How to Brine a Turkey
Learning how to brine turkey is the simple secret to serving moist, tender meat (plus, it enhances the bird's flavor). For most brine for turkey recipes, start with a stir-together saltwater solution and be sure to plan ahead, since marinating takes eight to 12 hours.
Step 1: Buy and Prep Your Bird
For this turkey brine recipe, fresh turkey works especially well, but a frozen bird will do as long as it is not self-basting or enhanced with a salt solution. The added solution in these birds would make the meat too salty if also brined. If the bird is frozen, thaw it in the refrigerator (plan ahead, as this may take a couple of days). Rinse the turkey inside and out; if desired, pat dry with paper towels. This same method works to brine turkey breasts, too.
Turkey Brine Tip: When purchasing a turkey, keep in mind that an 8- to 12-pound turkey makes about 10 to 12 servings.
Step 2: Put Together the Turkey Brine Recipe
The brine for turkey is a saltwater solution that penetrates the meat while marinating, adding moisture and flavor. If you've ever experienced dry turkey breast, you'll appreciate why this technique is so popular. In addition to salt and water, you can also flavor the easy turkey brine with sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, fruit juice, beer, peppercorns, herbs, and/or garlic.
For an 8- to 12-pound turkey, you will need a 10-quart pot that is tall and deep. If a large pot won't fit in your refrigerator, substitute a turkey-brining bag. In the pot, combine 5 quarts hot water and 1-1/2 cups kosher salt or 3/4 cup table salt. To flavor the brine, add 1-1/2 cups sugar (or substitute part maple syrup and part packed brown sugar), one bunch fresh thyme, five bay leaves, and 45 black peppercorns. Add 3 quarts ice and let the brine stand until the ice melts.
Turkey Brine Tip: The key to making the best turkey brine is the salt-liquid ratio. Too little salt won't produce an effective brine, and too much will make the turkey salty. If you add beer or juice, substitute it for some of the ice.
Step 3: Start Brining
Add the turkey to the cold brine in the pot. Press and weight down the turkey with a clean plate or two. This allows all of the bird to be submerged in the easy turkey brine. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours. For a turkey larger than 12 pounds, increase the amount of brine so the turkey will be totally submerged when weighted down with the plates. Marinate at least 12 hours.
Turkey Brine Tip: Keep an eye on the marinating time since overbrining can cause the brined turkey to get mushy and overly salty.
Step 4: Drain the Turkey
Remove the turkey from the brine and discard the brine—it is too salty to cook the turkey in. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Now your brined turkey is ready for roasting.
What to Do with Turkey Leftovers
If you happen to end up with turkey leftovers (although that's not very likely since the results will be so delicious!), put them to good use in these smart recipe refreshes.