How To Brine A Turkey

How To Brine A Turkey

I’ll bet you never thought you’d be reading a web page entitled “How to Brine a Turkey”. Brining is not exactly at the forefront of current turkey preparation and cooking methods.But it should be. Just wait until you try the recipe you will find below. I predict it will become your standard Thanksgiving Day recipe for years to come – possibly generations. Really!

Here we go . . .

To “brine” simply means to soak something in a salt solution; it works because of osmosis, or the tendency of fluids to diffuse through cells in order to equalize ion concentrations. (Got that?) Simply put, it means that when you soak a turkey (or other meat) in brine for long enough, it absorbs some of the moisture – 6 to 8% of its original weight.

So, when you cook the turkey, you start off and end up with a moister bird. Some of the salt and any other flavors you add to the brine also migrate into the bird, so your turkey becomes more flavorful. The salt causes a change in the turkey’s protein structure that allows it to better hold onto its moisture.

I want to give you a couple of ways to brine. The first one is a basic brine and the other one is a dry-brine. I have tried both. I like the dry-brine because it is not as cumbersome as the basic one. While both turkeys were very flavorful, the turkey with the dry brine browned better with a crisp browned skin. Although, I have to say, the basic brine technique did result in a slightly more tender bird.

Basic Brine Technique

In a pot that holds at least 6 quarts, combine 1 cup kosher salt, ¼ cup sugar, and 2 quarts cool water. Put the pot over high heat and stir occasionally until the salt and sugar dissolve. Remove from the heat and let cool. Stir in another 2 quarts water and chill in the refrigerator.

Remove the neck, giblets, and tail (if present) from the turkey; reserve them for making turkey broth. Discard the liver.

Rinse the turkey well. Double up two turkey-size oven bags and then roll down the edges of the bags a bit to help them stay open. Put the bags in a heavy-duty roasting pan and put the turkey, breast side down, in the inner bag. Pour the brine over the turkey (have someone hold the bags open for you, if possible). Gather the inner bag tightly around the turkey so the brine is forced to cover most of the turkey and secure the bag with a twist tie. Secure the outer bag with a twist tie.

Refrigerate the turkey (in the roasting pan, to catch any leaks) for 12 to 18 hours. Rinse the turkey thoroughly and pat dry before roasting. If your turkey is kosher, don’t brine it, as it has already been treated with salt.

Dry Brine Technique
Check out my blog post on this technique.

The night before cooking, remove the giblets from the turkey, cut off the tail, if attached, and reserve them for making the turkey broth. Rinse the turkey thoroughly. Sprinkle the turkey with 1/2 cup kosher salt all over. Starting on the back side, then the cavity, and finally the breast. Put the turkey on a wire rack set over a rimmed pan or platter and refrigerate uncovered overnight.

Dry-Brined Roasted Turkey

  • 1 10 to 12 pound turkey
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 2 medium to large yellow onions, unpeeled and cut into eighths
  • 2 medium carrots, unpeeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 medium ribs celery, cut into 1-inch chunks

The night before: Follow instructions above for the dry brine technique.

One hour before roasting: Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature, 15 to 20 minutes before roasting, position a rack in the lowest part of the oven and heat the oven to 400 F. Put half of the onions, carrots, and celery in the turkey cavity. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Tuck the wings behind the neck and under the turkey. Scatter the remaining onions, carrots, and celery in a large flameproof heavy-duty roasting pan fitted with a large V-rack (I like All-Clad). Set the turkey, breast side down, on the V-rack.

Roast for 30 minutes. Then pour 1 cup of water into the roasting pan and roast for another 30 minutes. Remove the turkey from the oven and close the oven door. With two wads of paper towels, carefully turn the turkey over so that it’s breast side up. Add another 1 cup water to the roasting pan. Return the turkey to the oven and continue to roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thigh registers 170 F.

Keep a close eye on the vegetables and pan drippings throughout the cooking process. They should be kept dry enough to brown and produce the rich brown drippings to make gravy, but moist enough to keep from burning, so add water as needed throughout. Transfer the turkey to a carving board or platter, tent with foil, and let rest for at least 45 minutes and up to 1 hour before carving and serving.

Meanwhile, make the gravy from the drippings. First you will need to make a rich turkey broth.

Turkey Broth (you can make ahead and refrigerate until needed):

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • Giblets, neck, and tail from the turkey (cut into 1-inch pieces) (discard liver)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped

Heat the oil in a 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the giblets, neck, tail pieces, and onion; sauté until the giblets lose their raw color and the onion softens and begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes; the turkey parts will release a lot of liquid. Add 1 quart water, bring to a boil, partially cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium low or low, and simmer gently until the broth is flavorful, about another 30 minutes. Strain the broth into a 1 quart heatproof measuring cup. Let sit until the fat rises to the surface and then pour off or skim the fat from the broth.

Now for the delicious gravy.

Turkey Pan Gravy

  • Drippings and vegetables from Dry-Brined Turkey
  • 2 tablespoons Cognac
  • ½ cup dry vermouth
  • 2 ½ cups Turkey Broth
  • 2 teaspoons lightly chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)

Set the roasting pan with the turkey drippings and vegetables over two burners set on medium high. Add the Cognac, vermouth, and ½ cup of the turkey broth; cook stirring with a wooden spoon or wooden spatula to loosen the browned bits in the pan, until the liquid comes to a simmer. Strain the contents of the roasting pan through a large sieve and into a large saucepan. Add the remaining 2 cups turkey broth and the thyme to the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce the heat and let simmer to blend the flavors, about 5 minutes.

Add the heavy cream and stir. In a small bowl and mix the flour and butter to make a smooth paste. Gradually whisk the flour/butter mixture into the turkey broth mixture. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to low, and gently simmer to thicken the gravy and cook off the raw flour flavor, about 10 minutes. If it becomes too thick, just add a little more broth and simmer. Keep hot until ready to serve.

Complete your Thanksgiving dinner with a wonderful dressing and cranberry sauce recipe.

And remember to use good food safety rules when making your dinner. My friend, Matt, set up a great website to help you keep your
Thanksgiving feast safe!

Now you know how to brine a turkey . . . and why. You really have to give this a try. I suggest you do so before next Thanksgiving so that you have the method down, and can present your friends and family with the best Thanksgiving turkey they’ve ever tasted.