Nutritionist offers two ways to brine a turkey

BATON ROUGE – Brining turkey for holiday meals is becoming more popular. The salt used in brining dissolves protein in the muscle, and the salt and protein reduce moisture loss during cooking, according to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames. This makes meat juicy and tender. Adding a sweetener such as sugar, molasses, honey or corn syrup to the solution can enhance flavor and improve browning.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, a brine solution for turkey can be made by adding ¾ cup of salt to 1 gallon of water — or 3 tablespoons of salt per quart of water. Then a sweetener may be added.

Put the brining solution in a food-grade plastic, stainless steel or glass container and totally submerge the turkey in the solution. Then store it covered in the refrigerator. For best results, Reames said, keep it in the refrigerator at least overnight.

When you’re ready to cook, remove the turkey and discard the brine. If you’re stuffing the bird, brine it first and cook it immediately after stuffing.

Dry brining is an easy alternative to traditional liquid brining methods, Reames said. The technique seasons the meat with salt and spices without the use of a salty liquid solution.

This two-day process happens in the refrigerator with the bird in a food-grade plastic bag, Reames said. It drains moisture out of the meat and creates a flavorful brine, which is then reabsorbed into the turkey meat without adding water.

To prepare a dry brine, measure 1 tablespoon of kosher salt or seasoned salt for every 5 pounds of turkey. You can add additional aromatic ingredients such as herbs, spices, citrus or garlic, Reames said.

Rub the dry brine mixture over the entire surface area of the turkey and put it in a plastic bag, pressing out the air and sealing it tightly. For best results, refrigerate for up to two days and massage the mixture into the skin every eight to 12 hours.

Brining a turkey may increase the sodium content compared to a traditionally roasted bird, Reames said.

The USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory reports 87 milligrams of sodium in 3 ounces of turkey that was roasted whole.

“The laboratory doesn’t have a listing for brined turkey meat,” Reames said. “However, a 3½-ounce portion of brined turkey from a recipe posted on the National Turkey Federation’s website has 550 milligrams of sodium.”

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends reducing daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg for most people and 1,500 mg for those who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African-American or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

“No matter what method you used to prepare your turkey for cooking, be sure to cook it safely to avoid foodborne illness,” Reames said.

Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees and cook both whole birds and parts to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.

“If you wish, you may choose to cook your turkey to a higher temperature,” she said.

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