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How to Brine a Turkey

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If you’ve ever wondered How to Brine a Turkey, look no further.  A brined turkey adds flavor and will stay juicy during the entire cooking process!  No more dried out tough turkey!  Plus a brined turkey cooks faster for a quick and delicious Holiday meal!

 

Main image for recipe of turkey in brine ready to chill overnight

 

Roasted turkey is not only a delicious Thanksgiving tradition, but also makes for a delightful Sunday dinner or a crowd-pleasing crowd-feeder. Nothing says “togetherness” quite like a sumptuous turkey dinner.

However, if you’re like me, you might be a bit picky about your turkey’s tenderness and — let’s face it — dryness. Enter the brine! 

Brining your turkey will help it retain moisture while cooking. It also breaks down some of those tough muscle proteins and infuses extra flavor — much like a marinade, but on a whole-bird scale. The result is the tender, moist turkey of your Thanksgiving dreams! 

If you’re interested in how to brine a turkey, read on for step-by-step instructions, tips, and answers to many of your frequently asked questions below! Happy brining! 

 

Brined Turkey - all seasonings and ingredients laid out to brine a turkey.

 

What does “brine a turkey” mean?

A brine is basically a salt water bath for your turkey. This serve three main purposes:

  1. A brine tenderizes the meat by unraveling and breaking down some protein chains
  2. The brine moisturizes the turkey because the water used in the brine fills in the spaces between the salt-elongated protein chains
  3. Brining enhances the flavor of the turkey due to the herbs and other seasonings typically included in a brine. Most brines require a 12 – 24 hours.

What you will need to brine a turkey:

  • Water – you’ll want at least a gallon. If this is not enough to cover your turkey, you’ll add more, 4 tablespoons of salt per additional quart (4 cups). 
  • Salt – and lots of it. Salt is the backbone of your brine!
  • Brown sugar – most brines include sugar. Though it doesn’t affect the tenderness of the meat, it does add flavor and helps the skin of the turkey brown. 
  • Bay leaves – these flavorful leaves are a great seasoning for turkey and other poultries.
  • Black peppercorns – whole peppercorns have a great, spicy aroma and add a lot of flavor to your brine. 
  • Rosemary, Thyme, & Oregano – this trio of herbs go great with all poultry seasonings, and especially with turkey. 
  • Garlic – pungent and spicy, garlic adds loads of flavor 
  • A large pot, 5 gallon bucket, sanitized cooler, or a brining bag or large zipper bag for brining the turkey in. 

 

All seasonings added to a pot of water and boiled, then cooled.

 

How do you brine a turkey?

If you’re wondering how to brine a turkey, or where to brine a turkey, or how and where to fit a brining turkey, read on! There are 4 different methods you can use for brining a turkey: large pot method, cooler method, 5 gallon bucket method, and the bag method. 

  1. How to brine a turkey in a large pot:  Cook brine mixture in an extra large pot and then soak the turkey in the pot used to cook the brine (once the brine is chilled). 
  2. How to brine a turkey in a 5 gallon bucket: Depending on the size of your turkey, this might be a great option. Just make sure you have enough room in your fridge to fit the bucket. I’ve also used a 5 gallon storage tub. 
  3. How to brine a turkey in a cooler: yep, a cooler that holds drinks is insulated and will also work great for brining a turkey. Simply make sure it’s disinfected and cleaned well. Then place the turkey breast side down and add an extra half cup of salt to your brine for this method. Add enough ice to cover the turkey — about 5 – 10 pounds depending on the size of your cooler — and place the cooler in the coolest place in the house. Before you go to bed, make sure it still has plenty of ice to keep it chilled. Once you’re done brining your turkey, make sure to REALLY clean that cooler!
  4. How to brine a turkey in a bag (the brining bag or extra large zipper bag method): If you’re wondering how to brine a turkey in a bag, you’ll just need a bag suitable to the task! You can purchase brining bags or you can use an extra large zipper bag. Brining bags are great for squeezing your turkey into a smaller spot, so if you don’t have a ton a room in your refrigerator for a giant pot or tub, a turkey bag or extra large zipper bag might be the option for you! Just make sure the bag is sealed tight and ensure brine covers the entire turkey.

How long to brine a turkey: 

How long should you brine a turkey? With this recipe, we recommend 12-24 hours. You want to give the brine enough time to unravel all those protein chains and really tenderize and moisturize your turkey. 

 

Turkey added to brine to sit for 12 - 24 hours.

 

When to brine a turkey?

Because your turkey will need to soak in the brine for 12-24 hours, the best time is the day before you plan to roast it. This means you need to thaw your frozen turkey about 4 days ahead of time you wish to cook it.

Can you brine a frozen turkey?

You CAN brine a frozen turkey! But it’s still going to need to defrost before you roast it. It’s also a bit more difficult to prepare, as the gizzards and neck are hard to remove from a frozen bird. If you need to brine your bird from frozen, plan on at least two days in the fridge to allow it to thaw properly. 

Does a brined turkey cook faster?

A brined turkey will cook slightly faster than an unbrined turkey. As always, be sure to check the internal temperature periodically while cooking. I’ve had great experiences with an in-oven cooking thermometer when I have roasted turkeys.

In my experience, cooking times fluctuate greatly between ovens and turkeys, and monitoring the internal temperature of the bird is the best way to ensure you don’t overcook and dry out your turkey. 

Generally speaking, you should expect your turkey to cook 30 minutes to 1 hour faster than a traditional thawed, unbrined turkey.

 

 

Can you over brine a turkey?

Yes, you can over brine a turkey! If you leave the turkey in the salt bath beyond the recommended time, your bird may end up too salty and the texture may be adversely affected. 

Do you have to brine a turkey?

Brining is NOT a requirement for cooking a turkey. While it does enhance flavor, texture, and moistness, some people don’t notice the difference enough for it to be worth their effort. For this series of recipes, we suggest you begin by brining your turkey. 

Can you stuff a brined turkey?

It’s not recommended that you stuff your brined turkey. The drippings from the brined turkey can cause the stuffing to be too salty, not to mention a stuffed turkey takes longer to cook.

In this case, we recommend you prepare your stuffing separately. Check out this Sausage Apple Cranberry Stuffing for one of our favorite recipes!

 

Close up photo of turkey sitting in salt brine

 

Roasting a brined turkey:

Once your turkey has finished soaking in the brine, rinse and prepare for roasting as usual. Stuff the turkey with your favorite aromatics and season as desired. Cooking a brined turkey is no different than cooking an unbrined turkey, though a brined turkey SHOULD cook slightly faster.

Be sure to check the internal temperature of the turkey periodically! And make sure you thoroughly rinse the bird before roasting so that your pan drippings are not overwhelmingly salty.

Delicious ways to cook a Brined Turkey:

Our Favorite Side Dishes for Thanksgiving:

Brining your turkey is the first step to a delicious, moist, flavorful, and tender Thanksgiving feast. Did I mention enough mouthwatering adjectives there? Seriously though, give brining your turkey a try!

I, personally, have never had a more tasty roasted turkey than when I’ve put in the extra (totally worth it) effort to brine the bird first. If you’ve ever wondered How to Brine a Turkey, we’ve got the recipe for you!

 

Yield: 1 Turkey

How to Brine a Turkey

Close up photo of turkey sitting in salt brine

If you've ever wondered how to brine a turkey, then this is the recipe for you. Juicy, tender turkey, that tastes like a roast chicken, all because of a quick brine! You'll never eat a non brined turkey again!

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Additional Time 13 hours
Total Time 13 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 cups kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 3 cloves minced garlic

Instructions

  1. Thaw turkey. 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey. If your turkey is 20 pounds, you'll need to thaw starting Saturday for 4 days.
  2. Add all ingredients to a large pot.
  3. Bring to a boil and cook until salt and brown sugar are dissolved, about 20 minutes.
  4. Let cool to room temperature or add ice to chill quickly or place in fridge until chilled.
  5. Open thawed turkey up and remove, neck and gravy packet and giblets.
  6. Rinse off turkey.
  7. Once brine is chilled place turkey in brine, breast side down, and place in fridge (ensure turkey is completely covered and cavity filled.)
  8. If brine is not enough, then cook up 4 Tablespoons of salt for every 4 cups of water. until turkey is covered. Remember to not add hot water to turkey, but only room temperature or chilled.
  9. If your turkey tries to float in the water, put a plate on top of it to weigh it down.
  10. Place turkey & brine in fridge for 12 - 24 hours. See notes for alternative brining storage options.
  11. After brining, drain turkey, rinse, pat dry and cook. If possible, let turkey rest for 1 - 2 hours before cooking, optional but recommended.

Notes

There are 4 ways to brine your turkey.

1. Large Pot. Cook brine mixture in an extra large pot and then brine tureky in the chilled brine.

2. 5 Gallon Bucket - Depending on the size of your turkey, this might be a great option. Just make sure you have enough room in your fridge for this.

3. Cooler. Yep a cooler that holds drinks is also insulated and will work great. Simply make sure it's disinfected and cleaned well. Then add turkey, breast side down and an extra half cup of salt to your brine for this method. Add enough ice to cover turkey - about 5 - 10 pounds depending on the size of your cooker and place cooler in the coolest place in the house. Before you go to bed make sure it still has plenty of ice to keep it chilled. Once you're done brining your turkey, make sure to REALLY clean that cooler!

4. A brining bag or extra large zipper bag. These are great for squeezing your turkey into a smaller spot. No big pot to deal with. Just make sure it's sealed tight and ensure brine covers entire turkey.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

15

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 72Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 15105mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 0gSugar: 18gProtein: 0g

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