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How To Brine a Turkey

How To Brine a Turkey

A man bastes a turkey. The text "How to Brine a Turkey" is superimposed, along with Big Plate's logo.

We brine turkey to improve its flavor, tenderness, and juiciness. The salt in the brine denatures the proteins in the muscle, allowing the meat to absorb more moisture and flavor. We will explain how to both Wet Brine and Dry Brine your turkey in this post, as both methods have pros and cons.

Wet Brining is soaking the turkey in a salt solution before cooking. The pros of wet brining are 1) it imparts the most flavor and moisture to the bird, and 2) it can be done on a thawed or frozen turkey. The major con of this method is that it takes up a lot of space in your refrigerator. If you have the space, we recommend that you wet brine your turkey.

Dry brining is a bit of a misnomer as brine, by definition, requires water. But the term has come to mean seasoning in advance with salt. The major advantages of Dry Brining are 1) no water is involved, so it takes up much less space in your refrigerator, and 2) it usually results in crispier skin. The cons are that 1) while it does make your turkey more flavorful, tender, and juicy, it cannot add as much flavor and moisture as wet brining, and 2) it is possible to over salt a turkey when using the Dry Brining method.

A raw turkey floats in a 20 quart stockpot full of brining solution that includes onion, lemon, apple, orange, peppercorns, and other seasonings.

Wet Brining

Ingredients

1 turkey, thawed or frozen

2 cups kosher salt (Note: If you use a fine grind salt, cut it back to 1 cup. Fine salt compresses more than the larger crystals of kosher salt, so you get more per unit of volume.)

1 gallon water

You can add flavor to your wet brine by adding other ingredients to the brining solution such as fresh herbs, peppercorns, bay leaves, garlic, onion, celery, citrus peels, sugar, brown sugar, etc. You can substitute chicken broth for the water. Another option is to replace part of the liquid with apple juice, citrus juice, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, wine, beer, a Tablespoon of vodka, or up to ¼ cup rum or gin. Alcohol helps carry the flavors of your brine deeper into the meat.

Instructions

  1. Make room in the refrigerator (or in a cooler of ice) for your brining container.
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat 2 quarts of water to a simmer. Add the salt and any other flavors you choose. Stir until salt is completely dissolved. Cool, then add this liquid to 2 quarts of cold water in a 20 quart stock pot or a 5 gallon food safe container. Make sure the brine is at room temperature before adding the turkey. A gallon of brine should cover up to a 14 lb turkey. Make more brine as necessary.
  3. Remove neck and giblets from turkey cavity and reserve for gravy and/or broth.
  4. Add the turkey to the brine, ensuring it is fully submerged. If the turkey floats, weigh it down with a plate to keep it submerged. Cover and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. Don’t leave your bird in the brine more than 24 hours, or the meat can get mushy and too salty. Note: You can wet brine a frozen turkey, and you don’t even HAVE to put it in the refrigerator. The frozen turkey will act as a giant block of ice, keeping the brine cold enough to be food safe. The critical thing if brining a frozen turkey without using a refrigerator is to use a probe thermometer to ensure the brine temperature stays under 40°F. If at any point in the brining process the temperature gets higher, move the turkey into the fridge or remove it from the brine and move to the next step.
  5. Remove the turkey from the fridge about half an hour before cooking. Pull it out of the brine and pat it dry. Discard the brine.
  6. At this point, you can start the cooking process. But if you want a crispier skin, you can put the turkey into the fridge uncovered on a roasting rack for up to 24 hours to allow the skin to dry out.
  7. You will not want to add any more salt to your bird, but you can add other salt-free seasonings, rubs, compound butter, or sauce at this point.
  8. Bring the turkey to room temperature before roasting, grilling, or smoking it.
A raw turkey sits on a platter near a bowl of kosher salt. Garlic salt, bay leaves, chilies, and other seasonings are scattered around the turkey.

Dry Brining

Ingredients

1 turkey, thawed

1 Tbsp kosher salt per 2 lbs of turkey (Note: If you use a fine grind salt, cut it back to 1 ½ tsp per 2 lbs of turkey. Fine salt compresses more than the larger crystals of kosher salt, so you get more per unit of volume.)

You can add flavor to your dry brine by adding other dry rub ingredients to the kosher salt such as dried herbs, peppercorns, garlic, onion, sugar, brown sugar, etc.

Instructions

  1. Make room in the refrigerator for your turkey, roasting pan, and rack.
  2. Remove neck and giblets from turkey cavity and reserve for gravy and/or broth.
  3. Pat turkey dry and set it on a rack in a roasting pan or on a baking sheet.
  4. Rub salt (and other seasonings, if desired) all over the turkey, inside and out, and underneath the skin of the breast. One Tbsp kosher salt per 2 lb of meat should be enough to well-coat the turkey without the salt being caked on.
  5. Place the turkey, rack, and pan in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 12-24 hours.
  6. Remove the turkey from the fridge about half an hour before cooking. Pat it dry.
  7. You will not want to add any more salt to your bird, but you can add other salt-free seasonings, rubs, compound butter, or sauce at this point.
  8. Bring the turkey to room temperature before roasting, grilling, or smoking it.
A golden brown cooked turkey is on a  platter with roasted apples and greenery. A glass of white wine is being poured nearby. White twinkle lights are out of focus in the background.

Both Wet and Dry Brining are excellent methods for ensuring you get a juicy, flavorful, tender turkey on your table. We encourage you to try something different and brine your turkey this year. Big Plate’s wish is that you enjoy the holidays and eat well!

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