Soaking turkey legs in brine before cooking them can help make the meat juicier and more tender, as well as improve the flavor. Follow these steps to brine turkey legs.
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Soak the turkey legs in a brine solution made of salt, sugar, water and herbs for a minimum of six hours to brine them.
The USDA explains that brining is simply the process of soaking meat in a solution of water and salt, although sometimes ingredients like sugar, honey or molasses are added as well. While it has recently caught on as a popular way to cook turkey, brining is an age-old process that was even used to develop Chinese medicines, according to an October 2017 study published in the journal Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi.
Soaking Turkey Legs in Brine
The University of Illinois lists a recipe that details how to brine a turkey.
- Prepare the brine solution: The recommended ratio is 1 cup of sugar and either 4 cups of kosher salt or 2 cups of table salt in 2 gallons of water. This is the proportion for a small turkey weighing 12 to 14 pounds, so you can adapt it to the turkey legs depending on how many you want to brine and how much they weigh. The water should look clear, not cloudy.
- Place the turkey legs in the brine: Immerse the turkey legs into the brine solution. The turkey should be either fresh or completely thawed.
- Add herbs and spices: You can add sprigs of dried thyme, crushed bay leaves or other herbs to the turkey drumsticks in the brine solution, for flavor.
- Cover and refrigerate: Cover the container and place it in the refrigerator at a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for six to eight hours. You can also leave it overnight if you prefer, but in that case, you need to halve the amounts of sugar and salt that you use in the brine mixture to keep the meat from absorbing too much sodium. The USDA recommends an upper limit of two days for brining.
- Cook the drumsticks: Once you take the turkey drumsticks out of the brine, cook them them as you normally would. If you want a crispy skin on the turkey drumsticks after brining, you can refrigerate them overnight before cooking. To do this, take them out of the brine solution once they're done, pat them dry with paper towels, place them on a shallow pan, refrigerate them overnight and then cook them.
Read more: How to Cook a 25-Pound Turkey
Brined Turkey Nutrition
Turkey drumsticks are a good source of protein; a 100-gram serving has 19.54 grams of protein, 6.72 grams of fat and not much carbohydrates, according to the USDA's FoodData Central. Turkey also offers other nutrients like potassium, calcium, phosphorus, selenium and folate. It is also a source of cholesterol.
The USDA explains that the salt in the brine dissolves some of the protein in the muscle fiber of the turkey, which allows it to absorb and retain moisture while it's cooked. The brining process may therefore reduce some of the protein content in the turkey legs.
Read more: 10 Myths About Salt Debunked
Brining also increases the sodium content of the meat, so opt for fresh meat over brined meat as far as possible. A December 2018 study published in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension (Greenwich) notes that high-sodium diets can cause health problems like blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease.
- USDA: “Brining Safely Will Bring Tender, Flavorful Meat to the Thanksgiving Table”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “History Evolution of Salt Production and Processing With Brine”
- University of Illinois: “Turkey for the Holidays”
- USDA: “Turkey, All Classes, Leg, Meat and Skin, Raw”
- USDA: “10 Tips: Vary Your Protein Routine”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “High Sodium Intake Increases Blood Pressure and Risk of Kidney Disease”