There’s nothing quite as disappointing as ruining your food when you have dinner guests. Especially when there’s no time to start cooking again from scratch, turkey can be delicious when cooked in a smoker, but what do you do if it comes out too salty? What causes a smoked turkey to taste so salty, and what solutions can we find to remedy this disastrous dinner situation?
Many turkeys are “enhanced” by injecting a 10-15% brine solution into the meat, which can result in a very salty bird. Reducing the salt content when seasoning or brining will prevent oversalted meat. Likewise, adding undersalted sides, sauces, and sweet or spicy flavors can help tone down the oversalted turkey.
It’s always better to have undersalted food rather than oversalted.
People can then add seasoning according to their taste. But something too salty is hideous and can spoil the entire meal if you don’t remedy the situation quickly. And when you’re preparing for guests, the old adage “prevention is better than cure” applies to salting your turkey!
Why Is My Smoked Turkey So Salty?
There are numerous reasons why a turkey can taste too salty. But, once you’re aware of them, you can prevent them from happening. Some situations can be remedied after cooking, but you may have to serve your turkey in a different form.
Enhanced Turkeys Can Be Too Salty If Brined
Soaking a turkey in brine adds flavor to the meat and helps to tenderize the bird. Cooking denatures individual proteins and then causes them to join together with others.
This causes moisture loss and shrinkage. Brining reduces moisture loss, leaving you with a juicier turkey.
Soaking your turkey in brine can make the meat juicier in several ways:
- Muscle fibers soak up liquid during the brining period. Even though some is inevitably lost during cooking, the bird had more liquid at the start, so it will be juicier when cooked.
- A mild salty solution dissolves some proteins in the muscle fibers, making the turkey juicy and tender.
- Most importantly is salt’s capacity to unwind proteins in the muscle fibers and make them swell. The brine bonds directly with the proteins and get trapped between them when the meat is cooking. The result is very tender turkey meat.
Unless you purchase an organic turkey or one straight from the farm, you’re likely to end up with a bird that has already been injected with sodium and other substances.
If you then decide to brine the turkey to keep it moist and juicy during cooking, the extra salt in the brine could make it too salty to enjoy.
To avoid having a very salty turkey with regards to brining:
- If you want to brine your turkey before smoking it, purchase a certified organic bird, or get one directly from a farm that has not been injected with brine or other chemicals.
- If you’re not intent on brining the bird yourself, purchase a kosher turkey. It will already have been brined, and doing it again will make the turkey too salty.
Turkeys Can Become Salty If Brining Time Is Incorrect
After experiments regarding brining of turkeys, results showed that time determines how far the salt penetrates the meat. When a breast was left in the brine for only an hour, the outermost parts of the meat were so salty to be inedible, but the rest was very bland. It was only by 24 hours in the brine that the salt had drawn into the center of the bird and was pleasantly flavorful.
Another 24 hours saw most of the meat from the bone to the skin reaching the ideal salt concentration.
Leaving the turkey in brine for too long or too short a time will result in a salty bird. To prevent inedible, salty smoked turkey, brine it for 24-48 hours before cooking. The flavor spreads evenly throughout the entire bird.
Overseasoning Will Make a Turkey Too Salty
The above statement may sound absurdly obvious, but it’s not only the accidental emptying of the salt pot over the turkey that is pertinent here. If that is indeed what happened, the solution is easy. Wash the salt and seasoning off the turkey and start again.
The salt concentration in brine is of vital importance to the final flavor of the turkey, especially when it will be standing for a long time.
If you’re going to cook a whole turkey, use 2 cups of salt per 1 gallon of water. Half a cup of salt to 1 quart of water is sufficient for cooking turkey breast. This ratio is based on Diamond Crystal kosher salt.
But, all salts are created equal. You must adapt the quantity of salt according to its type. For example, cut the amount by a quarter if you’re using Morton’s kosher salt. If you only have table salt available, cut the amount by half.
What To Do With Your Cooked Oversalted Turkey
When you’re ready to serve the turkey you’ve been looking forward to all day, and it’s way too salty, what can you do? Let’s face it, we can’t reverse the saltiness altogether, but here are some ideas you can try:
- Melt some unsalted butter on top.
- Sprinkle and melt some sugar or honey as a glaze.
- Add something acidic, like lemon juice, to help mask the flavor.
- Serve the turkey with starchy sides like potatoes, rice, or polenta.
- Serve cream-based sauces or sides to up the fat content.
- If it is mainly the skin and top layer that is oversalted, slice it thinly and serve with more sides.
- Under-season the sides and sauces.
- Instead of serving the turkey as is, put it into a stew or pie. Then don’t add salt and use low sodium ingredients to complete the dish. Vegetables and liquids will dilute the saltiness.
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
It’s always better to take the time to ensure that your bird won’t be too salty rather than running around like a chicken (or turkey) with its head off trying to fix the problem! So here are some ways of controlling the salt content and flavor:
- Always buy a fresh (non-frozen) bird. This way, you won’t have a turkey injected with sodium and other substances, making the bird extra salty.
- Rinse the turkey well under running water after brining it.
- Then soak the bird in cold water for fifteen minutes to purge the excess salt from the skin.
- Use broth with the lowest amount of sodium for the gravy.
- Boil the giblets until cooked, and use the broth for thinning the gravy.
- You can also soak the turkey in buttermilk to purge the salt from the meat, and the acidity helps tenderize the bird.
The cooking method, in this case, smoking, has little to do with the level of saltiness of the turkey. Granted, smoked meat has its flavor and aroma. But, aside from accidentally emptying the salt pot over the bird, an overly salty flavor has more to do with what’s inside the turkey.
The best remedy for this is to prevent it from happening. But serving the turkey with underseasoned sides and sauces, slicing it very thinly, or serving it as something completely different could help the situation.
But prevention is always better than cure, so don’t be a turkey and overseason your bird or brine it unnecessarily!
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