Brining your turkey will take it from “just okay” to “now, that’s a great turkey!”.
It’s a step that many people overlook or ignore, but I’m a firm believer in bringing if you want a juicy and flavorful turkey.
I think we all probably have at least one core memory of biting into a hunk of turkey as a kid and feeling like we were just spoon-fed wood pulp from a lumberjack. I always thought that’s why gravy was invented. To save the poor bird.
However, when I started to brine, I realized those birds in the past needlessly suffered. I find the flavors and succulence of the meat, especially in the traditional dryer areas like the breast, are greatly amplified.
What is a brine?
At the simplest level, a brine is a measured amount of salt dissolved in water. However, there are plenty of flavor options you can add;
- Do you want it sweet? Try some brown sugar in the mix.
- Do you want it spicy? Throw in some cayenne.
- Do you want some citrus notes? Add some orange, lemon, or even grapefruit.
- Feeling festive? Go with rosemary and cranberries.
The nice thing about a brine is that the recipe is pretty forgiving. Even though the brine liquid itself is strong, it soaks into the meat smoothly, adding those subtleties and nuances that make for a great bite of turkey.
I used this brine recipe for my pellet grill turkey recipe.
Pros and cons of brining
The brine is like turkey spa day before hitting the heat. It should moisten the meat all the way through, preventing those easily overcooked areas from becoming dry.
Now, there are some negatives to brining:
- You have to get the balance of salt right. Too little, and you will just have a wet bird. Too much and your guests will be rushing for water.
- Time and effort. A good brine should last from 8-24 hours, any longer and the texture of the skin can deteriorate.
- general messiness and hassle of making the brine and finding a suitable vessel for the bird to sit in.
Also, note that the time and the strength of the brine should correlate, just like with a marinade. Use a stronger brine for less time and vice versa.
What’s the best vessel to brine in?
Depending on the size of your turkey, you may have some trouble finding a container large enough to hold the turkey and brine in. If you have a small enough turkey, a brine bag works great, just put the turkey and brine in the bag, tie it closed and refrigerate.
A food-safe 5-gallon bucket or container may also be a good option if you can find room in your fridge to house something that tall or wide.
My personal favorite for bining turkey is in a cooler.
With a cooler, I have plenty of space for any size turkey and with some ice on top, I can leave it there overnight, leaving room in my fridge for other thanksgiving necessities
How to make a brine
Making a brine could not be any easier. Heat two gallons of water and place all of the ingredients into the same pot. I use salt, sugar, citrus, herbs, and garlic. It’s a brine that fits the occasion of Thanksgiving and one my family uses year after year.
Make sure to stir well to let the sugars and salt fully dissolve. Once the brine comes to room temp you can add your turkey.
If you don’t let the brine cool down, the heat will start cooking the meat. You don’t want boiled turkey for Thanksgiving!
If you plan on using ice to cool down your brine, it will dilute it some, so make sure you start with less water or increase the ingredients in the brine mix to make it more concentrated.
Do you need to rinse brined turkey before cooking?
When you are ready to cook the turkey, you should remove it from the brine liquid and wipe it dry with a few paper towels. There is no need to wash the meat before cooking.
In fact, washing the turkey has been proven to spread bacteria to other surfaces in your kitchen.
Recipes to use this brine with
You can use this brine on any of our whole turkey recipes or use it to add extra flavor to wings, breasts or legs.
- Smoked Spatchcock Turkey Recipe
- The Best Deep Fried Turkey Recipe
- Easy Smoked Turkey Breast: Texas Style
- How to Smoke Turkey on a Pellet Grill
- Smoked Turkey Wings
- Smoked Turkey Legs
The BEST Turkey Brine Recipe for Juicy and Flavorful turkey
- 2 gallons water
- 1½ cups Kosher salt
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 3 tbsp black pepper
- 3 oranges cut into wedges
- 3 lemons cut into wedges
- 5 cloves garlic
- 4 tbsp fresh rosemary
- 4 tbsp fresh thyme
- Heat one gallon of water.
- Place all ingredients into water and stir until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
- Pour in the other gallon of cold water to help cool down the brine to room temperature. If it's still hot you can add ice to cool down faster.
- Add turkey to brine and refrigerate for 24 hours.
- Remove turkey from brine and pat dry. There is no need to rinse the turkey.