Brining meat in a salt solution causes the proteins to readjust their shape. The oppositely charged ions in table salt (sodium and chloride) react with the large protein molecules in meat, causing them to rearrange their structure, which in turn reduces its toughness. It also creates gaps that fill up with water from the brining solution. The added salt makes the water evaporate less during cooking, resulting in meat that is super juicy and super tender!
The simplest brining solution is to dissolve 1 cup salt per gallon cold water for 4- to 6-hour brine or 1/2 cup salt per gallon cold water for 12- to 14-hour brine (the shorter the soak, the saltier the brine needs to be to do the work).
I like to add sugar to my brine, at a ratio of 2 parts salt to 1 part sugar.
To minimize fuss, prepare brine in a brining bag, or a less expensive giant Ziplock bag (those kind they make to store your sweaters in)! This takes up way less room in your fridge than a large pot, and you don't have to worry about keeping ice in a cooler.
That's it! Once you've brined your first turkey, you'll understand what a difference it makes! Experiment with flavors like orange, coriander, and more. I love this recipe from Pioneer Woman - so lovely and fragrant! And remember, brining isn't just great for turkey, it works on chicken, pork, and even shrimp!
Never brine a kosher or a self-basting bird, as they are already infused with sodium during processing!