We have an excellent brine for your holiday birds, and a question we get everyday is, Why Brine? Simply put, it makes the bird more succulent. But there is science as well. Delicious science. Roasted turkey breast suffers a sad fate when cooked even a few minutes longer than necessary: dryness. And because turkey is so lean it is a pronounced dryness. The solution is simple. Soaking your turkey in a brine—a solution of salt and water—will ensure a moister and juicier bird.
Moisture loss is inevitable when you roast a bird. Heat causes proteins in the fibers to denature, resulting in some shrinkage and moisture loss. Normally, meat loses about 30 percent of its weight during cooking. But if you soak the bird in a brine first, you can reduce this moisture loss during cooking to as little as 15 percent.
Brining enhances juiciness in several ways. For one, muscle fibers simply absorb liquid during the brining period. Some liquid gets lost during cooking, but as the bird is more juicy at the start of cooking, it ends up juicier. Brined birds typically weigh six to eight percent more than they did before brining, proof of moisture uptake. Another way that brining increases juiciness is by dissolving some proteins. A mild salt solution can dissolve some of the proteins in muscle fibers, turning them from solid to liquid.
Of all the processes at work during brining, the most significant is salt's ability to denature protein. The dissolved salt causes some of the proteins in muscle fibers to unwind and swell. Water from the brine binds directly to these proteins, but even more important, water gets trapped between these proteins when the bird cooks and the proteins bind together. Some of this would happen anyway just during cooking, but the brine unwinds more proteins and exposes more bonding sites. As long as you don't overcook the meat, which would cause protein bonds to tighten and squeeze out a lot of the trapped liquid, these natural juices will be retained.
How long to brine depends on the size and type of bird you've have. A whole turkey will require much more time for the brine to do its thing. In fact, any bird that's brined for too long will dry out and start to taste salty as the salt ends up pulling liquid out of the muscle fibers. Turkey is the ideal candidate for brining; Keep your bird refrigerated during brining, rinse it well afterwards, and don't overcook your holiday friend. If you need more liquid to completely submerge the bird, measure more and add it, along with the proportionate quantity of salt.
In addition to kosher salt, Z&H brine has a treasure trove of herbs and spices as well as turbinado sugar. All this adds flavor as well as moisture to your bird without masking the taste. Try the Z&H brine this year. It will become a new tradition.