you’ll see a note on the label that says something like “May contain up to 8 percent of a solution of water, salt, spice, and natural flavor.” It can be hard to find a frozen turkey from a commercial retailer that doesn’t have this label.
This salt solution is the reason why Butterball turkeys are considered a processed meat product, even if the bird is left whole. Any form of adulteration that’s designed to preserve the meat is enough to classify the product as “processed.”
Can You Brine a Turkey That Has 8% Solution?
So, if your turkey has been treated with a solution that makes up 8 percent of its total weight, can you still brine it?
We wouldn’t recommend it, mainly because you don’t know exactly how much of that solution is made up of salt. Most of the time, turkeys that have 8 percent solution are salty enough as it is. Treating them with brine on top of that could render the meat inedible.
That said, some pitmasters have reported good results when brining this type of bird. In these cases, the solution may have been made up mostly of water, with just enough salt added to create a preservative effect.
Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing whether the meat will taste too salty until after it’s cooked. At this point, it will be too late to salvage it. You’re better off saving the brining technique for turkeys that haven’t been treated with a solution.
Fresh vs. Frozen
There are definite benefits to buying frozen turkeys. First of all, you can hold onto them until you’re almost ready to start cooking, whereas you should cook off a fresh turkey within a few days (unless you’ve purchased it directly from the farmer).
When you buy a frozen turkey, you’re usually saving money. Around Thanksgiving, it’s often possible to find frozen turkeys sold at around 50 cents per pound. That means the centerpiece of your holiday feast could end up costing you less than $10.
That said, you might appreciate the superior flavor and texture of farm-raised fresh turkeys, especially if they were raised humanely. It all comes down to how much time you have, how much you’re willing to spend, and your personal preference.
If you do opt to brine your bird, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.
- Use a ratio of 1 cup kosher salt for each gallon of water.
- If you opt for table salt instead of a coarse variety, decrease the amount of salt by half.
- Season your brine with ingredients that will complement the other dishes you plan to serve.
- Boil the brine mixture beforehand to dissolve the salt and any other spices.
- Make sure the brine has cooled to 39 degrees or below before submerging the bird.
- Brine the turkey for 8 to 24 hours.
- If you choose to rinse the turkey after you take it out of the brine, be sure to disinfect the sink and countertops afterward.
The Bottom Line
A turkey that already contains 8 percent solution has essentially been brined in advance. You might be able to get away with brining it if you rinse it well first, but we prefer not to rinse raw poultry if we can avoid it.
If you’ve purchased a turkey with 8 percent solution, it’s better to save the brine for next time. Look on the bright side—you just saved yourself a ton of extra prep work.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!