Learn how to brine a turkey the right way and then expand of that to add flavors that will make this year's feast outstanding. Kick it up a few notches with these easy to follow step by step instructions.
Introduction and My Rating
Learn how to brine a turkey the right way and then expand of that to add flavors that will make this year feast outstanding.
A brine for your holiday bird that will add a lot of moisture and tenderness. And you can add your own custom flavors. But you can easily make mistakes.
***Here is a reminder I will put in this post several times: NEVER BRINE AN INJECTED OR PREVIOUSLY BRINED TURKEY***
The fancy technique is 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.
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
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 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.
When ever kosher salt is called for it will mean Diamond Crystal or the equivalent of other salts. 1 teaspoon table salt = 1 1/4 teaspoon Morton kosher salt = 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt.
The salt does the work and can not be omitted. It seems to break down some tissue in the bird and bring water into the turkey.
I call for a "light" amount of salt by decreasing it by 25% from many recommendations.
Other ingredients are to taste.
There are dry brine methods I'm not covering here.
There are only a few studies on the amount of salt absorbed by brining a whole turkey. It seems that about 200 mg is added per 4 oz. But there are lots of variables here and it could be higher. Please don't quote me on this. If you are watching sodium intake, you should not be brining.
24 hours is the most you should brine for since there is very little absorption after that time, and the water can start affecting the meat texture. Most of the effect is really in the first 12 hours.
Basic Turkey Brine
8 quarts (32 cups) water
1 1/2 cups kosher salt
The rest is optional
2 quarts apple juice or cider - substitute for an equal amount of the water
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 you are using 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 and enough 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. Also, if using fresh fruit, add it at this time. We added three quartered oranges.
How to Brine a Turkey
The Basic Ingredients for Brining a Turkey
- 1 turkey - Whole and not brined or injected
- 8 quarts water
- 1½ cup kosher salt
- enough ice and water to cover the bird in the bag.
Optional / To Taste Ingredients
- 2 quarts apple cider or juice - substitute for an equal amount of water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons allspice
- 6 slices fresh ginger - or 2 teaspoons powder
- 8 whole cloves
- 3 oranges - cut in quarters
- Combine all of the above ingredients you are using a stockpot but exclude any fresh fruit. Boil 10 minutes then cool.
- Clean and place the turkey in the brining container (I love big plastic bags, the Ziplocs are great). Add the cooled brine, fresh fruit if using, and enough 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. The bird MUST be kept under 40 degrees Fahrenheit for safety. Please see https://www.101cookingfortwo.com/thanksgiving-food-safety-and-food-help/ for more tips.
- Be SURE to rinse the bird inside and out when removed from the brine. Pat dry and proceed with the cooking. Be very careful and clean up the area after rinsing. See https://www.101cookingfortwo.com/chicken-rinse-not-rinse/
- The ratio of 1 gallon of fluid to about 3/4 cup of kosher salt is a good basic ratio for a wet brining a turkey.
- When ever kosher salt is called for it will mean Diamond Crystal or the equivalent of other salts. 1 teaspoon table salt = 1 1/4 teaspoon Morton kosher salt = 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt.
- 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 let's be careful.
- Do not add any more salt to the turkey.
- This recipe is a 2-gallon recipe and is good for 12-20 pounds. You can adjust from there.
- PLEASE REVIEW FOOD SAFETY: Thanksgiving Food Safety and Food Help and Chicken… To Rinse or Not To Rinse?
- Nutrition is for 8 oz of white meat with 200 mg of sodium added per 4 oz. which is an estimate of sodium transfer to the turkey. It may or may not be accurate.
- If you have sodium concerns, brining is not for you.
- Final Tip: NEVER BRINE AN INJECTED OR PREVIOUSLY BRINED TURKEY- and somebody will still do it.
Editor's Note: Originally Published November 11, 2012. It has been updated with expanded text and explanation along with refreshed photos.