posted by Joe Anaya on December 1st, 2014

A few years ago, I fell in love with a brine turkey dinner. I told my wife, “I want THIS next year.” She says, “Help yourself.” “Okay, I’ll do it.” I agreed to prepare the turkey next Thanksgiving. What the hell.

The next year, I found a recipe for brining a turkey and I was all set. How hard can it be? It starts at the grocery store. Being a guy, of course, I wait until the day before. Our fridge is quickly filling with side dishes and dessert preparations, so I figure I’ll just get the bird when I need it the day before, so I don’t have to cram it in the overstuffed fridge. Well, three grocery stores later, there are no fresh turkeys, just a hand full of frozen ones. And to make things worse, the only ones left are these ridiculously huge turkeys. Well, beggars can’t be choosers, so I put on my weight belt and heaved a Volkswagon sized turkey into the cart.

Next, I gather the various spices needed, then I get stuck at the salt. The recipe calls for rock salt. I don’t see rock salt. I see all manner of other salt; table, iodized, course, kosher, sea, even pink. The picture of kosher salt looks the closest to rocks. What difference could it make? It’s all going to get dissolved in the water right? Next to me is an elderly woman who is also looking for rock salt. With my fellow first-time briner, we agree kosher salt will do the trick.

Back at home, I drop my turkey-boulder on the counter. My wife, whom I made promise not to get in my way, walks by and says, “You can’t leave that there.” I shoot back in my politest don’t-tell-me-what-to-do voice, “It has to thaw.” “It’s called food poising. Look it up,” is her ominous response. Hmmm, in order to avoid creating bacteria, based on weight, my turkey-saurus needs to thaw in the fridge for roughly two months. It’s like some sort of time-travel paradox. You can only get a fresh turkey if you buy it two weeks in advance, which then means you have to freeze it, but that means you’re already behind in thawing it. WTF!

Okay, on to Plan B. The internet says it’s safe to thaw a frozen turkey by letting it soak in room temperature water. Great, I have plenty of that. But what do I use to hold the bathing bird? The bath tub; “Nope,” my wife rejects that idea. My kid’s wading pool will take too long to fill up and needs too much water. My seldom used giant ice chest; it’s perfect. I move three boxes of Christmas decorations to get to the mother of all coolers and empty the four smaller coolers that fit inside like some sort of Russian nesting doll. As I’m showering the rock hard turkey with the hose while it rests in the cooler, I enjoy the symmetry of our ridiculously huge and therefore unusable ice chest finally having a purpose, holding the ridiculously large frozen turkey. Nice. But I notice a small crack in the lining. Allowing water to slowly leak out. No big deal. The two titans are sitting in the front yard so a little extra water won’t hurt the lawn.

But now I’m noticing a different problem. Ice floats and so do frozen turkeys. Only the bottom half of the bird is sitting in the water. Bobbing like a fowl iceberg; mocking me. I grab the cooler lid and some bungee cords and strap the turkey-cicle down as low into the water as it will go. Every hour, I go out and dump the now cold water, rotate the bird and refill it with hose water. Repeat as necessary.

At 1:00 am, the turkey is finally thawed, well most of it, the middle was still frozen and I had to chip out the packet of gizzards, etc. Sadly, the giant cooler didn’t make it. The pressure of the turkey, water and bungee cords was too much for the UV riddled cooler. The crack got bigger and wouldn’t hold much without the leak looking more like a pour. But there’s no time to mourn, I must press onward.

I have already prepared the brine solution (kosher salt seemed to work fine). Now I need something to hold the turkey and the brine. Turns out my cooler had one last gift to give. I get two large yard waste garbage bags, put one inside the other, place those inside the cracked cooler, use the bungee cords to hold the cooler together, insert the now supple turkey into the bags, pour the brine inside the plastic bags, tie off and let set over night.

The next day, we had a delicious brined turkey prepared by yours truly. Of the good things that happened that year, I was most thankful for the last day of use for my faithful giant cooler.

Originally posted 11/28/11

File Under Jack of all Trades