How to Brine a Turkey
Brining is the secret to a juicy, flavorful turkey.
Recipe pictured above: Citrus Turkey Brine
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
Always start with a completely thawed turkey. Here are more quick tips for wet-brining a turkey.
The basic ratio for turkey brine is two cups of kosher salt to two gallons of water. Some recipes include sweeteners or acidic ingredients to balance the saltiness.
- Dissolve kosher salt (and sugar, if using) in two cups of hot water. Stir in remaining gallon plus 3 ½ quarts of cold water.
- Remove giblets and neck from turkey.
- How long to brine a turkey: Immerse turkey in the cool (never warm or hot) brine and refrigerate for at least eight hours but no longer than 24 hours.
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 or roasting pan, an enamel-coated pot, or a plastic bucket. Note: If you cannot fully submerge the turkey, you will need to turn it periodically so that each side rests in the brine. Place the container on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator so spills won't reach foods below.
As an alternative, you can put the turkey and the brine solution in a large food-safe sealable plastic bag and place it in an ice chest or bucket large enough to hold the filled bag plus plenty of ice packs to keep the turkey very cold. Store it in the coolest spot you can find.
How to Cook a Brined Turkey
When you're ready to roast, pour off the brine. Rinse the turkey well with cool tap water, and pat dry with paper towels.
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.
Stuffed or Unstuffed?
It's always best to bake stuffing or dressing in a separate pan so it won't become overly salty from the turkey itself.
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.