Wednesday, January 2, 2013

It really is all about the brine.

In keeping with this week's theme of cooking particularly long and involved recipes, let's take a look at the smoked turkey breast I prepared for our Christmas feast. 

If you have never smoked a meat or are fairly new to the process, I would very strongly suggest getting comfortable with the idea of brining meat.  Brining meat is actually quite an old process, and can be done with any whole muscle cut of meat.  Not to be confused with marinading, where the goal is to infuse flavor directly into the meat, the goal of brining is to increase the moisture content of the meat.  The addition of flavor can be a natural by-product of this process, but doesn't really have to be.

I actually started off with a whole turkey because pre-Thanksgiving turkey prices are amazing.  Since we were already having quite a bit of meat I decided to cut the wings, legs and thighs off the body, and save those for chicken and biscuits later on.  Now this beast looks like any other plain turkey breast you would purchase at the store.

Time to prepare the brine.

Just as it sounds this should be a salty solution.  Aside from the salt you can add any number of fresh or dried herbs to the liquid.  Just remember that unlike a marinade these herbs will not necessarily add a noticeable flavor to the meat.  So what will the brine do?  The salty water will create an increase in the osmotic pressure on the meat cells.  In English?  Sure.  Remember 10th grade biology?  Bodies are collection of microscopic cells.  In this case turkey breast meat, cells.  Salty water causes the cells to expand, and in order to expand they have to draw in water from their surroundings.  In this case that water is your brining solution.  So what the brine is doing is forcing the cells of the breast meat to hold more fluid than they naturally would.  Therefore, once you begin the cooking, or in this case the smoking process, the meat will take much longer to dry out.  Leaving you with a fully cooked meat product that is succulent and juicy.

I like to keep my brining solution simple.  Approximately 1/2 cup of salt into about 1/2 quart of water.  Heat to boiling in order to dissolve all of the salt.  Don't worry about that being too salty, because in order to brine a turkey of that size you'll be adding at least another gallon of water to the vessel.  This time around I also added about 3 tbsp of lemon juice, one branch of rosemary and a dozen peppercorns.  This all fit nicely into a 3 gallon ceramic crock I own, and Erie's weather cooperated with a cool 33 degree night, so the whole mix sat on the back porch for 12 hours.

After the 12 hour soak, I removed the bird, and allowed it to rest while I got the smoker up to temp.  275 degrees over pecan wood would make for a nice low and slow smoking process.  Still looking for an internal temp of 165 like any poultry product and this time the bird road in the smoker for about 5 hours.

The smoked meat then rested in the refrigerator for another 18 hours before I sliced it off the bone and ran it through my meat slicer.  As you can see from the results above I was left with a delicious deli style sliced turkey breast, perfect to eat alone, or in a sandwich.

Brining is an extra step, but it will pay enormous dividends at the end.  And don't stop at smoked meats.  Next time you are going to oven roast a turkey, brine that bird as well.  Your guests will love you for it.

Happy Cooking
Scott M

1 comment:

  1. this was one of the best smoked turkey I've had and a great explaination.