How to Brine a Turkey
What Is Brining a Turkey?
Applying salt to an uncooked turkey, either by soaking in a water solution (wet brine) or by sprinkling salt directly on the bird (dry brine) causes the protein strands in the meat to break down over time so the meat tenderizes, absorbs flavors, and retains moisture. This means that despite the moisture lost during roasting and the long cooking time, you end up with a juicy bird. So that's why you brine a turkey, now let's see how to wet-brine a turkey.
How to Wet-Brine a Turkey
Here's What You'll Need:
- 2 gallons water
- 2 cups kosher salt or coarse sea salt
- A 5-gallon brining container (a large stock pot, bucket, or brining bag)
- 1 whole turkey, thawed
- Optional: Large brining or oven-roasting bag to the line container
- Optional: Flavoring ingredients such as onions, citrus fruit, garlic, herbs, peppercorns, white wine, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, etc.
1. Choose The Right Container
The real trick to wet-brining is finding a non-corrosive container that's large enough to submerge the turkey, yet small enough to fit in your refrigerator. Try a stainless steel stock pot, an enamel-coated pot, or a plastic bucket. A 5-gallon container is typically large enough to fit any size turkey. Be sure to clear out some fridge space before you brine.
To minimize cleanup, line the container with a liner bag.
If you don't have the fridge space for a 5-gallon container, you can place the turkey in tied bag inside an ice chest. Replenish ice as necessary to keep the temperature 40 degrees F.
Note: If you cannot fully submerge the turkey, you will need to turn it periodically so that each side rests in the brine.
2. Create a Salt Solution
The basic ratio for a wet turkey brine is to use 2 cups of kosher salt or coarse sea salt for every 2 gallons of water. The benefit of a wet brine is that it can work slightly quicker than a dry brine because it infuses the entire turkey in a salty solution. Wet brines take no longer than 24 hours, whereas a dry brine can be effective for up to 72 hours.
- Remove giblets and neck from turkey and add to prepared container.
- Dissolve 2 cups of kosher salt into 2 cups of hot water. Allow to cool.
- Pour salt solution over turkey. Add remaining water. If the turkey is floating, use a dinner plate to weigh it down.
3. Cover and Refrigerate
- Cover and place the container on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator so spills won't reach foods below.
- Refrigerate for at least eight hours but no longer than 24 hours.
4. Remove and Dry
- Remove the turkey from the brine one hour before you plan to roast, and rinse under cold water. Pat dry inside and out. Be sure to clean your sink afterwards to avoid cross contamination.
- Let the brined turkey stand on the roasting rack for up to one hour before roasting.
5. Cook Turkey
Proceed with your preferred recipe, but remember that the turkey has already absorbed a significant amount of salt; any drippings that you use for gravy will already be salty, and no salt should be added to compound butters or spice rubs. Brined turkey also tends to cook a bit faster, so begin checking your bird's temperature about an hour before the end of your estimated cooking time.
See How It's Done:
Here's your turkey brining cheat sheet:
How to Dry-Brine a Turkey
Dry-brining does exactly what wet-brining does, only without the water and the big ol' bucket. It's serious salting, essentially. Check out How to Dry Brine a Turkey.
Check out our collection of Turkey Brine Recipes.