Feeling the pressure to cook your holiday turkey perfectly? Since poultry tends to be on the dryer side when cooking for a few hours, it's challenging and daunting to get it just right.
But there's one incredibly simple step that almost guarantees your turkey will be moist and delicious: brining.
Yes, brining the turkey is an extra step, but it's well worth the time and it’s really not that much more effort! If you want a juicy plump turkey, you have to brine it.
What exactly is brining a turkey?
A brine is a solution of salt and water. Brining means letting your turkey soak in the solution for several hours so the meat can absorb the moisture and flavors.
Why should I brine a turkey?
Placing the turkey in a brine solution allows the meat of the bird to absorb extra liquid, which keeps it moist throughout the cooking process. While a basic brine is just salt and water, most brine recipes include spices and flavorings, which also seasons and helps flavor the meat.
Consider brining a safety net: The process will help to ensure the holiday turkey is juicy and moist, not dry and tough!
How long does brining take?
A large bird like turkey needs to sit in the brine solution for 24 hours. Make sure to have enough space in the fridge!
Can I brine any kind of turkey?
Brine is recommended for fresh turkeys or turkeys that have not been enhanced. Look closely at the packaging to choose a turkey that can be brined.
Kosher or self-basting turkeys have already been treated or injected with a brine solution and should not be brined again. Also, make sure your turkey has been completely defrosted before brining.
Turkey brine recipe
Ideal for a turkey up to 16 pounds.
- 1½ gallons water
- 2 cups apple cider
- 2 large oranges
- 1 lemon
- 2-3 sprigs (about 3 tablespoons / 5 grams) fresh rosemary
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons whole peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon whole mustard seed
- 3 bay leaves
In a large stock pot, combine water and cider. Place over high heat. Give the liquids a head start to heat as we prepare the other ingredients.
Slice the peel off of the lemons and oranges. Remove rosemary leaves from the sprigs. Smash garlic using the side of a knife and remove the peels.
Pour salt and brown sugar in the stock pot and give it a stir. Place remaining ingredients — including orange and lemon peels, rosemary and garlic — in the stock pot and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.
When the brine cools down to room temperature, clean the turkey, removing all innards and parts from the cavity. Rinse the turkey under cool running water, taking extra care in removing and rinsing any remaining bits from the cavity.
If your stock pot is large enough, it's best to brine the turkey in the post. Make sure a lid can be placed over the top without parts of the bird sticking out. Place the turkey cavity side-up in the pot; this makes it easier to flip it after some time.
If the bird is too large for the stock pot, use a brining bag, which can be purchased at most grocery stores. Place the brining bag in a roasting pan (for easy carrying and refrigerating). Then place the turkey in the brining bag and pour the liquid over the turkey, making sure to include all the tidbits in the liquid and making sure the cavity is filled.
Place the in the refrigerator for 24 hours, flipping the bird over after 12 hours.
Once 24 hours have passed, remove the turkey from the brine and discard the brine. There will be a lot of salt on the surface of the turkey, so rinse the turkey (the cavity too!) thoroughly under cool running water, then pat dry.
Cook the turkey as desired. If you're roasting your turkey, I recommend using unsalted butter to rub on the surface of the bird. I like using compound butter made of unsalted butter, lemon zest and freshly cracked pepper.