Istanbul, Turkey – The process of soaking meat, chicken or turkey legs in brine before cooking them can help make the meat juicier and more tender, as well as improve the flavor. Follow these steps to brine turkey legs.

Basically soak the turkey legs in a brine solution made of salt, sugar, water and herbs for a minimum of six hours to brine them.

Brining is simply the process of soaking meat in a solution of water and salt, although sometimes ingredients like sugar, honey or molasses are added as well. While it has recently caught on as a popular way to cook meat, chicken or turkey, brining is an age-old process that was even used to process other meat products. Brining is typically a process in which meat is soaked in a salt water solution similar to marination before cooking. Meat is soaked anywhere from 30 minutes to several days.

A cure dissolved in water is called a brine and works on the principle of diffusion. Because the salt solution is denser than the water in the food, equilibrium is sought thereby drawing salt and moisture into the product adding salt, flavor, and moisture to it. Brining can be done with any type of meat, fish or poultry. In most brine recipes a ratio of 3-5% salt is standard but could be as high as 9-10%.

Soaking turkey legs in brine

A recipe that details how to brine a turkey

Prepare the brine solution: The recommended ratio is 1 cup of sugar and either 4 cups of kosher salt or 2 cups of table salt in 2 gallons of water. This is the proportion for a small turkey weighing 12 to 14 pounds, so you can adapt it to the turkey legs depending on how many you want to brine and how much they weigh. The water should look clear, not cloudy.

Place the turkey legs in the brine: Immerse the meat into the brine solution. The meat should be either fresh or completely thawed.

Add herbs and spices: You can add sprigs of dried thyme, crushed bay leaves or other herbs to the turkey drumsticks in the brine solution, for flavor.

Cover and refrigerate: Cover the container and place it in the refrigerator at a temperature below 4,5 degrees Celcius for six to eight hours. You can also leave it overnight if you prefer, but in that case, you need to halve the amounts of sugar and salt that you use in the brine mixture to keep the meat from absorbing too much sodium. An upper limit of two days for brining is recommended.

Cook the drumsticks: Once you take the turkey drumsticks out of the brine, cook them as you normally would. If you want a crispy skin on the turkey drumsticks after brining, you can refrigerate them overnight before cooking. To do this, take them out of the brine solution once they’re done, pat them dry with paper towels, place them on a shallow pan, refrigerate them overnight and then cook them.

Brined Turkey Nutrition

Turkey drumsticks are a good source of protein; a 100-gram serving has 19.54 grams of protein, 6.72 grams of fat and not much carbohydrates. Turkey also offers other nutrients like potassium, calcium, phosphorus, selenium and folate. It is also a source of cholesterol.

The salt in the brine dissolves some of the protein in the muscle fiber of the turkey, which allows it to absorb and retain moisture while it’s cooked. The brining process may therefore reduce some of the protein content in the turkey legs.

Why should it be kept in brine?

The meat becomes juicy: The meat kept in the brine absorbs some of this solution. Although the liquid that the meat absorbs disappears, it makes a big difference in the flavor of the meat. The meats kept in brine are always cooked more juicy and moist compared to the others.

Muscle fibers dissolve: Highly concentrated salt solutions cause proteins to dissolve (essentially by combining with each other and forcing assembly). On the other hand, low concentration salt solution may increase protein solubility and allow for more protein solubility. In other words, salt water actually helps reduce the hardness of the meat and helps the muscle fibers dissolve and soften the meat.

Change the nature of muscle fibers and meat proteins: A salt solution essentially does the following on meat. It changes the nature of proteins. While the proteins are resolved, the meat draws in more water. Thus, it causes the meat to cook much better and remain juicy.

Risks of Brining

Brining also increases the sodium content of the meat, so opt for fresh meat over brined meat as far as possible. High-sodium diets can cause health problems like blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease.

Brining Basics and Tips

At its most basic, brining is submerging meat in a solution of salt and water for many hours before cooking, enhancing meat’s ability to retain moisture and tenderness, while also seasoning it. Brining is becoming increasingly popular for home cooks since it’s relatively easy, inexpensive and produces great results. Brined meat is wonderfully juicy and full of flavor – all the way to the bone. Here are a few simple brining rules of thumb.

Delicious Chemistry

Well what is brining exactly? The brining process changes the structure of meat on a cellular level, hydrating through osmosis and retaining moisture through denaturation caused by a salt-to-protein chemical reaction. In other words, brined meat absorbs salty water then the salt reacts with the proteins creating little pockets, which trap moisture resulting in meat that’s ultra-juicy, tender and flavorful.

Special Equipment

Always use a non-reactive food-safe vessel that is large enough to hold your meat while being surrounded and fully submerged in brine yet small enough to fit inside your refrigerator. You can purchase special ‘brining bags’ at most grocery stores but we find basic stainless steel stockpots, hotel pans or large, plastic food service tubs work just as well. If you’re brining a large bird, like a turkey, in an extra-large vessel, you may need to remove or adjust a shelf in your refrigerator to accommodate it. Supplement with gel icepacks to bring down the temperature of a large container quickly without affecting anything else that’s housed in your refrigerator. When brining whole birds, you may also need to weigh them down to keep them fully submerged. A heavy lid or plate that fits inside your container under its own lid works well.

What to Brine

Lean, mildly flavored meats that are usually cooked to a high internal temperature are great candidates for brining, such as turkey, chicken, capon, poussin, veal and pork. Naturally full-flavored, rich meats, like beef, lamb, venison and bison don’t benefit from brining, their natural flavor should be left to shine on its own.

The Right Balance

The salt to water (and sometimes sugar) ratio is probably the most important factor in creating a successful brine. We recommend using kosher salt to brine as it has a clean taste and is free of additives that can change the final flavor. Sugar, although not a must, is a fantastic brining add-in. Sugars add flavor and facilitate browning. For all-purpose brine, a good rule of thumb is: ¼ cup of kosher salt and ¼ cup of sugar for every quart of water. You can also add aromatics or other flavorings to intensify the seasoning, like whole peppercorns, garlic cloves, dried herbs, whole spices, citrus or other fruit, mirepoix or fruit juices.

Time it Right

The ‘hardest part’ of brining is probably remembering to allow for enough time before you plan to cook! That said, in general, allow for about an hour per pound of meat. When brining birds, you may also want to allow time for air-drying the skin after brining. The downside of the meat absorbing all of that water is the skin is much harder to crisp. To remedy this, after brining and rinsing, pat dry and lay on a sheet pan, uncovered in the refrigerator for several hours, up to overnight. Exposure to the refrigerator’s cold air is enough to dry out the skin for crisping.

Quick Tips

Always remember to rinse meat after the brine. It’ll remove excess surface salt and any herbs or sugars that could potentially burn. Don’t worry – it won’t “wash away” all of your hard brine work.

When cooking brined meats, the meat juices are often too salty to make a pan-sauce. It’s a good idea to have some demi-glace on hand for sauce-on-the-fly, just in case.