A flavorful brine for your holiday turkey that will add a lot of moisture and taste to the bird. Let’s kick it up a few notches with these easy to follow step by step instructions.
Editor’s Note: Originally Published November 11, 2012. It has been updated with expanded text and explanation along with refreshed photos.
Thanksgiving means turkey in our family and not a deep fried one. We are traditional so we are talking an oven roasted bird here.
For many years we bought the “American classic” frozen bird that all the stores sell. You know… the “self basting” ones.
Thaw it, butter or oil it up and stick it in the oven. That really does work quite well for “challenged” cooks out there. I give it a 4/5 stars in taste but a little dry at times and a 2/10 for skills needed.
Add some gravy and sides and you have a very nice holiday feast. (See my How To Make Gravy at Home post if needed).
BUT…you want to kick it up a few notches or you wouldn’t be reading this. So let’s MAN UP and get to it.
For the last few years our eldest daughter has been in-charge of “the bird” and it is a couple of steps up from that thawed frozen bird.
It’s the brine that makes the bird. So at the request of my wife, I offer up this post. The pictures are from last year’s bird.
***Here is a reminder I will put in this post several times: NEVER BRINE AN INJECTED OR PREVIOUSLY BRINED TURKEY***
The technique from Christine at 15 Minute Beauty Fanatic aka Little Miss Martha for her love of all things Martha Stewart. I’m sure the method has a lot of Martha Stewart in it.
An appropriate brine is a wonderful thing for a roasted turkey. My wife gives it a 6 or 7 but I don’t have a graphic for that…
Pro Tips: Notes on How to Brine a Turkey
A little background on why to brine. Roasting the bird leads to loss of water during the cooking process.
The brine is a salty water “marinade”. The salt and water will absorb and cause the break down of the proteins in the meat. This will give you a more tender, moist and flavorful turkey.
By adding other things like spices, you can also add tons of flavor. So this is a totally buffed up brine.
NEVER BRINE AN INJECTED OR PREVIOUSLY BRINED TURKEY
The Logistics of Brining A Turkey
You need a large bag. Fortunately, these are easier to find these days but if you can’t, large oven roasting bags will do.
Garbage bags are NOT a good choice since they are not designed for food storage and the chemicals may not be safe (I don’t know but let’s not do that).
To brine a turkey, the bird needs to be totally thawed and kept under 40 degrees. I have always had a second refrigerator but if not available, lots of people use a large cooler and lots of ice.
The turkey should still be in a food safe bag and sealed to prevent the brine from being diluted. This is poultry so let’s be careful out there.
The turkey should have no additives, brine or anything else injected or added in any way. If the bird is frozen, then thaw completely according to package directions.
But be aware that almost ALL frozen turkeys have some sort of salt injection and should not be used for brining unless you are SURE it has not been injected or brined.
Remove any giblets from the neck and body cavities. We generally special order a fresh turkey from the meat department. It’s just one phone call.
Tell them the size you want and the date you want to pick it up. You can do it. You generally need a good pound plus per person. We love turkey leftovers so we up that.
NEVER BRINE AN INJECTED OR PREVIOUSLY BRINED TURKEY
Basic brines for turkey will be about a cup of kosher salt to one gallon of fluid. This can be a little less just to prevent over salting. Here we are using 3/4 cup per gallon.
Really the salt to fluid ratio is the main work of a brine. The salt and water get into the meat and say. It then breaks down some of the proteins and makes more tender meat.
The rest of the components add flavor and makes the brine even better.
8 quarts (32 cups) liquid ( 2 qts apple cider or juice and rest water)
1 1/2 cups kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp peppercorns and 2 Tbsp allspice, combine and coarsely crush
6 slices ginger( or 2 tsps powdered)
8 whole cloves
Combine all the above ingredients but the oranges into a stockpot on the stove. Let boil 10 minutes then cool.
Clean and place turkey in brining container (I love big plastic bags, the Ziplocs are great).
Add the cooled brine, 3 oranges, quartered and water/ice to cover the turkey. Note the large pan in the picture to support the bag. It will help you handle the very heavy bag better.
How to Brine a Turkey
- 2 quarts apple cider or juice
- 6 quarts water
- 1 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons allspice
- 6 slices fresh ginger - or 2 teaspoons powder
- 8 whole cloves
- 3 oranges
- Combine all of the above ingredients but the oranges into a stockpot on the stove. Let boil 10 minutes then cool.
- Clean and place the turkey in brining container (I love big plastic bags, the Ziplocs are great). Add the cooled brine, and three oranges quartered and water/ice to cover the turkey. Use a large pan to help support the brining bag. It will help you handle the very heavy bag better.
- Seal and refrigerate for 12-24 hours. Be SURE to rinse the bird inside and out when removed from the brine. Pat dry and proceed with the cooking.
- The ratio of 1 gallon of fluid to about 1 cup of kosher salt is the basic ratio for a wet brine.
- All the other ingredients are for taste.
- Be sure to use a food safe bag, not a garbage bag.
- Brine for 12-24 hours.
- The salt need to be rinsed off after a brine before cooking. This is a food safety issue so lets be careful.
- Do not add any more salt to the turkey.
- Last reminder: NEVER BRINE AN INJECTED OR PREVIOUSLY BRINED TURKEY - somebody is still going to do it.
- Nutrition information is for the entire brine. How much is transferred to the turkey is variable.
- This recipe is a 2 gallon recipe and is good for 12-20 pounds. You can adjust from there.
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Nutrition is for one serving. Number of servings is stated above and is my estimate of normal serving size for this recipe.
All nutritional information are estimates and may vary from your actual results. This is home cooking, and there are many variables. To taste ingredients such as salt will be my estimate of the average used.
If you like this recipe or find it useful, the pleasure of a nice 4 or 5 rating would be greatly appreciated.
Originally Published November 11, 2012