November is right around the corner and I'm still undecided. I've scoured all the typical online resources to help me make my decision. I've talked to various friends and family to see what opinions they had about it. I've even tuned into those characters on cable TV to see if they might help me process all of the information. At the end of the day, I realized that nobody could shoot it to me straight.
So, I decided to take things into my own hands to answer the ultimate question that everyone in America will be asking themselves this November: Which turkey is better?
Brining and basting are the two most common methods for juicing up your Thanksgiving turkey, but I've never tried them side-by-side. To resolve this, I smoked up three turkey breasts and invited an unbiased focus group over to see which method they preferred. One turkey breast was brined, a second was basted, and the third breast was both brined and basted. Below are the results.
Review of the Literature:
Three whole turkey breast were smoked using the indirect grilling method in a Big Green Egg heated between 300 and 325 degrees. All three breasts were rubbed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper before being placed in the smoker. Apple wood was used for its delicate and subtly sweet flavor.
Turkey A was prepared using a brine recipe provided by The Pioneer Woman. The brine was prepared the day before and was used to brine Turkey A overnight. Once placed in the smoker, Turkey A was left alone until its internal temperature reached 160 degrees.
|Not technically a brining bag, but it did the trick.|
Turkey C was both brined and basted using the recipes and processes described above.
Each breast was promptly removed upon reaching an internal temperature of 160 degrees. After cooking, the breasts were allowed to rest for at least 20 minutes to allow the carryover heat to finish the cooking process.
The votes were tallied and points were awarded to each turkey breast. Three (3) points were awarded for each 1st place vote, two (2) points were awarded for each 2nd place vote, and one (1) point was awarded for each third place vote. Here are the results:
It should be pointed out that the focus group was impressed with all three turkey breasts and had a difficult time determining which turkeys were better than the others. This was made evident by the 1st place votes being fairly evenly distributed, with Turkey A (brined) receiving one less vote than the other two. However, when the total points are taken into consideration, it is clear that Turkey B (basted), was the overall winner.
Below are some notes taken regarding the 5 criteria used for judging:
- Moisture: Voters noted that all three breasts were pleasantly moist and there were no complaints about dry turkey.
- Turkiness: It was also noted that Turkey B (basted) did have more turkey flavor, while the two brined turkeys (A and C) had a more muted turkey flavor.
- Saltiness: Voters also commented that Turkey A was saltier than Turkey B, but that it wasn't overwhelming or unpleasant.
- General Flavor: The brined turkeys (A and C) had a slight edge in general flavor, despite the muted turkiness. It was generally accepted that the focus group could taste the flavors from the brine more than the aromatics used to flavor the basted turkey.
- Texture: Texture was a clear toss-up. None of the turkeys had an unpleasant texture, but there were distinct differences noticed by the voters. The brined turkeys had a texture that was described as "wet" or "super moist." On the other hand, Turkey B (basted-only) had a "meatier" texture where the muscle fibers were much more prevalent.
This debate all comes down to how you like your turkey. Both brining and basting have distinct advantages over their opponent and could each be preferable depending on the circumstances.
For example, if you are a turkey hunter and are wondering how to prepare your trophy, brining would be the clear choice since it was effective at muting the turkiness of the meat. In the wild game world, this would translate to reducing the turkey's gaminess. Gaminess is not an issue with store-bought turkey and it might be better to preserve some of the turkey flavor, which would suggest not using a brine.
However, if you're looking to use the meat for sandwiches or plan on reheating the turkey in the microwave, brining might be your better option since it adds so much moisture to the meat. On a similar note, if you're not using a meat thermometer or tend to overcook your meat, brining would be much more forgiving due to the added moisture inside the meat.
So, before you decide how you want to cook up your big bird this November, go and buy yourself a nice meat thermometer. You'll need it no matter which method you use.
*This statement is limited in context to smoking turkey breasts on an XL Big Green Egg at 300-325 degrees Fahrenheit with apple wood chips, while using The Pioneer Woman's brine recipe and Alton Brown's aromatic recipe.