Pandemic Thanksgiving: Brining and Breaking Down a Turkey

Is it just you and the immediate fam for Thanksgiving this year? Thinking about skipping out on the turkey? Why miss an opportunity for $0.47/lb meat! (Seriously. That’s what it’s going for at my Kroger this week.)

In this pre-Thanksgiving installment of #apocalycious, I’m going to teach you not only how to brine a bird, but also how to take it down into more manageable portions so you can feast all through the winter.

The Brining

Brining was all the rage in the mid-00’s with every Food Network star telling you how to carefully mix your salt/sugar mixture for everything from turkey to pork chops. As a then-faithful follower of this cable cult, I too started to brine my turkey each year. And honestly, I’ve never overcooked a bird with this method.

To start, you’re going to need to clean out some space in your fridge. Enough space to put a 10 gallon bucket, which means eat up all of your goodies in advance of this project.

You’ll also need:

  • 1 10-gallon bucket
  • 1 trash bag (unscented)
  • 1 defrosted turkey
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
Getting the bird bath together.

Put the trash bag into the bucket then put the turkey into the bag. Add your salt and sugar. At this point, you can just add water and call it a day. But I like to add other things to make my brine more flavorful. Sometimes this is quartered citrus and peppercorns. Other times it’s whatever beer or wine I have in the house with some fresh herbs. Below is a list of actual things I have previously put into my turkey brine–go wild!

  • White wine
  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Old English 40’s
  • Peppercorns
  • Bay leaves
  • Miller Lite
  • Rosemary (fresh or dried)
  • Sage (fresh or dried)
  • Parsley (fresh or dried)
  • Garlic (fresh or dried)
  • Onions (quartered)
  • Jalapeños (sliced)
  • Dried reaper peppers

Whatever you add is going to impart flavor and make the bird even more delicious. I recommend some mix of acid (wine, beer, or citrus), herbal (anything from Scarborough Fair), and allium (garlic, onions, shallots).

Oranges, lemons, bay leaves, onions, garlic, peppercorns, and jalapeño went into this one!

Add these in with your turkey, then fill it with lukewarm water so that the water comes just above the bird. Tie the garbage bag, and put the whole thing in the fridge for 3 days.

When you’re ready to cook the turkey, just remove it from the bag and gently rinse it off. At this point, you can roast it whole or take it down into its components.

The Butchery

For this process you’re going to need the following:

  • A large sharp knife
  • Kitchen scissors
  • Either a vacuum sealer and bags OR gallon-sized freezer bags

Give your turkey a little pat down beforehand to make it less slippery. Then pull one of the legs away from the breast. Take your knife and cut through the skin and meat to the bone. For smaller turkeys, you may be able to find the joint and cut through. For larger ones, sometimes you need to pull the leg away from the body until the joint snaps. Once you have a place to cut through, remove the leg and set aside.

Repeat this process for other leg and both wings.

At this point, the thighs will basically be dangling off. Go ahead and trim those off so all you’re left with are the two breasts.

Once you’ve removed the wings, legs, and thighs, you’ll need to break out the kitchen scissors and use them to cut along both sides of the spine. This is pretty easy going until you get to the tailbone, which you may need to use your knife to work through. This process is called spatchcocking. (Teehee.)

Be sure to save the spine to make stock later on! (If you make broth in the Instantpot, I’d go ahead and use a cleaver to whack this into two pieces since the whole thing will not fit.)

The final step is to cut along the breastbone in order to separate the breast into two pieces. This can be done with just the knife.

And there you have it! A whole 14-lb pre-brined turkey in pieces! Now you can make fried turkey legs for your quarantine Renaissance Faire, smoked turkey wings for a sports ball night, roasted turkey thighs for a real treat (seriously!), and of course a baked turkey breast that you can use for sandwhiches, soups, etc. Also consider tossing one of those breasts in the InstantPot with some water for 30 minutes and then pull the turkey and freeze it in separate containers for soups!

There’s no reason you can’t enjoy turkey on Thanksgiving this year just because you don’t have 10-20 people to feed it to. You just need to be 10 people over the coming months as you eat through your $7 holiday bird!

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