How to Brine a Turkey + Turkey Brining Questions Answered

How to Brine a Turkey + Turkey Brining Questions Answered

Publish Date September 16, 2022 5 Minute Read

How to Brine a Turkey: A Complete Guide

Let’s talk turkey about, well, cooking turkey. There’s nothing worse than pulling the star of Thanksgiving dinner from the oven and realizing the meat is dry and tough—but why is it so easy to overcook this holiday staple? Since turkey is a relatively lean meat, there isn’t much fat to help keep it from drying out, but thankfully, there are steps you can take that’ll help you serve a juicy and tender bird every time. In this article, we’ll teach how to brine a turkey, share some of our favorite turkey brine recipes and answer some of your most commonly asked questions so you can serve the most flavorful Thanksgiving dinner yet.

1. What is Turkey Brine?

If you’ve never brined meat before, you might find the idea daunting, but the process is simple, and the results are worth the effort. Brining is the action of infusing meat with a highly concentrated solution of salt and flavorings to increase tenderness and flavor. Turkey brining can be done one of two ways: wet or dry. Unlike marinating, which relies on acidity to change the texture of the meat, brines use salt to draw in moisture and tenderize through osmosis. Let’s take a closer look at these two methods.

Two roasted turkeys displayed on marble background to show turkey brining done in multiple ways.

2. What is Wet Brine?

Wet brining involves submerging the turkey in a cold-water solution for several hours. With this method, the turkey picks up salt, water and flavor from the liquid. Since this approach relies on the water and salt to tenderize the meat, you’ll want to ensure these ingredients are well balanced. For a simple brine, estimate a single tablespoon of salt for every cup of water (see our frequently asked questions below for more tips on measuring brine liquid). When it comes to seasonings, however, the sky is the limit. Give wet brining a try with a classic Apple Cider Brined Turkey or one of these flavor-enhancing additions:

  • Citrus Brine: Quartered lemons and oranges
  • Spicy Indian Brine: 1-2 teaspoons garam masala
  • Spicy Asian Brine: Whole cinnamon sticks, cloves and star anise pods

3. What is Dry Brine?

Rather than submerging the turkey in a liquid, a dry brine is basically a dry rub. In this method, a blend of salt and seasonings are rubbed onto and under the skin of the turkey. Due to the close contact between the spices and meat, this technique imparts a direct and richer flavor into the coating. When preparing a dry brine, you’ll want to use about 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon table salt) per pound of turkey. Make this method your own with one of these crowd-pleasing flavor combinations:

  • Spicy Rub: 1 teaspoon each Sichuan peppercorns and coriander seeds
  • Traditional Rub: Several tablespoons dried, crushed bay and sage leaves
  • Caribbean Rub: 1 teaspoon each allspice, mustard seed, ginger and lime zest
  • Sweet & Smoky Rub: 1 tablespoon each smoked paprika, chipotle chile flakes, ground coffee and maple brown sugar

4. How Long Do You Brine a Turkey?

How long to brine a turkey will depend on the size of the bird. As a general rule of thumb, you should brine the meat about one hour for every pound, but no longer than 24 hours to prevent the meat from turning mushy. This means your Thanksgiving turkey may need to brine for 8 to 18 hours! We recommend creating a Thanksgiving Schedule to help determine when you should start your brine.

5. Can You Brine Any Turkey?

Brining works best on birds that haven’t had any liquid or salt added. When buying your turkey, make sure to check the labels and opt for one that hasn’t been injected with seasonings, sodium solutions or water.

6. Can You Brine a Turkey Breast?

Yes, you can brine boneless turkey breasts! Enhance the flavor of your next meal with a sweet and savory turkey breast brine recipe.

7. How Much Liquid Do You Need to Brine a Turkey?

It’s hard – if not impossible – to know how much brine you’ll require just by eyeing your turkey. To determine how much solution you’ll need, place your turkey in the container you’ll use for brining and cover it with water. From there, you can remove and measure the water. That’s how much solution you’ll need.

8. Can I Substitute Kosher Salt for Table Salt?

Yes, but be sure to cut the measurement in half! Because kosher salt crystals are bigger, two cups of kosher salt equals one cup of table salt.

9. Can I Brine in a Metal Pot?

When brining turkey or any other meat, you’ll want to use a pan made from non-reactive material, such as ceramic, enamel, glass, plastic or stainless steel. Avoid aluminum and copper, as they react with salt and can ruin both your pan and the turkey.

10. Can I Brine a Frozen Turkey?

Yes, you can brine a frozen turkey! Whether dry brining or wet brining, you’ll want to start by defrosting the turkey enough to remove the giblets from the cavity. From there, you can prep the turkey as you please.

11. Can I Smoke or Deep-Fry a Brined Turkey?

Yes! If you’re deep-frying the turkey, make sure it’s completely thawed and dry – inside and out – before frying.

12. Do You Rinse a Turkey After Brining?

You should always rinse the turkey after wet or dry brining. Once rinsed, you can let the turkey air dry, uncovered, in the refrigerator for several hours, or pat it dry with a paper towel.

13. Do I Really Need to Cool the Brine First?

It’s essential that the brine is completely cold before you use it. If a brine is warm, it’ll begin to poach your turkey, resulting in an over-cooked and disappointing meal.

14. Can You Cook a Turkey Straight from the Fridge?

Unfortunately, a cold turkey doesn’t cook as well. For the juiciest meat and crispiest, golden skin, your turkey needs to rest at room temperature for an hour before roasting.

15. Do Brined Turkeys Cook Faster?

Yes, a turkey that’s been brined will cook faster than one that hasn’t! Remember to adjust your roasting times accordingly.

Head over to our Thanksgiving Shop to grab all the things you need for your holiday celebration, or continue your prep with helpful Top Turkey Tips and tasty Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner inspiration.

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