Turkey Brine

How to Brine a Turkey

To brine or not to brine is a question that home cooks all over America ask themselves mid November. Some say the process is an absolute must and others reject the idea because it’s too messy or too salty.

Scientifically, it does make sense. You see, salt water that absorbs into protein will help it to retain moisture. Lean meats, like turkey, will dry out as they cook for long periods in the oven. Therefore, a turkey can benefit from the brining process.

Turkey Brine

How to Brine a Turkey

Brining will add both flavor and texture to leaner meats.
Without natural fat marbling, lean meats can become dry when cooked. With brining, the salt absorbs into the turkey and begins to break down the protein structure at the same time as it is adding flavor and helping to retain moisture in the meat. The added moisture in the turkey meat ensures more moisture in the cooked turkey as the same amount of water will cook out as before, but now there is more water to begin with so more remains.

Basic Brine

A basic brine will consist of:
1 cup of coarse grain kosher salt (only 2/3 of a cup if you are using a flatter, denser salt like Mortons) and 1/2 cup of sugar thoroughly dissolved into a gallon of warm water. Other herbs and spices can of course be added to a brine, this is just the basic brine recipe. Go ahead and add other flavors, whether traditional herbs like rosemary and sage or personal favorites. Let this mixture cool and then refrigerate it until ready to use.

Basic Directions

The easiest way to handle a brining turkey is to start by placing a bag inside of a clean bucket (ones like these are available pretty cheap at Home Depot).

Then, proceed to step #1. 1) Place a turkey into a large container or plastic bag.
There are strong bags built just for this purpose available in grocery, specialty and online stores.
These work well:

2) Pour the brine mixture over the turkey and be sure that it is fully submerged in the liquid.

3) Seal the bag and place it in the fridge.
If it won’t fit into the fridge, then use an ice chest and add fresh ice to keep the temperature between 32 and 40°F. Keeping a brining turkey cold is essential to avoid the growth of bacteria. If it’s cold enough outside, that could also be an option to store the turkey for a day, but don’t let it re-freeze or get warmer than 40°F.

How to Brine a Turkey

Brining Tips

  • Plan ahead.
    Brining needs 24 hours on a fresh bird. If the turkey was frozen, be sure to stick it in the fridge about 4 days ahead of time. Brining will take place on the day before Thanksgiving, so be sure that the bird has been thawed properly.

  • Don’t brine kosher or self-basting turkeys (like Butterball) since they have already been brined or salted.

  • Keep it cold.
    The brine must stay below 40°F in order to prevent the growth of bacteria.

  • Don’t over-brine:
    After 24 hours of brining, the turkey meat will begin to change in texture (less desirable).

  • Rinse after brining:
    After rinsing, pat the turkey dry with paper towels and then it air dry (uncovered) for at least an hour in the fridge before using. Remember to sanitize the sink and any utensils after rinsing in order to avoid any cross-contamination.

  • Gravy made from brined turkey drippings can be very salty.
    Try using unsalted butter in place of some drippings and add broth of the no-salt version.
  • How to Brine a Turkey

    Additional Info

    Brining bags are available at Amazon.

    Remember, never try to cook a frozen turkey.

    For a handy thawing chart, see our how to thaw a turkey post.

    To find out how long other foods are good for, please visit the Dairy, Drinks, Fruits, Grains, Proteins, Vegetables and Other sections of Eat By Date or use the search function below.

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