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How To Brine A Turkey

Roasted to a T.I have been using a brine for my Thanksgiving turkey for for the past 5 years, maybe more. It consistently produces the best tasting turkey I’ve ever had and it also makes the turkey very tender.

What I also love about brining a turkey is that it brings fun chemistry into my day of cooking so I end up with fun stories to tell when people ask me WHY you should brine a turkey…typically immediately before or after they ask how to brine a turkey.

What would a posting about turkey brine be without the Ultimate Turkey Brine Recipe: The best recipe I’ve found comes from Alton Brown of the show Good Eats. Try the recipe below or check out the ready made Turkey Brine Kit from Amazon.

The brine recipe is only part of the story, so seek out the DVD for this episode to learn all the nuance.

  • 1 cup salt (Kosher) [Personally I use about 3/4 cup of sea salt because I don’t like pure sodium chloride]
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (I don’t think it matters what kind)
  • 1 gallon vegetable stock (if store bought, check the ingredients and get something that isn’t packed full of MSG and preservatives)
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns (or mixed–just put them in whole)
  • 1/2 tablespoon allspice berries (because they’re collecting dust in your cupboard anyway)
  • 1/2 tablespoon candied ginger (not ginger candy–there’s a difference)
  • 1 gallon iced water

Oh yeah, and 1 VERY CLEAN 5 gallon pail. This is your container for the turkey brine. The turkey and the brine will go in here before you serve the turkey to your friends and family. CLEAN! I get my “turkey brine container” from Home Depot. They’re big, red pails and I don’t show them to anyone on Thanksgiving…

What makes this the Ultimate Turkey Brine Recipe? ’cause I said so. Sheesh

Here’s how to use the recipe and brine your turkey.

Start out at the stove top and combine all brine ingredients, except ice water, in a stockpot, and bring it to a boil.

Stir to dissolve solids. It only takes a little agitation.

Remove from heat.

Cool to room temperature, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

You DO NOT want to use this brine hot, or you will start to cook the turkey (poached turkey?) and you may interfere with the neat biology/chemistry effect this technique makes use of.

On the day of cooking, (or very late the night before) combine the brine and ice water in a 5 gallon bucket (clean–not the one you used to change the fish tank water).

Place thawed turkey breast side down in brine. The turkey will float in the brine so what I do is place a brick in a large zip lock bag and place that on top of the turkey.

Cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 6 hours.

Turn turkey over once, half way through brining…or not. If the turkey is totally under water, because of the brick, you should be fine.

When you pull the turkey out of the brine, keep in mind that the cavity holds water. If you do this over carpet, your spouse may kill you.

At this point you have a turkey that is seasoned at the cellular level. It will NOT be salty due to the fact that osmosis prevents most of the salt from getting into the cells of the turkey. Much of the connective tissue also breaks down from the brine as well and this will lead to a more tender turkey.

I would like to thank Alton Brown of Good Eats for making me into a great cook. He has been a total inspiration.

If your turkey is “flavor injected” it might not be a good idea to brine it. Find a turkey that hasn’t been messed with and learn how to give it awesome flavor yourself. You’ll also be saving your family from a dozen or so chemicals you probably can’t legally obtain on your own and yet provide the main ingredients for commercial turkey “flavoring.”

It is not difficult to brine a turkey. Sure, there is some time required but it is totally worth it and good cooking should deserve a little time and attention once in a while.

By the way, a brine and a marinade are not the same thing. A marinade uses an acid to provide some tenderizing support and the flavor “sits on top.” If you’re looking for a turkey marinade recipe, don’t confuse a brine for a marinade.

Why Brine A Turkey?

[amazonify]158479559X:left[/amazonify]A brine uses a trick of nature called osmosis and diffusion to move fluids in and out of the cells that make up the food. As this process progresses, some of the brine ends up inside the cells and not only flavors the food at the cellular level, it also can be used as a preservation technique.

Have you ever watched someone pull a hot turkey from the oven and use a baster to squirt the drippings onto the top of the turkey? What happens? They run right off! This is because a.) skin is water resistant and b.) once the turkey’s skin has been browned, it’s not going to absorb much of anything! Has your mom ever told you that basting the turkey keeps the white meat tender? What kind of nonsense is that? If the juices run off the surface of the skin that quickly, what possible benefit are they going to have on the meat?

When you brine a turkey, you’re seasoning it at a point when it will actually accept seasoning.

Making gravy from the drippings

After you remove the turkey from the brine, most of it washes away. The result is NOT a salty bird. Brining brings flavor from more than the salt. The salt is simply a part of the chemistry and biology involved with the process of osmosis.

Anyway…making gravy from the drippings works fine and it’s already seasoned.

For more fun, check out these recipes from Alton Brown on the episode Remains of the Bird.

Photo: Creative Commons License photo credit: jcburns

[Tags]Turkey,brine,recipe,how to,thanksgiving[/tags]

67 Responses to How To Brine A Turkey

  1. It’s probably ok to inject the turkey breast before smoking it, though the above technique does not involve injection. The turkey brining I have always done involves immersing the turkey in a brine solution. It’s more than effective.

  2. @Richie I don’t think brining has any impact on cooking time. I always use a thermometer and cover the breast with foil after browning it first.

    Also, gravy from the drippings of a brined turkey are great. I don’t find it salty and other than the brine, I don’t use a lot of salt anyway.

  3. Might be dumb questions, but where do you get allspice berries (what exactly is that) and also what is candied ginger and where do you find that?

  4. Hi. This may be a silly questions but after you brine your turkey do you season it again before you cook it? Or do you add anything extra in the cavity?


  5. I found allspice berries at my local grocery store. the label doesn’t read allspice berries but it is the same thing. they’ll look like little beads. and for the candied ginger i didn’t have any luck with that and since it seems everyone here is referring to the infamous Alton’s recipe he did mention we could skip it!

  6. Can I use an inexpensive, possibly aluminum, stockpot to brine my turkey or will that react with the salt? I have also read you should brine the bird 1 hour per pound. Do you think that is too long? Thanks!

  7. I have never read that any type of pot should be avoided except a pot not large enough to accommodate the turkey and brine. In fact, all I’ve read is that ‘any’ container will suffice. If you are concerned, a few dollars should purchase a plastic container at the discount store or I would just use a trash bag to line your stock pot!

    I’ve also read about the one hour per brining ratio, and I think a lot may depend on the recipe used. Just remember that table salt should not be used in the same ratio as Kosher, canned, or rock salt. It would be a bit briny!

  8. Greetings! I love the humor & recipe posted so much! Okay my question is: Would it be advisable to use regular ol’ butter as a rub and baste? and also I was thinking of placing some butter inbetween the skin and flesh of the birdy? Then roasting/cooking the bird in a “oven roasting bag” along with potatoes,carrots and celery… help.

  9. Thanks for the recipe! I can’t find any candied ginger and on the Internet all references point to crystalized ginger which looks more like the candy that you say is not the same. Any ideas where I can find it? Can I just use regular ground ginger or should I just omit it?

    Thanks again!

  10. My first Turkey….yipes! I guess you could say I’m a little excited, I’ve just put my 14 lb. Turkey in the brine. I also added an extra 1/2 cup of kosher salt and 1/4 cup of reg. sugar (I tend to over season). I am now concerned about it brining too long. I think I heard Emerald say you can brine for up to 48 hrs, but I didn’t think about the brining contents! Anyone have any ideas, can I take it out of the brine in 14 hrs then refrigerate till I cook it???

  11. @Katherine I’ve never used a bag. I put the turkey in a 500 degree over for about 30 minutes to brown the breast. I then cover the breast with foil to slow its cooking a bit and put it back in the over at 300. I always use a probe thermometer to monitor the turkey.

  12. By the way, I used this (Alton’s) brining recipe (that’s why I’m concerned about the extra salt and sugar). I also added garlic, onion, lemon, fresh rosemary and thyme. I will be taking my Turkey out of the brine around 11:30am, should I wrap it in foil then keep in the fridge till tomorrow am? Please advise!

  13. You can cook the turkey in an oven bag after it has soaked in the brine. I also cook the turkey breast side down. It doesn’t make for a Norman Rockwell presentation because the meat is so tender it just falls off the bone. This is the only way my family wants their turkey cooked!

  14. @Dave, what have you done in the past?? over seasoned? foiled it and placed in the fridge till the next day? let it brine longer (is that ok?)? “Well” isn’t really what I was hoping for tomorrow, is there anything I can do? Sorry for being so ignorant. I do appreciate the help :o)

  15. Do you rinse the turkey after brining before stuffing it and cooking? I would love it if you would let me know: What kind of apples do you use to stuff your turkey? Do you use chopped or minced fresh garlic or whole cloves or put in unpeeled bulbs? What do you include in the herb bundle? Do you remove all of this after the turkey is cooked and use it to make something or do you discard all of the contents from the cavity? Maybe you could insert a link to your posting above with the “stuffing recipe”. I will let you know how my turkey turns out using all of your suggestions!

  16. Folks – try not to panic. Don’t get too hung up on the small stuff. What’s important in a brine is: liquid, salt, and then the flavors are up to you. I personally add apple juice to my brine – but have used pineapple juice one year and it too was great.

    Yes, you can brine and use a bag. A bag is not necessary, but you will not ruin the bird by doing so…. and maybe you’ll like it better. It’s all about personal tastes.

    I personally would not inject after brining until I’d cooked at least one turkey with just the brine. I think injection is totally not needed with a brined bird.

    Lisa – sometimes I rinse after brining, sometimes I don’t. I can’t tell that it makes a difference. Type of apples does not really matter. Use what you have/like. I put in whole garlic cloves that are peeled. I do that because it is easy, not because I think it matters. As for the herb bundle, I use what I have or what sounds good. Traditional “turkey” herbs are sage, thyme, rosemary, basil and oregano. Love another herb? Try it!

    The whole process of brining is very forgiving. Use what you have or what you love… your turkey and your guests will love you for it.

  17. Thank you so much for your help – Dave and Karen in OK. I have cooked a turkey every year for the past 10 years – this year I decided to take a chance and do something different. I am glad you have cooked as many turkeys so many different ways. Thanks for the “don’t sweat the small stuff” advice! I am a chemist by trade, so I always hesitate to experiment with an experts formulas. I’ll let you know how it turns out. A 29.4 pound fresh Milford Colony turkey is a first for me and the brining is too. Wish me luck! It will take about 9 hours to cook so I better get moving!

  18. Hi, I know this is late, but my holiday is a bit off from everyone else’s. I am brining my turkey now, but in a pot that was all I had. I just keep going and turning it every couple hours. I didn’t have a bag that would do either. My curiosity is if you can stuff it with traditional stuffing, what with the instructions I have seen to start it cooking sitting on the breast, and then turn…? I want to do stuffing, but this is sort of intimidating me now.

  19. I just wanted to report back that I followed your recipe very closely and the turkey was delicious! Everyone loved it and it was very nice and juicy. One thing I noticed is that the bird was a little pink on the outside of the meat. I know it was done especially on the outside. I wondered if it could possibly be because of the brine. The skin was also not as done as I would have liked. Not complaining at all, just some things I will work on next year – maybe not use the foil. I did watch Alton Brown cook in this method. I noticed he didn’t use aluminum foil. He also took the bird out at 151 internal temperature and let it continue to cook outside the oven, covered. It hit 164 – he was shooting for 165. But when I did this, it only gained 5 degrees and I ended up putting it back in the oven for a little bit. Next time I’ll leave it in until it hits an internal temp of 160.

    Thanks so much for passing on your version of Alton’s recipe. It made for a great bird!

  20. Just want to report that my turkey turned out wonderful! I combined the brining recipe with Turkey with Herbes de Provence and Citrus recipe by Giada De Laurentiis (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/turkey-with-herbes-de-provence-and-citrus-recipe2/index.html) and it turned out perfectly!!! For stuffing, I used the Wild Rice Stuffing with Wild Mushroom recipe from Epicurious (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Wild-Rice-Stuffing-with-Wild-Mushrooms-105886. My family told me that it was one of the best Thanksgiving dinner they’ve ever had! Thank you Dave and to all of you bloggers for sharing tips and questions!

  21. I put my turkey in a trash compacter bag with the brine mixture (these bags are much thichker.) then I put it in an ice chest and leave it outside for the night in the cold! You could also pack some ice around it. This always me to use my refrigerator open for all the other fixings!!

  22. This will be my first brine. If it does not work, I also have a ham. BUT, I have read, do NOT deep fry a brine turkey. Hot oil and water do not mix. I am concerned about the lack of browning, but it is worth a try. I heard about this from a radio station in Denver.

    • @Eric Great comments. Deep frying a brined turkey might just create a bomb. Although the tukey hasn’t picked up a lot more water, it has picked up some more water and it will be forced out from the heat of the oil.

      It’s probably worth noting to other interested readers that all turkeys do contain water and it’s inside the cells, carried between the connective tissues and is found under the skin. Deep frying a turkey is a great way to cook it but it certainly should never be done inside and should always be done with planning and care.

      Alton Brown has a fantastic episode of Good Eats which demonstrates the proper technique for safely deep frying a turkey. It’s worth checking out and contains some awesome tips many might not think of when planning for this cooking technique.

      I have never seen a problem with browning of a brined turkey. I can’t imagine why this would be a problem.

      First, I put the turkey in a 500 degree oven for 30 minutes. Then…I remove the turkey from said oven…I make a triangle from a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil and mold it over the breast. This hurts to do barehanded so I have a clean pair of mechanic’s gloves for such things…they’re not heat proof through so one must work quickly…then…I put the turkey back in the oven at 250 degrees, with a probe thermometer in a leg and in the breast. After all this I let it cook to a perfect temp and TADA! Yummy turkey.

    • The brining is seasoning at the cellular level. Because of Osmosis, the stuff in the brine literally enters the cells of the turkey. It also breaks down some of the connective tissue which is why brined turkeys are so tender.

  23. I’ve brined a couple of turkeys then fried them, and they turned out great. I tried a turkey breast today, then baked it. I left it in the brine too long and it is too salty. Any ideas on what I can do with the leftovers to take away some of the saltiness. All I can think of is maybe soup.

  24. Can you still stuff a turkey that has been brined or do you not stuff it due to the fact that you have seasoned the turkey with the brind and adding stuffing changes the seasoning of the turkey?

    • Shouldn’t be a problem. Stuffing doesn’t have much of an affect on the taste of a turkey. If you eat the stuffing and the turkey at the same time sure, but during roasting, it’s not really flavoring the turkey. Brining is another ballpark when it comes to turkey.

    • Hi Kathy, you can, but check the turkey to make sure it’s not already prepped with a brine solution. Some brands of turkeys with a pop up thermometer are packed in a bag with a light brine solution. It will say so on the package.

  25. Dave, I was told it’s better to roast a turkey with the breast side down (to keep the breast from drying out.) Would I still need to do that if I brined my turkey? I’ve never done one before?

    • Hi Cary,

      I guess that makes sense, but what I do is roast the turkey for 30 min at a high temp and then turn the oven way down and finish it with TWO probe thermometers. One in the breast and one in the leg. I also cover the breast with a triangle of heavy aluminum foil to slow the cooking of the white meat. This seems to bring the white and dark meat to doneness at the same time…even though they’re at different temperatures.

  26. dave, so i shouldn’t rinse the turkey after brining before I cook? So many recipes I found emphasized the need to rinse completely and dry.

    • I’ve tried it both ways and I didn’t notice any difference. There might be some bacterial risks…if your brine concentration isn’t sufficient to inhibit bacteria, then you’ve got a big culture dish. If you find any other info actually saying WHY it should be rinsed, please share it here. There might well be a good reason for it.

  27. I did this receipe off the food network last year and it was the best turkey ever….I am doing the same receipe this year with adding some apple juice ….other than that cooking it the same way….perfect bird

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