Thanksgiving recipe: Brined mesquite grilled breast

You don't have to roast a whole bird to achieve a tasty Thanksgiving turkey dish. This recipe grills up a brined turkey breast for a flavorful meal.

A Palatable Pastime
This recipe for a brined and grilled turkey breast delivers a moist meat with lots of flavor.

When I make turkey breast outdoors on my grill, I like to brine it to make sure it stays moist during the extended cooking process. In this recipe, I have used a bone-in type turkey breast, but you could use a boneless turkey breast as well. The cooking time might be slightly shorter with boneless, but since you will determine its doneness with an instant read thermometer, there is no guessing about when it is done or mishaps with overcooked, dry, turkey.

I love the smoke ring that gets into the meat when it is grilled. You can see it as a slight pinkness around the outside, just under the skin. Do not mistake this for meat that is not properly cooked. Uncooked pink meat would be in the center. You might notice sometimes when grilling ribs that the meat is pink all the way through and still not raw, but that is simply because the smoke goes all the way through the rib, permeating it to the bone, since ribs have much less meat on them than a roast of this type.

I used mesquite chips to add smoke to this meat. It is not a requirement that it be mesquite. I do enjoy the flavor of that, but there are times when you might like to use another type of soaked wood chips and something like hickory or pecan might be excellent with turkey. But really, it is all up to you and what you like.

Also, about the brining time. I have seen ridiculous recipes that require meat to be soaked for days. It just doesn’t need to happen. Brining time should be based on weight, not whim. Just in case you want to use this brine on a whole turkey, you “can” make enough to cover it and either put it in a smoker or oven. Just never grill a turkey direct unless you like it burnt outside and uncooked inside.

Here are some brining times for various size meats:

  • 3-4 hours for 3 pounds meat (such as pork ribs)
  • 5-6 hours for a nice roasting hen
  • 12-24 hours for a turkey, 12 hours being for a small one and the longer time for those turkeys around 20+ pounds.

Generally try to plan on about an hour per pound of meat.

Also another tip is to make sure the meat is dry before you begin cooking it. Just a simple pat down is OK for meats such as pork or ribs. It becomes more important if you are doing something like chicken, duck, or turkey. The drier you can get the skin, the better. If you have time after you drain the brine and dry it to let the skin sit and air dry, so much the better. A smear of soft butter or olive oil on the skin can be a plus. It will help to brown the skin and crisp it up further. No one likes soggy skin.

One other tip: what to brine your turkey in. There are tons of brining bags available in cooking shops and whatnot since brining has become popular. They are nice. If you can’t find those I suggest using one of those Reynolds roasting bags or something like a crock pot liner, putting the bird in there with enough brine to cover it, then tisting it off at the top with a twistie tie. Make sure you keep the meat refrigerated while it is brining, and inside of another container such as the crock from a crock pot or maybe a large mixing bowl, in case you are unlucky enough to have the bag somehow tip or leak on you. And always refrigerate meats on a lower shelf or different shelf from other foods it might contaminate. That is just good food service sanitation practice.

For the brine

1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 sprigs fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
4 -6 garlic cloves, sliced
4 cups water
1/2 cup kosher salt

For the turkey

1 (6 -8 lb) bone-in turkey breast
salt and pepper
softened butter

1. Mix brine ingredients into water and stir until salt is completely dissolved. Place rinsed turkey into brine mixture in a food-safe container (roasting bags are good) with enough brine mixture to cover completely when bag is cinched. Refrigerate bird in brine mixture for about 12 hours.

2. Drain bird and pat dry. Meanwhile, soak mesquite chips in enough water to cover for approximately 30 minutes. Drain chips and place in small handfuls onto foil and make pouches with little holes pricked in the foil with a fork.

3. Prepare grill for indirect heat using a drip pan. Place water or beverage of your choice into drip pan. Rub turkey breast with softened butter on the outside and season with salt and pepper (add garlic if you like). Oil grill screen and put a pouch of mesquite chips directly on the coals.

4. Place turkey over the drip pan and cover grill. Grill for several hours, turning turkey as needed, and adding a pouch of chips and a few new coals about every 30-45 minutes to maintain a steady heat. Cook until meat in the deepest part of the breast reads 170 degrees F (you will need an instant read thermometer for this). Allow bird to sit for 15-30 minutes, undisturbed, before carving to maintain juiciness.

Related post on A Palatable Pastime: Old Fashioned Bread and Celery Stuffing or Dressing

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