Content of the material
- What Is Brining?
- Choosing A Container
- The History of Brining
- How to Make the Turkey Brine
- Steps to brine a turkey
- How Long to Brine a Turkey
- Maple and Brown Sugar Brine
- Review this recipe
- Brining a turkey in a crisper drawer
- How to marinade (brine) with less liquid
- Can You Brine a Frozen Turkey?
- Whats The Easiest And Cleanest Way To Brine A Turkey?
- Things You’ll Need
- Cooking Brined Turkey in the Oven
- Should I Brine My Thanksgiving Turkey?
- Hawaiian Turkey Brine
What Is Brining?
Brining means making a salt water solution and submerging the turkey for about 24 hours before roasting. This spa treatment helps the turkey retain more moisture during roasting and prevents it from drying out.
A brine also gives me a chance to season the turkey with herbs and spices, especially the skin! Sage and citrus is one of my favorite combinations. It's so festive and makes the house smell amazing.
- This technique is called wet brining. But you can also dry-brine your turkey. For this method, instead of submerging your turkey in a brine solution, you basically rub the outside with salt and let it sit for a day or so.
Choosing A Container
You’ll need a non-reactive container large enough to hold the meat and the brine.
- Food Service Containers: Cambro or Rubbermaid food-grade containers from a restaurant supply store
- Food-Safe Plastic Buckets: Used bulk food buckets. You can often get food grade HDPE buckets at restaurants, delis, and bakeries free for the asking. Think pickles, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, chocolate syrup, strawberry puree, shortening—all these things come in food-grade plastic buckets.
- Coolers: Large, medium, and small insulated ice chests
- Ziploc Bags: Big Bags XL (Photos 9-11) and 1- and 2-gallon sizes
- Reynolds Turkey Roasting Bag: Nylon bags intended for oven roasting
- Pots: Stainless steel or anodized aluminum (do not use regular aluminum)
- Bowls: Large glass, ceramic, or stainless steel mixing bowls
- Non-Food-Safe Plastic Buckets: Lined with a food-safe plastic bag, Ziploc Big Bags XL, or turkey roasting bag
Avoid garbage bags, used laundry detergent buckets, or other plastic containers not intended for human food use. See Food Grade Plastic Containers For Brining for more information. Also, keep in mind that the bigger the container, the more brine you’ll have to make, so match the size of the container to the meat. The meat must be completely submerged in the solution during the brining process. Place a heavy ceramic plate or bowl on top of the meat to prevent it from floating in the brine.
The History of Brining
Brining has been used as the most common method to preserve meat. Meat is soaked for many hours in a very strong saltwater solution with the addition of sugar, spices, and other ingredients. This curing process binds the water in the meat or removes it altogether so it’s not available for the growth of food-spoiling microorganisms.
With the advent of mechanical refrigeration, traditional brining became less popular for food preservation but is still used today in the production of products like corned beef and pastrami.
Introducing Flavor Brining
In recent years, there has been a surge in popularity of “flavor brining”, a term coined by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly in the book The Complete Meat Cookbook.
While traditional brining was meant to preserve meat, the purpose of flavor brining is to improve the flavor, texture, and moisture content of lean cuts of meat. This is achieved by soaking the meat in a moderately salty solution for a few hours to a few days. Flavor brining also provides a temperature cushion during cooking—if you happen to overcook the meat a little, it will still be moist.
At a minimum, a flavor brine consists of water and salt. Other ingredients may include sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, fruit juices, beer, liquor, bay leaves, pickling spices, cloves, garlic, onion, chilies, citrus fruits, peppercorns, and other herbs and spices. Many recipes call for bringing the ingredients to a boil to dissolve the sugars and bring out the flavor of herbs, then cooling the mixture to below 40°F before use.
Sometimes a small amount of a curing agent like sodium nitrite or Morton Tender Quick (a mixture of salt, sugar, sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, and other ingredients) is added to a flavor brine. These curing agents create color and taste reminiscent of ham and help prevent the growth of botulism.
This is important when cold smoking brined meat at temperatures below 140°F or when smoking a large brined turkey that might not reach 140°F internal temperature within the first 4 hours of cooking. Sodium nitrite and Morton Tender Quick can be purchased at butcher supply stores or from suppliers like Allied Kenco. Tender Quick is also sometimes found in larger supermarkets.
It’s important to point out that not everyone likes the effects of brining on meat. Some people don’t like the texture that results, while others complain about the flavor, saying that it makes everything taste like ham (especially if sodium nitrite or Morton Tender Quick has been added to the solution) or that the meat tastes too salty. You’ll have to judge the results for yourself.
- Avoid brining the turkey for more than 24 hours or the meat will toughen.
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- Do not use a self-basting or Kosher turkey because they already have salt added.
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How to Make the Turkey Brine
Make your brine by bringing 1 quart of water to a boil, dissolving the salt, and then adding in the sage, citrus, and other seasonings.
Let this cool slightly, then stir in the rest of the water to bring the brine down to room temperature. Lukewarm is also fine. You just don't want the brine to be piping hot when you pour it over the turkey.
If you don't have quite enough brine solution to cover your turkey, just make more at a ratio of 1 quart water to 1/4 cup kosher salt. Let it cool before pouring it over the turkey.
Steps to brine a turkey
To brine a turkey, start with a fresh or thawed turkey. Don’t do this with “self-basting” turkeys bought from the store, as they have already been injected with a solution and so probably won’t absorb any more, and don’t do it with a kosher turkey, as it has already been salted to draw the blood out.
Get a very large clean pot that will hold your turkey, or a very large pail whose cleanness you trust, and that will still fit in your fridge (see below). Have handy the salt and the turkey, be near a sink, have the largest measuring jug or cup that you have, and have your sleeves rolled up.
Remove the turkey from any plastic, and take out any giblets, etc (put those in the fridge to make gravy with later.) Rinse the turkey with cold water, and place it in your pot or pail. Using your measuring jug, cover the turkey with enough water to cover it by an inch (2 to 3 cm) — keep track of the amount of water as you are putting it in. Now is the time to add the salt. Use uniodized table salt, or fine sea salt (which will also be iodine-free.) Cooks Illustrated recommends a ratio of 400 g (1 cup / 13 oz weight) of salt per 4 litres (1 US gallon) of water, regardless of the size of bird.
“A four-hour soak in a solution of 1 cup of table salt per gallon of water does the job for moderately sized 15-pound turkeys, but we were curious to see if the salt levels should be adjusted for smaller and larger birds. We soaked lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight birds in brines with salt levels ranging from 1⁄2 cup to 4 cups and then refrigerated each bird for four hours… Apart from a distaste for the meat brined in the weakest and strongest solutions, tasters found most permutations to be acceptable… Even for a rather large or small bird, then, our standard formula — 1 cup of table salt per gallon of water — is just fine.” Hays, Rebecca. How to brine a turkey. Cooks Illustrated. 1 November 2004. Accessed January 2020 at https://www.cooksillustrated.com/articles/36-how-to-brine-a-turkey
They suggest to reduce the salt if you are brining overnight . “For an overnight brine, halve the salt—use 1⁄2 cup table salt per gallon of water.” Hays, Rebecca. How to brine a turkey.
If you want to use kosher salt, they add that the amount needed of kosher salt will vary by brand even, because brands vary by coarseness: “Substitute 2 cups of Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt or 1 1/2 cups of Morton Kosher Salt for 1 cup of table salt.”
Put your hands in, mix the salt around to dissolve it, and rub the salt into the turkey skin.
Cover the container with plastic wrap (to prevent splash contamination), and set it into the fridge. This step must be done refrigerated. Salted water is not going to stop nasties from growing.
How Long to Brine a Turkey
The general rule of thumb for brining is about 1 hour per pound of turkey, with 24 hours the maximum you should brine any bird. No matter how you flavor your brine, it's critical that the brine temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit when you add the turkey, and throughout the entire brining process, so make sure to clear some room in your fridge.
- 4 teaspoons salt
- 2 chocolate bar biscuit croissant topping
- 1 jelly cotton candy
- ½ jelly gummies
- 2 cups liquorice chocolate
- 2 jelly beans bonbon
- 2 caramels tart gummi bears
- 6 butterscotch caramel lollipops
- 12 tbsp butter
- ¼ cup sugar
Maple and Brown Sugar Brine
This brine has a sweet maple flavor and can be used on any kind of poultry but works especially nicely on turkey. All of the ingredients, which include soy sauce, maple syrup, spices, and brown sugar, are boiled together making for a quick and easy brine.
Dissolve and cook the ingredients in part of the water, let cool, and add the rest of the liquid before using it. Use it on big roasts and pork chops by halving the amounts.
Review this recipe
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Brining a turkey in a crisper drawer
Some people brine their turkey in the crisper drawer of their refrigerator.
If you are considering this, first make sure the turkey will fit with the drawer closed. (Tip: do this before you remove any packaging from the turkey.) This will generally only work with smaller birds.
Do NOT use the crisper drawer directly as a brining basin, as shown in the photo below. It would create an open bacteria bathtub to infect your entire refrigerator.
Instead, place the turkey into a food-safe plastic bag that will not leak. For all intents and purposes, this means a large, brand-new oven bag. Place the turkey and brine in the bag, then seal it, and then place it into the crisper drawer in the fridge.
This contains raw-turkey contamination.
Should the bag develop a leak, be sure to sterilize the drawer and surrounding areas in the fridge extremely well with a water and bleach solution. Some people suggest to double-bag the bird to help prevent this happening.
Don’t do this!!! Brining a turkey directly in the crisper drawer. Crisper and surrounding area in fridge would need to be thoroughly sterilized afterward. insatiablemunch / flickr / 2012 / CC BY 2.0
How to marinade (brine) with less liquid
To marinate a whole turkey without using bottles of soy sauce, I used the “fridge drawer & trash bag” trick.
First of all, try to place your turkey (still in the packaging) into your fridge drawer (the bottom one that stores vegetables) to see whether it fits and you can still close your fridge door. If yes, you can use this method.
This is the process:
- Wash and scrub your fridge drawer with detergent, dry, and place on a large working surface. Line a big bag inside. (You can find extra large Ziploc bags on Amazon, they are super sturdy. Without knowing that the large Ziploc bag exists, I brined my turkey in a normal turkey bag. It leaked, twice). This fridge drawer technique makes a double guarantee that it won’t make a mess, even if the marinade leaks.
- Remove the turkey from the package and transfer into the turkey bag, breast side down.
- Stuff onion, ginger and garlic into the turkey cavity. The onion is a filler here, it’s used to take up space so we can use less marinade later.
- Mix marinade and pour it over the turkey.
- Tie the turkey legs with kitchen twine, so it’s easier to flip later. Try to squeeze out as much air as you can and seal the bag.
- Now you can see that the marinade covers half of the turkey.
- You can pat crumbled paper on the bottom of the draw, so it “lifts” the bag. The marinade can then rise to cover two thirds of the turkey. Slide the fridge drawer back and marinade the turkey breast for 24 hours (or up to two days).
- When you’re ready to flip and marinate the other side, open the bag and rotate the turkey inside of the bag by lifting turkey legs with one hand and holding the neck part with your other hand. You can slide and flip easier this way than flipping the bag, and you’ll be less likely to poke a hole on the bag. Then, repeat the first day’s steps, pat the bag and seal. Marinate for another 24 hours.
The whole process requires a bit of effort (and helps you build your arm muscles). I did it because sauces are expensive and I don’t want to deplete my pantry just for a turkey. Of course, you can use more marinade to brine the whole bird and let the turkey sit in your fridge the whole time without touching it.
To determine how much marinade you need for a whole bird, place the bird into the container (or fridge drawer) and add water to cover. Then take out the turkey and measure the amount of water left. The recipe below makes 4 cups (1/4 gallon or 1 liter) of marinade, so multiply the amount according to your needs.
Can You Brine a Frozen Turkey?
It’s best to brine a fresh or thawed turkey. However, if you find yourself in a pinch, you can brine and thaw your turkey at the same time. Of course, it’ll take a little more time when you start from frozen. You’ll need at least 24 hours to simultaneously thaw and brine your turkey in the fridge. Reminder: Never, ever leave a fresh or frozen turkey at room temperature for more than two hours. The turkey should be refrigerated when you’re not actively working on it.
Whats The Easiest And Cleanest Way To Brine A Turkey?
Honestly, I find brining a turkey to be a life-saver several days before Thanksgiving or Christmas. After all, refrigerator space is limited, so I want to move the turkey out for other items.
Therefore I always brine the turkey in a cooler. I wash the cooler. Mix the brine in it. Then submerge the turkey in the brine and cover it with ice. It can stay in the cooler for several days, leaving more room in the fridge for pies and side dishes.
You can even dry the turkey in the cooler, resting on ice.
When I’m done with the cooler, I simply dump the brine in the garden, spray the cooler with a disinfectant kitchen cleaner, and spray the cooler out with the hose. Simple.
Things You’ll Need
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Large pot
- 5 US gal (19 l) food-safe cooler or bucket with lid
- Roasting pan
- Paper towels
- Instant-read meat thermometer
- Oven mitts
- Aluminum foil
Cooking Brined Turkey in the Oven
Roasting your Thanksgiving masterpiece in the oven is the most popular and conventional. But chances are turkey isn’t the only thing you’re cooking for the holidays, and it could use some good wood-fired flavor more than that sweet potato casserole.
For crispier skin, cover your turkey with foil and bake at 375 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees. Then uncover and cook at 450 degrees until the temperature clears about 160 when it’s time to take it out of the oven and let it rest.
Cooking times vary depending on the oven and size of the bird, but you can figure it will be about 15 minutes per pound roasting at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. When you take the temperature, make sure your thermometer is entering a thicker cut of meat, such as the breast.
Should I Brine My Thanksgiving Turkey?
In short, YES you should always brine your turkey. It makes a huge difference in taste and texture.
I have heard many arguments over the years that brining isn’t worth the time and effort. Or that it doesn’t really enhance the flavor of the bird. But after roasting well over 50 turkeys in my lifetime, I can firmly state, brining makes all the difference.
In fact, every time I try a different method of preparing my turkey, I’m always disappointed. Always.
In my opinion, a simple brined turkey, without any extra seasoning, stuffing, or glamor is always the ultimate winner at any holiday gathering.
Hawaiian Turkey Brine
Fruit and fruit juices are a common way to tenderize meat, and peels and seeds are used in many cultures to infuse flavor into meats, but also to make tough cuts of meat softer and juicier. For our Hawaiian brine, you need pineapple, sugar, soy sauce, maple syrup, dry herbs, and garlic.
Mix and use! This fruity and tropical concoction is great on poultry and adds a lively tang to your holiday bird. Add chunks of raw pineapple and onions into the bird cavity while cooking for extra fragrance and flavor.