Last updated on November 23rd, 2014
AFTER hearing myriad cooks sing myriad hosannas for brined turkeys, I decided I had to brine one for myself. My first attempt was not without incident. But all’s well that ends well, right? And in the end, I discovered that I really, really, love a brined turkey.
Naturally, before I could mix up a batch of brine, I had to conduct a little research on recipes and methods. Here’s what I learned:
Brining — or marinating in a salty solution — breaks down the muscle fibers in poultry meat. This chemical reaction permits a bird to absorb a great deal of moisture. When roasted, the meat is tender, juicy, and amazingly-delicious.
Not all turkeys are worth brining. Common supermarket birds like Butterball and Shady Brook Farms (to name just two) are typically already injected with a saline solution. Brining can render these subjects so salty that they become inedible.
On the other hand, organic birds can definitely benefit from a marinade.
Of course my lousy local supermarket doesn’t offer organic turkeys. Consequently I had to special-order one from my favorite farm store. Would you like to know how much this little birdie set me back?
You are looking at a $40.00 turkey. A turkey which weighs approximately 13 pounds.
There are probably as many brining recipes and methods as there are cooks. In general, you use 3/4 cup each of kosher salt and sugar per gallon of liquid. The sugar helps to offset the saltiness. Otherwise, you can add all kinds of supplemental flavorings.
Because I love both apple cider and maple syrup, I made up the following recipe for my 13 lb investment:
Tip 8 cups of apple cider into a large pot.
Then add one 1/2 cup of pure maple syrup…
Then add some other flavorings, like 5 fresh sage leaves…
One 1/2 tablespoon of black pepper corns…
One 1/2 tablespoon of juniper berries…
Two sprigs of fresh, fragrant rosemary…
And, just because you feel like it, one cup of bourbon.
Bring the works to boil.
Then, to cool everything off, add one gallon of ice water.
Because the brine must be no warmer than 40°F., you may have to place it in the fridge for several hours before it becomes usable. Otherwise, bacteria can build up while the turkey soaks.
While my brine is chilling in the fridge, let’s discuss “brining bags.” These, from what I’ve read, are very much in vogue these days. I planned to use one. But guess what? My lousy local supermarket doesn’t sell brining bags!
So I decided to use the next best thing: a turkey-size “oven bag.”
Of course, in order to fill the bag with the marinade, you have to stand it upright, with the turkey inside. Thus I retrieved my one and only stockpot.
I lined the pot with the oven-bag. Brilliant, no?
Next, I placed my $40 treasure (which, incidentally, I did not rinse first, because the USDA says rinsing is a no-no) in the lined stockpot…
And then I filled the bag with the brine.
Because the next step was a two-handed affair, and because I wanted to protect my camera from any splashing liquid, I set my camera down.
And what a splash there was. For when I lifted the filled bag, it immediately ripped. An ocean of apple cider, maple syrup, and precious, precious bourbon poured all over the counter and onto the floor.
But I discovered these three things:
1) My turkey fit quite comfortably in the stock pot.
2) I still had enough brining solution left over to cover the bird.
3) I didn’t need that frickin’ bag after all.
Thus, nothing was truly lost. But something extremely valuable was gained: Experience!
I used a dinner plate to hold the turkey down, and keep it submerged.
Finally, I covered the pot with a lid, and popped it in the fridge. There it resided for 13 hours (one hour per pound).
Was this game worth the candle?
Yes! And get this — after roasting the bird, I let it cool to room temperature. Then I placed it back in the covered roasting pan, and let it chill in the fridge overnight. The following morning, I reheated the turkey. Then I placed the turkey on a decorated platter, and took pictures of the “finished product” in front of the parlor fireplace (pictures here). In other words, I did everything that would encourage the bird to dry out.
But even after chilling and reheating, the turkey was outrageously tender, moist, and succulent. I’m not exaggerating, folks — it was the most delicious turkey I’ve ever tasted.
When it comes to turkeys (and probably chickens, too), I’m convinced that brining is the way to go.
And how about you? Are you planning to brine your Thanksgiving or Christmas bird? Talk to me in the comments field below. And if you have any brining tips to share, by all means pass ’em along!
Tomorrow’s post: Decorating the Turkey Platter.
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Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup: Sexy Sides
Chestnuts Boiling in a Covered Pot
Our turkey at 13.6 lbs set us back 66.00. We are going to cook it in a turkey bag like last year. Not a piece went to waste. I will never buy another store bought turkey!! All the bones went into two slow cookers and soup was had the next few days. We also had additional stock to freeze. On our next CSA pick up, we will grab another one that has been frozen and will brine and roast that one for New Years.
Shawna Adam says
I have been brining my store bought birds ( non- organic) for years, all with good results.
Sometimes I roast in the oven and sometimes I smoke on the BBQ.
I use the zest of oranges and tangerines. I also have put in onion and garlic chunks.
If you end up with a really large bird, you can brine in a large ice chest .
For crispy skin, take the bird out of the brine, rinse off, dry and place back in the fridge uncovered for a day to dry.
I am thinking of raising my own heirloom turkey for next year. Oh…you can also check your local high schools and see if any of the FFA ( Future Farmers of America) kids have raised turkeys.
Penny Reynolds says
Kevin, My husband and I are visiting family for Thanksgiving in Kinderhook. If you have any leftover turkey I’ll bring the Michigan wine. Lol.
Shawna, I’m afraid if I raised my own heirloom turkey….I wouldn’t be able to eat the little guy! Don’t name it!
Personally, never tried brining….have thought about it….hmmmm?
I’ve brined whole chickens quite often before roasting. They are always succulent! I’m glad you tested this method finally, Kevin. It’s definitely worth it and you can be creative with what you add to the brine as flavorings. Good job!!
I brine….. and have done so for the past 5 years…….. I put my salt and brown sugar in a bag with fresh rosemary and thyme for a few days before I cook the brine… may not make a difference, but I feel better LOL…….in addition to the apple cider etc I also add orange rind and honey.
Ingmarie Peck says
I brine too ,36 oz stout beer ,barley malt syrup, water , kosher salt, garlic pepper sage rosemary and thyme
I have brined many a chicken, but this Thanksgiving will be my first time brining a turkey. Thank you for the post, Kevin. I will avoid the oven bag! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.
I’ve been brining the standard store bought frozen turkey for several years and it does make a difference. I agree that the brine can be so many flavors…whatever suits your tastes. As for a brining vessel: next time you open one of those 5 gallon pails of drywall mud (like your next home project), clean it out well and hang on to it. I’ve found it to be a good, sturdy container for brining but of course, line it with a food safe bag first! Alternately, if you know someone in food service, many items come in these plastic pails that are foodsafe – ask them to nab one for you.
Happy Thanksgiving Kevin. I hope you all aren’t going to be buried under snow.
One other note: Make sure you taste the pan drippings before you dive in to making your gravy. Sometimes it can be very salty from the brine. I just read a blog that says the bird should sit in clean water 15 minutes prior to baking prep to help rid the excess salt. I’ll be trying that this year.
Denise in NJ says
Last year I tried a brining kit called Turkey Perfect. It comes in two flavors, herb and apple sage. I used the herb. It comes with a bag, which as I followed the directions and cut the bottom corner to dump the used brine I cursed myself for not opening the top to empty so I could reuse the bag. I picked up another kit this year at Bed Bath & Beyond for under $10 and I will be sure to save the bag this time.
As for naming turkeys, I had a friend who’s kids insisted on naming theirs. The kids named them Thanksgiving Dinner, Christmas Dinner, and Easter Dinner, and had no problem eating them on their “assigned” holidays. Clever kids.
One of my favorite things about this blog –besides the incredibly helpful, straightforward and creative information, how to’s, complex-ideas-made-simple-and-doable, and inspiring encouragement– is the approachable and relatable way it’s written. I love it when you tell a story, Kevin, warts and all, and still manage to teach us something. No risk of failure, no potential for gain. Brilliant.
You were born to do this. Surely a lifestyle TV show is in your future.
Have just ordered my fresh Turkey. 14 -17 lbs @ $3.10 lb. I will brine it for sure! Last yr I stuffed it with a Barley stuffing, need to find a stuffing for my brother in law who suffers with gluten and dariy, any ideas?
Guess I be best doing a stock pot stuffing if I am going to reheat the bird.
Keven did you cook it completely and then reheat?
I wish I would have read this before today so I could buy the apple cider! I’d love to do the brining anyway. Maybe I’ll use broth. Is the vinegar important to the process though?
OMgosh! I love this post! I am brining one turkey (frying a second), and never thought of just putting it in a large pot. The one I had last year would have been too big, but I think this year’s will fit just fine!
Hope you all have a lovely Thanksgiving! Now, off to make the cranberries!
My husband has been cooking Thanksgiving ever since he went to a cooking class about Thanksgiving a few years back. He brines our turkey but he injects it with the brine before placing it in the oven. Never heard of that before but I think it appeals it him since he’s a surgeon & still gets to play with syringes. He thought I was crazy because I kept asking him if he needed a stockpot to “soak” the turkey in. It is the best turkey I have ever eaten! Does anyone else do the injectable brine?
Kevin- I love your posts! You are such a gracious host. I also love how you tell us of your failures and what you’ve learned from them. Each time I receive your email, it brightens up my day. Thanks, keep it up!!
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Julie – No vinegar. I used apple cider. Apple juice would work, too. Or, you could simply brine with salt, sugar, and water!
Your brine recipe looks yummy.
13# bird from my butcher = $34.35. I’ve been brining poultry (&pork) for 10 years. Over the years I’ve done a turduckin, a ‘laid back turkey’ (boned) a la Julia Child, as well as the conventional method. I gave up stuffing the bird years ago, too. This year, in addition to brining, I’m following America’s Test Kitchen’s advice and disjointing the bird and braising it. Brining the parts should be easier than the whole bird, too.
Cynthia, here is a link to a website that has a grain free stuffing. I haven’t tried this one yet, but many of Wellness Mama recipes are great!
I’m so proud of you for going way out of your way to purchase a fresh turkey. It’s important! and the flavor can’t be beat!
The turkeys have better living conditions, are healthier, have no added hormones or antibiotics and preserves genetic diversity in our tasty bird friends. (what caused the great potato famine…only having 1 kind of potato!) And instead of giving money to a huge corporation, you fed a local farmer and his family. They in turn circulated that money throughout the community and your money stays local and builds a better economy in a healthy way right where you live.
Sorry it was $40…but that is the price of a turkey who lived a happy little turkey life in the sunshine.
Thanks for promoting awesomeness!
I’ve been brining chickens and turkeys for years now, and yes, it does make a big difference! Your recipe, Kevin, looks great, so I will be trying that one! For the last 2 years, I have cooked the turkey the day before the event, then sliced it all up. Place on a foil lined cookie sheet and then covered with a damp tea towel, wrapped with foil and refrigerated overnight.
Next day, I drizzle a small amount of chicken stock over turkey and reheat in oven at about 300-325 for about an hour!! Oh, take off the tea towel!! absolutely moist and tender ! And I’ve had my oven all day to cook all the side dishes!!! I also, do not stuff the bird anymore. Cut’s down on cooking time!
Love your posts Kevin! Am anxious to try your caramelized Butternut Squash Soup!!
O. M. G. !!!!
I’m sitting here with my fresh ordered 12 # Turkey ~
NOW, I’m looking at that ‘plastic’ roasting bag and thinking “nahhhhhh”!
THANKS KEVIN! LOL
Off to the market for a gallon of Apple cider. 🙂
I like turkey the regular way. I don’t think I ever have had brined turkey. I am amazed so many people brine–it is so much work, as well as expense. The worst part is all that salt. Many people would get huge blood pressure,leg edema,or a even heart attack from consuming all that salt. I would like to sample one bite to see if it is really worth all that time, effort, money and health risk.
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi Dori – I can’t stand the taste of salty things. But guess what? My brined turkey offered only a whisper of the seasoning, because I did not marinate for more than 1 hour per pound (the longer the soak, the saltier the bird). Furthermore, one can always rinse and pat dry the bird after brining. The method isn’t expensive, unless you use expensive ingredients. Salt, sugar, and water are all that is required. Additional flavorings are entirely up to the cook.
That is sure tempting. I’ve never brined my bird but now I might have to try it. I’ve had brined chicken before and I must say it wasn’t really overly salty and the difference was remarkable. How much can a gallon of apple cider be anyway? I’ll stop on the way home and see what I can find. Thanks for the lesson!
Denise in Colorado says
Yummmmm, your recipe sounds divine! I have brined the turkey for several years but not with Bourbon! We are going to our son’s tomorrow so the turkey preparation will be a surprise. Hopefully it will be a brined turkey! Happy Turkey Day! 🙂
Arden Rembert Brink says
I brined for the first time last year, just with a basic water/salt/sugar brine and that was good, but this is a GREAT inspiration for something that will add a bit more flavor, and yet still let the turkey shine through. Thanks as always for your wonderful posts.
I agree, Kevin. Last year’s brined turkey was superb. But all that liquid makes for some heavy lifting and my heavy lifter is out of commission this year. So, this year I am dry-brining–kosher salt only between skin and meat. Hoping I like the results as well. Happy T-day!
Keivin this sounds delicious—I hope to be as adventurous some day! Lets throw your local grocery a bone—they do have the super fine sugar that you like and I am still on the look out for it at every grocery I go to! Happy Thanksgiving!
p.s. Have you heard of a salt encrusted turkey? I read about one in a food article in the Burlington VT paper years ago and it has always intrigued me…
After 3 years in a row with partially frozen turkey disasters, I decided to cook my turkey from frozen to begin with. It’s worked very well the last few years and assures that light and dark meat are finished at the same time with a tasty crispy skin to hold in the moisture. However, your brining recipe sounds so good, I may have to try it next year. It’s a keeper.
I love you instructions and the fact that you also have disasters. I have a big pot and when I brine I will be sure to use that and your recipe. You make everything sound so easy.
Sharon Pearce says
Hi Kevin, Love reading your Blog. We started brining three years ago. Our turkeys are never dry and have such good flavor. Only the first year was the turkey a little too salty but we have not had that problem again. I was curious about you reheating the turkey. You just put the turkey back in the oven, at what temperature and for how long? Does the turkey taste as good as when it’s right out of the oven?
Looks like you had a fabulous Thanksgiving. I have been brining for several years now—a few turkeys, but always any chicken or pork that I buy. Brining is especially good for pork meats which can be very dry after cooking. I often use old leftover beer for some or all of the water and i add soy sauce to the mix. Old soft drinks like Coke or lemon-lime sodas make a good brine also. You can use less sugar because the drinks have sugar in them.
I am bothered by the fact that you don’t have a ‘good’ supermarket near you to shop at so you can create all those wonderful recipes. Living in New York state, I would have thought you would be able to shop at a ‘Wegman’s’. You should write to Danny W. and beg for one to be build near you. I have lived in Florida for 9 yrs now and I still miss Wegman’s markets especially around the holidays. Wegman’s was a mecca for unusual items. Can’ t wait to see your holiday recipes.
How I laughed at the M—E word 🙂
I’ve never tried brining and will give it a go at Christmas for our dinde de Noel, I might have to make some mulled cider with a little JB to help along.
A big Thank You for being you, for sharing your knowledge and humour and for caring, you are a gem and we love you.
Janice in Black Creek, BC says
Hi Kevin and gang;
I am sitting here trying to adapt the Brining recipe for an 11.25KG turkey (which does fit in my big stockpot) using apple juice and I do not have any maple syrup, so I’ll throw in Honey instead. have no Bourbon or any sort of booze, so I guess I’ll see if there is a bottle of white wine I can use.I know there is a bottle of red wine–probably blackberry–homemade by the son in law, But would it stain the meat unattractively?
It is 6:30 pm, I have been searching for your article on Brining which is why i left it so late,( I knew I had seen it somewhere, but wasn’t totally sure it was yours, and your recipe site has no indexand I had to scroll through “Older Posts”) and the silly bird has to get into the brine soon as he must be into the oven by noon tomorrow.I think he will only get about 1/2 hour per pound by tomorrow morning.
Wish me luck! I’ll heat 1 Litre of apple juice and add the salt, sugar and herbs to that, then throw in the rest of the cold apple juice and wine to help cool things down. Fingers crossed! drunken turkey!
Janice in Black Creek, BC says
With the turkey nestled in my HUGE WECK canning kettle from Germany, and several gallons of brining solution covering him all over, the next challenge was to get the whole conglomeration into my Fridge. Thank goodness we still have the old Harvest Gold fridge we got in 1970 with large removable shelves. Emptied that baby and fit the kettle with Turkey dear in his bath into it, even had a bit of room to stuff some of the former contents back. 5 doz eggs, some beer and wine. and bags of washed salad ingredients. Hubby dear figures that the pot and soak and turkey dear all together weigh about 80 pounds. Yup, gonna feed a mob.
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi Janice – Good luck! Let me know how your bird turns out.
sneakers zanotti homme says
My (Successful) Turkey-Brining Trial
Pam H says
I started brining my turkey a few years ago…and I’ll never go back…so glad yours turned out so yummy!
The 5 gallon bucket lines with a trash bag works great. Use a gallon of ice cubes not ice water. And a cube cooler holds it all perfectly.
ingmarie peck says
I just started too, got the turkey from my daughters organic farm. (free of all the crap) as she puts it.
3 Stout beer ,1 gallon water and barley malt syrup plus green herbs and spices.
was very good last year. So hopefully…. this year too.
Barb Hulse says
I have never tried this before (actually, I’ve never heard of it). I’ll try it on a chicken first before attempting a turkey! Happy thanksgiving everyone!!!
Cheryl hodges says
I have been brining for the last five or six years and it really makes a difference. I don’t get an organic turkey but what’s on sale when I go shopping and this year they were 69 cents a pound. The local Hutterites sell them for an outrageous amount but they use chemicals so I stick with the store brand. I used to raise them but I’m getting up in years so it’s kind of tough to butcher them. I’m glad to see you use juniper berries as I always pick several when I’m deer hunting just for when I make the broth as they really make the broth good. I put in garlic and onions, bay leaves and anything I have a lot of and they are really juicy. I put mine in a big pressure cooker and put it on the porch as we live in Montana and it’s usually pretty cold. I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Lee Carlson says
Thank you for Thanksgiving. Here in CA we seem to have Halloween then Christmas and no Thanksgiving. What has happened to Thanksgiving?? Love Christmas but Thanksgiving is a time for giving Thanks. Love all your reipies.
Susan Turner Bankard says
Can one make gravy from the drippings of a brined turkey?
Susan Owens says
Oh Kevin, splash! Been there, done that. My Wegmans sells a wonderful honey brined turkey breast….no muss, no fuss, very moist. Simply move it from its cryovac wrapper and roast. Perfect for two adults who would rather not eat turkey till Christmas! Although, I am seriously tempted by your recipe………
Mary Jouver says
Thanks for all the great tips Kevin! love the commentary…you always make me smile! “Splash!”
For several years, we’ve eaten wild turkey (always brined and delicious althought everyone insisted it wouldn’t be!)
As with you, I am covinced brining (which I at first suspected might cause it to dry out) is the key to highly tender and moist.
This year, I will brine the wild turkey and slow roast (so many don’t seem to understand “roast” vs “steam”) overnight before Turk Day, and my husband will take charge of the pastured turkey roasting on the day of – for comparison. Will let you know…
Tina Knowlton says
Okay, Kevin: you have convinced me. I’ve always been afraid that a brined anything would be a too salty anything. I’ll try it. Having Thanksgiving with the kids so our daughter will do the turkey, but I’ll buy a smaller turkey for us and do it – with brine – afterwards. Love the looks of your brine recipe; wondering whether one could use cider instead of water. Of course, ‘one could’, but would the flavors clash like a big bass drum? Considering! And didn’t Lily have just a smidge of the turkeybird? Love to see her in your photos.
Tina Knowlton says
Ooops…just re-read the recipe. Cider it is!
Kirsten Berwick says
I have always used buttermilk in my brine…but bourbon and cider, what could be better? I’m branching out this year…thanks!
I brined turkey for years in liquid and while definitely worth it for keeping the meat moist, especially the white meat, it was oh-so-difficult because we like a large 20-22lb turkey: how-to-fit in and even harder how-to-lift into refrigerator even though we have an extra old fridge. So last year, I tried dry brining which I had been reading about. And wow so much easier and so much crispier. No more buckets and spilling accidents for us.
Gale Dickert says
I so look forward to your Blog, Kevin, and am never, ever disappointed. Love your turkey recipe –THANKS for making it easily printable–genius!! And your GF bread. My family must eat gluten free–so thoughtful of you to remember those of us who long for more delicious GF recipes. I’ve often shared your wonderful blog with many friends and relatives who’ll be dining happier this Thanksgiving because of YOU. Bless you, my friend!
It’s just two of us this year but turkey and the fixins are still on the menu. I have brined my turkey for several years….always is just succulent! And the gravy is amazing. I also brine my chickens and I brine pork chops now. Always juicy!