Are you looking to cook a turkey that is more tender, moist, and juicy? Well, brining a turkey may be the answer for you. So what is a turkey brine, and how do I brine a turkey?
In its simplest form a brine is nothing more than a solution of salt that has been dissolved in water. And to “brine” we are soaking the whole turkey in this brining solution. We are focusing today on brining a turkey, but brining a chicken is also very popular. The methods that I will explain can also be used when brining a chicken.
There are several explanations on how the science behind brining actually works and each side has very good arguments. I’m not a food scientist, and I also don’t want to bore you with the different theories; what I’m going to cover is what you came here for; how to brine a turkey. Just understand regardless of the science behind brining the end result of soaking in this salt water solution is a meat that is more flavorful and moist in comparison to unbrined meat.
How to brine a whole turkey
First thing you will need is a fresh turkey, or a frozen turkey that has been thawed. If your turkey is still frozen, read up on how to thaw a turkey. If you purchased a kosher turkey, or a self basting turkey there is no need to brine, they have already been brined. Brining a turkey will take time. You will probably want to brine your turkey the day prior to cooking. On average you will want to brine your turkey for 1 hour per pound of turkey. If you bought a large turkey this will take some time.
The turkey needs to stay cold during the brining process to inhibit bacterial growth. It is best to brine your turkey in the refrigerator. Yes, it requires a lot of space, but if you can make it work, do it. If you just can’t make the space in your refrigerator, a 5 gallon bucket, or better yet a cooler will work. You need to keep this brining solution at 40°F or below at all times, so you will need to add ice and keep a watch on the temperature during this brining process. The ice you add to the brine should be in sealed storage bags in order for it not to dilute the brining solution.
Turkey bags used for roasting turkeys can be used for brining, or your extra large storage bags will also work. I do believe you can even find places that specifically sell brine bags. Using a bag for brining is helpful if you are brining in your refrigerator because let’s face it, not many of use have room in our frig for a 5 gallon bucket or other large containers such as a cooler.
You will need 1 cup of salt per gallon of water. You may use table salt, kosher salt, or sea salt to brine your turkey. You will want to use up to 1 ½ cups if using sea salt, or kosher salt. This is because sea salt and kosher salt weigh less per cup than table salt. Make sure the salt is dissolved in the water prior to adding to the turkey.
Completely submerge the turkey in the brine, so add enough gallons of water and the appropriate amounts of salt to do so. The turkey will probably want to float, so you’ll need to weight it down with a heavy bowl or other container. Again you will want to soak the turkey in the brine for about 1 hour per pound of turkey.
After the turkey has finished brining you will want to give it a good rinse in cold water. Make sure to throw out the turkey brine solution, it cannot be reused.
The turkey brine used in this example is a basic brine solution, so feel free to add additional spices. Other ingredients you can add are sugars, honey, beer, juices, and other herbs and spices. There are several brine recipes that use these and other spices. An excellent brine recipe is Alton Brown’s brine recipe from Good Eats.
How to Brine a Turkey Summary
- 1 cup of salt per gallon of water. Go with a weaker solution if you plan on brining your turkey for an extended period of time.
- Brining time should be around 1 hour per pound of turkey depending on your solution strength. If you went with a weaker solution the brining time can be longer.
- Keep the brining solution at 40°F or lower no matter what type of container you brine in.
- If you are afraid that your turkey will be too salty cut back the amount of salt to ¾ cup.
- Experiment with sugars and spices.
If you’ve never brined a turkey before, or didn’t know how to brine, it may be time to give it a try. Get creative and try adding different spices to your turkey brine. Who knows, you may end up making the best turkey you’ve ever had. Here is a Turkey Brine Kit worth trying out.