As exciting as wild turkeys are to hunt, they're just as delicious on the dinner table, if you know how to handle the meat. Unlike store-bought turkeys, which are bred to be fat, wild turkey meat has a tendency to get dry and tough when subjected to heat, particularly the dry heat of roasting or grilling. Marinades help, but don't really add a lot of moisture to meat like you might think (more on that in a later article). To really add moisture to the meat and enhance its flavor, whether you plan to roast it, grill it, fry it or braise, try brining it first.
Add Moisture to Turkey Meat & Enhance the Flavor
Brining is the act of soaking meat in a solution of water, salt and, if you choose, other spices and flavorings, for an extended period of time. I typically brine my turkey overnight, but even soaking it for as little four hours can really affect the end product. A saltwater brine breaks down proteins in the meat known as myosin, offering more space to absorb water, and reducing the amount of shrinkage during the cooking process. This shrinkage causes a piece of meat to be tough as the protein strands tighten around each other. Whether you brine the whole bird, or just the breasts, legs or thighs, the result is a tender, moister piece of meat no matter how you cook it.
Brining a bird couldn't be simpler, either. It just takes a non-reactive bowl or container, a few ingredients and a bit of time. I generally just use the recipe below, but feel free to experiment by adding other ingredients, including garlic cloves, onions, peppercorns, fruit or some apple cider, stock or even a dry, white wine. The key is to keep the salinity of the liquid high enough to break down the proteins. Do that by maintaining a liquid to salt ratio of 1 gallon to one cup.
Basic Wild Turkey Brine Recipe
- 1 gallon water
- 1 cup salt
- 1 cup brown sugar
Heating the liquid helps dissolve the salt and sugar, but be sure to let the mixture cool before adding the turkey as you don't want to cook the meat. Then place the turkey or turkey parts in the container and pour the liquid over the top. It's important to ensure the bird stays under the surface of the water during the entire brining period, so set a plate or other weighted object on top of the turkey to keep it submerged. When you're ready to prepare the bird, remove it from the brine and discard the liquid. I also rinse the meat thoroughly with cold water and pat it dry before cooking. Follow those simple steps and you're all but assured of a wild and delicious meal.
Typically, I make my brine with a cup each of kosher salt and sugar dissolved in a gallon of water. Sometimes I add peppercorns, garlic cloves or other flavorings.