Brining is the secret to a juicy, flavorful turkey. Here are two different ways to brine your turkey, plus loads of tips for successfully soaking a turkey in salt water.
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 brine -- two ways.
VIDEO: How To 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 with 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.
How to Dry Brine a Turkey
Dry-brining does exactly what wet-brining does, only without the bother of finding a large enough container to submerge the turkey. Also, fans of dry-brining swear that the turkey flavor really comes through because it's not diluted by water. For best results, you'll need to dry-brine for at least 12 hours, and up to 3 days.
- Start with a completely thawed turkey.
- Use 1 tablespoon kosher salt for every 5 pounds of turkey. For a 15-pound turkey, you'll need 3 tablespoons. You can add any dry spice you like, but it's the salt that going to work the juicy magic here. If you want to put flavored (but not salted) butter under the skin, do it now because dry-brining will make the skin quite firm and prone to tearing.
- Sprinkle the turkey inside and out with salt, concentrating most of the salt on the breast area. If you're going to truss the turkey, do it now.
- Cover the turkey loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
- Uncover the turkey during the last 8 hours so the skin can air dry. This helps promote a crisper skin when you roast it.
- No need to rinse the bird, just pat it dry and proceed with the recipe of your choice.
- Note: A dry-brined turkey retains moisture so well that it usually doesn't yield a lot of pan drippings for gravy. To keep from burning away what drippings there are, pour unsalted or low-sodium turkey or chicken stock into the roasting pan before it goes into the oven. Taste the liquid before you make gravy to make sure it's not too salty.
Stuffed or Unstuffed?
Whether you wet-brine or dry-brine your turkey, it's always best to bake stuffing or dressing in a separate pan so it won't become overly salty from the turkey itself.
Check out our collection of Turkey Brine Recipes.
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