My advice: brine your turkey (or that pork loan), but skip all those complicated recipes - easy is best!
Brining makes an enormous difference in succulence - no exaggeration!
Disclaimer - I have an opinion!
This does not need to be a big production or a big expense. You know me, I will write 1500 words about all the ways you can get apple sauce just the way you want it. I am not afraid of extra steps if it delivers a better product, but all things being equal, simple is best. Some people would consider it heresy to say this, but I do not recommend brining with anything but a salt solution. All the additives and spices I see recommended on the web just add cost, time, and stress with little benefit. Spices add little in a quick brining. Spices are best added later as a rub. Also, a salt solution discourages growth or microorganisms, so I don't want to dilute my solution with things like apple juice. I want the protection of the salt solution working for me without interference. Also, I am not afraid to use sugar, but I don't want sugar where it is not needed. I want succulence not sweetness in my turkey, so I add no sugar.
Did I mention I don't bother with anything but salt in my brine?
Where are you going to brine that turkey?
One problem in brining a turkey is that it takes up a lot of fridge space. I use my canning pot to hold my turkey upright (breast first facing down), but I line the pot with a large food safe heavy duty plastic bag (such as turkey oven roasting bag) that I pull tight around the bird to cover as much of the bird as possible with brine. You could use just a brine bag, but I would double the bag it for your protection. As long as the breast portion is covered in brine you will be in good shape, because the dark meat has more fat to protect it during cooking.
If you don't have room in your fridge you can brine your turkey in a cooler generously filled with ice so the bird is covered top and bottom. If you live in a cold location (think Denver), and you have a cold garage (40°F or below), you could just brine the turkey in the garage.
Ingredients for brine:
- 2 gallons water
- 2 cups course salt without additives (kosher or sea), or 1 cup fine salt. I use 1 cup fine canning salt. It has no additives and is more economical than kosher, but use what you have. One may also use regular table salt if needed.
- If you feel you want to use sugar, one can add 1 cup sugar
- Plan ahead thaw your turkey, or buy a fresh bird.
- Before brining, remove the giblets and turkey neck etc. Your parts to be used for gravy need to be removed now so they don't get too salty. You can make gravy ahead of time if you like.
- Mix the brine solution: Heat 1 quart of water with half your salt (and sugar if using) in the microwave until warmed enough to dissolve the salt. Stir warm solution until the salt has dissolved. Then repeat with a second quart of warm water and the other half of the salt.
- Add 6 quarts (1 1/2 gallons) ice water (or water with ice cubes) to the warm brine solution in a large container to dilute it to the proper strength and chill it. I don't want warm brine encouraging microbiological growth. Also, brine should be cold before adding the turkey, or the meat will absorb too much salt.
- Pour the cold brine over the turkey and make especially sure the breast of the turkey is completely submerged.
- Pull the food-grade plastic bag, or brining bag, around the bird to envelop it in brine and refrigerate or chill for 6 to 24 hours. As a rule of thumb, you should brine your turkey 30 to 60 minutes per pound. If you don't overdue the brining time you can brine a Butterball type of bird (self basting type). Notes about self basting type turkeys: Butterball type birds have been injected with a salt solution already. Less time is best with this type so you don't get them too salty. Stick with 30 - 45 minutes per pound. I will add that one of my best turkeys ever was a brined self basting type bird.
- When time is up rinse your bird and towel dry. To get a crunchy skin you need to start with dry skin. America's Test Kitchen suggests drying the skin further by leaving the uncovered bird in the fridge overnight to air dry.