How to Brine a Turkey
Every year when the holiday season rolls around, you hear the same old refrain from relatives, talk shows, and anyone else who styles themselves a Thanksgiving savant: “You should brine your turkey!” It’s like, was there a big brining convention everyone but you attended? (No, there wasn’t — if such a thing existed, we’d know because we’d be the ones doing the demonstrations. It would also be called “Brine-Con,” and it would be awesome.) Either way, we’re here to confirm that, while not necessary, brining turkey is an incredibly effective technique that definitely lives up to its reputation. Best of all, you need only salt, water, and a little bit of mathematical know-how!
Brine is nothing more than a basic saltwater solution, and brining is the simple act of submerging a turkey into that mixture for a fairly short period of time to produce more tender and flavorful results. You can throw in other herbs and spices to enhance the flavor your bird soaks up while brining, but there’s really nothing more to it than that. While additional seasonings come down to personal taste, there are a few rudimentary rules you should follow when brining a turkey.
Why Should You Brine a Turkey?
First of all, we must explain why brining is the go-to technique for many home chefs. Turkey tends to be quite lean in a world where fat equals flavor, not to mention that drying it out is a bigger Thanksgiving faux pas than talking politics with Uncle Steve. So, how do you address those turkey troubles? With flavor and moisture, of course! Those are the two punches packed in every brine — the bird has a chance to absorb the water to stay moist throughout the cook, along with the salt for flavor in every bite. Take it from us: a tender, tasty turkey is your ticket to Thanksgiving stardom.
How to Make a Turkey Brine
The turkey brine we’ll describe here is about as basic as it gets, but that’s exactly where you should start with a salt solution. Oversalting is just as bad as overcooking, so it’s best to play it safe when you’re just starting out.
Now, who’s ready for some of that math we promised earlier? The first and most important part of turkey brining is determining the ratio of salt to water in your solution. Brine measurements for turkey are as follows: the amount of salt included should be 1% of the weight of the water. That may sound slightly complicated, but we’ve broken it down into a few simple steps that’ll have you brining in no time!
Start by figuring out how much water you need. Place your still-wrapped turkey in a bowl or bucket that’s big enough to fit the bird while still leaving some extra space. Fill the bucket with water until the turkey is fully submerged by roughly an inch, then remove the turkey, weigh the remaining water, and set aside. For reference, a gallon of water weighs about 8 pounds.
Now for the salt. Just figure out what 1% of the weight of your water amounts to, and you know how much you need! Your salt content can be as high as 2%, but we recommend beginners stick between 1% and 1.2% to avoid oversalting. Once you’ve established a baseline brine, you can always add more salt for future cooks if the turkey needs a little more flavor.
All that’s left is to dissolve your salt into the water, along with seasonings of your choice. You can add a bit of sugar to cut the saltiness, just no more than 1% of the brine’s weight.
Making a turkey brine? Easy. Fitting your brining turkey in the fridge? That’s a little more difficult. You’ll need a pot or food-safe bucket that’s both big enough to hold your turkey and small enough to fit in the fridge. Alternatively, you can follow Chef Tony’s lead and get your hands on turkey-brining bags, which are readily available and can lie flat. You may have heard of other folks setting their turkey to brine in an ice chest, but that requires constant monitoring and frequent refilling with ice to stay at the appropriate temperature and stop your bird from spoiling. The fridge is the safest and easiest way to go.
No matter what you brine your turkey in, you should unwrap the bird and thoroughly dry it (inside and out) with paper towels before placing it in your container of choice. From there, just pour the brining solution over the turkey and seal everything up. Brining for about 12–24 hours will give you the best results, but you can get by with at least 4 hours of brining if you’re on a time crunch (around the holidays, when aren’t you?).
What to do after the Turkey has Brined
Congratulations, you’ve got a tender and juicy turkey on your hands! Once the brine is done, remove your turkey from the container and give it a thorough rinse. Don’t forget this step — if unrinsed, the bird might retain too much of the salt and end up unpalatable. Dry the entire turkey once again, making sure you get under the skin as well, before applying your seasoning (minus the salt, of course!).
A brine is fine, but what type of turkey are you using it on? If you need inspiration, browse our turkey recipes for gobble-worthy dishes sure to impress at Thanksgiving dinner or whenever you please. Thank you for attending Brine-Con — we’ll see you next year!
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