A turkey brine can be a great way to take some of the stress out of making a big turkey meal over the holidays. Why? Well, part of what makes cooking turkey so scary is being afraid that it won't turn out right.
And a turkey brine is a big step in the "delicious turkey" direction.
If you've never brined anything before, I really recommend it. Until I tried it, I never realized what a difference brining a turkey makes — it makes the turkey juicier and so much more delicious.
Brining a turkey is exactly like brining chicken — it isn't hard at all. But it does take a little bit more planning because turkey is usually a whole lot bigger than chicken!
In this article, I'll tell you all about how to brine a turkey. First, I'll go over what brining is and how it works. Then, I'll talk about the reasons why you'll want to brine turkey. Finally, I'll show you how to brine a turkey, with lots of great tips to make it easier.
Brining is one of those cooking techniques that seems to have been kind of forgotten. But it's also one of those things that makes the difference between between a good meal and a great one.
And even though it means a little extra planning, it's not hard at all, andthe results are so worth it.
So what is it? Well, brining a turkey just means soaking the turkey in a salted water. Of course, you need the right amount of salt, and you need to soak it for the right amount of time, but we'll go over that in how to brine a turkey.
When you brine turkey, there's a whole lot going on under the surface. Here's what happens:
And that's how brining a turkey works. Science at its most delicious!
Now that we know a bit more about how turkey brine works, we can talk about why to brine turkey at all.
Now, there is a catch. Brining a turkey properly can take some time, and it can be kind of a pain to find space to store it while it's brining.
Normally, that wouldn't be such a big problem, but we usually make turkey around the holidays, when we're already really busy.
If you follow the tips in the next section and plan ahead, you'll be able to brine a turkey stress-free. And you'll be one step closer to the best turkey you've ever made.
Some turkey you can buy are labeled "enhanced". Usually that means that they've already been brined. And you know what? They're usually thought of as the tastiest turkeys, like Kosher turkeys or Butterballs. But you can get the same results at home, or even better.
You should never brine a turkey that's already been brined. If you do, you'll end up with a turkey that much too salty. Generally, when people have a bad experience with brining, that's why!
Brining a turkey isn't hard at all. The only thing that makes it harder than brining chicken is that a turkey is a lot bigger, and that means that it takes more time, and finding room for it isn't always easy.
The secret is to plan ahead. Just figure out where you're going to brine the turkey and when, and everything will be a lot smoother. And you'll be able to make your turkey brine stress-free, and all you'll have to do is savor the results!
Here's the equipment and ingredients you'll need for your turkey brine:
A container to brine the turkey in. It needs to be big enough so that the turkey and brine can fit inside completely.
Generally, you want something not much wider than the turkey. That way you don't need as much turkey brine.
You want to be sure that you pick a non-reactive container - it shouldn't react to the salt or sugar. Food-grade plastic, stainless steel, enamel or glass are all great. Aluminum and copper are not — the metal can leech into the brine and ruin the taste.
The container will have to be kept cold, so it should fit in the fridge.
If you don't have room in the fridge, try a cooler. It's the best brining container! Be sure to clean it out thoroughly before and after brining, and then stick the turkey and turkey brine right in there.
You can get extra large ziploc bags or special brining bags, and use those to line your container. Then you can either zip up the bag and take it out, or just leave the whole thing in the bucket.
You'll need some cold water, too. You'll need enough to completely cover your turkey.
You can figure out beforehand how much water you'll need by placing your turkey in the brining container and then covering it with water. Then, take out the turkey and measure the water.
Generally, depending on the size and shape of your container, you'll need about 1 to 2 quarts (or 1 to 2 liters) of water per 2 pounds of turkey. A snugger fit means you need less brine.
The main ingredient in a brine is salt.
You'll need about 1/8 of a cup of table salt per quart (or liter) of water.
If you're using a coarser salt, like kosher or a coarse sea salt, you should use 1/4 of a cup of salt per quart (liter) of water - you can't fit as much coarse salt in a measuring cup because the crystals are bigger.
You can also use some sugar.
You can use about 1/8 of a cup of sugar per quart (liter) or water. Brown or white sugar both work.
Sugar helps counteract the salty taste. You'll still get the enhanced flavor, but it won't be as salty.
Sugar can also help the meat brown more easily. You'll have to keep an eye out on the turkey to be sure it doesn't brown too fast.
You can use any other seasonings you like in a brine.
The best way to get the flavor in the brine is to boil the brine and seasonings together — just like tea.
Try orange or lemon slices, coriander or fennels seeds, whole peppercorns, fresh herbs like thyme or rosemary, chopped garlic, or bay leaves. Or any other seasonings that you think will go well with turkey!
You'll also need a turkey!
The turkey should be completely thawed. Unfortunately, you can't thaw a turkey while brining it, because the brine won't be able to penetrate the frozen meat.
And that's what you need. Just be sure that you have anything ready when you're ready to make your turkey brine, and it'll be a snap.
Now that you know what you need, let's go over how to make the turkey brine and actually brine the turkey.
If you're using seasonings other than salt, bring 2 quarts (2 liters) of water to a boil. Remove from the heat.
It's very important that the turkey brine be cold to avoid bacteria growth. Heating up just part of the water will leech all the flavor out from the seasonings, but it'll cool quickly when you mix it with the rest of the water.
Add all the seasonings other than the salt and sugar to the hot water. Let them steep 5 to 10 minutes, and then pour it all into your brining container.
Pour the rest of the cold water into the brining container.
Add the salt and sugar (if any) and stir until all the crystals are dissolved.
The salt and sugar absolutely have to be dissolved, or they won't be able to penetrate the turkey. They'll just sink to the bottom of the container and do nothing.
Make sure the brine is cold. It should be about 40F (4C).
You can add some ice packs to the brine or put it in the fridge to cool it down.
If you use ice packs, I recommend making your own with ziploc bags or plastic juice jugs filled with water. The commercial kind are supposed to be non-toxic, but even if they are, they're full of chemicals. If they leak, at best they'll ruin the taste of your turkey brine.
Add the turkey to the brine.
The turkey should be completely submerged. If it's floating, weigh it down with something heavy, like a ziploc bag full of ice — it'll help keep it cool, too.
If you need to add a bit more water, just add a quart (liter) or so at a time. Be sure to add salt to the water before adding it to the brine.
If your container is too small to have the turkey completely submerged and you have no alternative, you can always flip the turkey over every few hours, but that's not ideal.
Let the turkey sit in the turkey brine for 1 hour per pound of turkey, up to 24 hours.
Be sure to keep the turkey brine cold. If you need, add homemade ice packs to keep it cool. Don't add ice directly to the brine though, cause that would dilute it.
Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it thoroughly, and pat it dry with paper towels.
The point of brining is to get a bit of salt on the inside. But because the solution is so salty, you end up with a ton of salt on the outside, so it's important to rinse it off.
(Optional) If you like your turkey to get a crispy skin, let it air dry in the refrigerator for an hour or so before cooking it. Brining can leave the outside of the turkey a little too moist to brown, but air drying in the fridge takes care of that.
This method is super versatile, and lets you add lots of seasonings, but personally I prefer the simplest turkey brine of them all — just salt and water. There's no fuss, no heating, and the turkey comes out wonderful.
But try different things out and see what you like best.
And that's all you need to know about turkey brine! You're one step closer to a perfectly moist, delicious turkey.