How to Make Moist Turkey With a Brine

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This page contains tips for making a moist turkey using a brine. Brining a turkey before cooking it, can help keep the meat moist and flavorful.


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November 17, 2009

This will make even the lowest priced frozen bird rival a fresh turkey. My approach is to take a new, black plastic trash bag and use it in combination with a five gallon plastic container. Use a container that will accommodate the size bird you have; the plastic bag is used to help minimize leaks.

Defrost the turkey per the directions. But if you are pressed for time, you might consider putting the frozen bird in a sinkful of hot water for an hour or so; then, unwrap the bird and put it into the plastic bag then put both into your container. Add your brine solution and top off with enough water to cover.

Your brine solution should include salt and some sugar; dissolve both in a cup of hot water. You might add other spices, garlic or onion powder for instance. Keep the bird in the brine solution overnight. If the weather is around 35 degrees or less, you can leave it outdoors if you can keep the wildlife away from it; this will free up space in your refrigerator. But if the weather is warm, you must keep it in the refrigerator overnight.


When it is time to roast the turkey, rinse it off thoroughly and pat dry. You might consider stuffing it with pieces of apple, onion or orange. You might consider using your hand to free the skin from the carcass and then stuffing butter and leafy spices, basil, parsley or rosemary into the space between the skin and the body. Salt and pepper and roast according to the time and temperature recommended on the packaging.

By Tracy from Kansas City, MO

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November 17, 2009

Do give it a try, it is easy to do, and makes all the difference in the world as to how moist the turkey is. I use apple juice, water, brown sugar, fresh rosemary, whole nutmeg, whole allspice, 1 large apple (cut in large chunks), 1 large lemon (cut in large pieces), 1 large orange (cut in large chucks), and lots of Kosher salt. When I opened the bag last night, to make sure the bird was still submerged, oh boy it smelled so good! Probably once you brine, you'll never go without again.


Source: My friend, Pat.

By Terri from NV


Make Moist Turkey With Brine

I absolutely recommend soaking your turkey in brine. This last Thanksgiving, we soaked ours for 3 days. I must say, that it was the moistest, most flavor full turkey I've ever had. You can make it out of most anything. We used concentrated salt water in ours.


By Michael

Make Moist Turkey With Brine

Definitely brine. I never liked white meat turkey. Then we brined one year and the results were amazing. I now like white meat as much as dark meat. The strange thing is that I don't see any advantages to a complex brine like the one given above. In fact, the biochemistry of brining depends only on salt. I've done brines with 10-20 ingredients and I've done a brine with nothing more than table salt. No difference in texture or taste.


The flavor of the brine simply doesn't get absorbed into the turkey (that's why the turkey doesn't taste overly salty despite the super-high saline concentration). A brine is not acidic enough to be a marinade, so special flavorings stay pretty much on the outside, much like basting. The salt, however, alters the the cell membranes molecularly to retain moisture. That's why brining works. So add special spices if have the time. It'll add a bit of personality to the outside of the turkey but the small difference isn't worth my effort or the expense. I usually just use salt for brining, and then add some spices and butter under and over the skin right before cooking.

In general, don't brine for longer than 6-10 hours, depending on the size of the turkey. We tried 12 hours one year and the cells had broken down so much that the meat tasted mushy. And of course, keep the brine cold with ice if you can't refrigerate everything. The last thing you want is food poisoning over the holidays. We leave the turkey brining on the fire escape overnight, People living in houses can leave it in the yard (beware of pests though!). (12/11/2008)


By bryguy

Make Moist Turkey With Brine

Hi Terri, I've never heard of this method before, but I'm going to try it this year with my Christmas turkey. How long do you leave it to soak and do you refrigerate it, happy Christmas. Many thanks. Jan UK (12/12/2008)

By jan nash

Make Moist Turkey With Brine

I learned to do this two Thanksgivings ago. It makes a world of difference. Putting compound butter under the skin is also a great idea that I use in addition to the brine. (12/12/2008)

By Judy.

Make Moist Turkey With Brine

I've always wanted to try to brine a turkey so I am planning to do a one for New Years and your brine combination sounds wonderful. I have a 14 lb turkey to do and wanted to know how much of each ingredient do you use? Do you use a bag or pot? How long do you soak it? I don't want to use too much of one and not enough of another. Do you also start to brine (soak) it after it is thawed or before? Any tips would be appreciated! (12/12/2008)


By Sue

Make Moist Turkey With Brine

Hi, I received a bunch of questions about brining so I'll answer them in this post. Please note that I'm not a chef. Nor do I have any expertise in brining. My interest started when I saw a report about it on Good Morning America. While interesting, the information about how it worked was clearly wrong. I was studying cellular biology at the time so I decided to contact ABC and Sara Moulson, their expert. That started an interesting email exchange which proved very educational. Moulson consulted a food scientist, who answered my email directly. How brining works is still a bit of a mystery to me but there's no debating that it works!

Here are my replies. Keep in mind that cooking is often more of an art than science so there is a lot of leeway in my answers. In fact, simply Google "turkey brining" will produce many different -- sometime conflicting -- answers. My suggestion is to use your first brining experience as an experiment. The worst thing that could happen is to brine too long because the turkey will taste like mush. It's safer to under-brine since the end result is still better than not brining at all.

1) Salt/water ratio. Most cooks recommend using more expensive Kosher salt but I think that's really more about snob appeal since the molecular action is the same no matter if you use table salt, Kosher salt or sea salt. A good general ratio is 1 cup table salt to 1 gallon water. Double the amount of salt if you use Kosher salt.

2) Flavorings. Again, plain salt is good enough for me but most people add flavorings. Since this is not acidic enough to be a marinade, the flavorings don't really penetrate. In fact, all of the brine is later washed off. I personally was unable to taste the apples, onions, sage, sugar, etc in the turkey meat. I found it much better to add spices as a rub right before roasting. Simply add your herbs to butter and rub over and under the skin. You can also inject flavorings into the meat if you have the time and patience. BUT if you do want to add flavorings, Google Alton Brown's brine recipe from the Food Network; it's apparently very popular. I've tried it though and didn't find it superior to plain salt brining and an herbal rub. There are many testimonials raving about it but my guess is that they were from people who have never brined, and it was the juiciness from brining that impressed them, and not really the barely-perceptible flavor.

As further proof that anything more than salt is unnecessary, consider Shirley Corriher's recipe for brined roast chicken. Corriher is arguably America's top culinary expert and biochemist, and author of the classic "Cookwise: The Secrets of Cooking Revealed." (it's a must-have book if you want to learn food science in a practical way. See Amazon reviews) Like me, she uses a simple brine of salt and water. Flavors are only added later, after the brine is rinsed off the poultry.

Prepare the brine by boiling to ensure that all the salt dissolves. After cooking the brine, make sure that it cools to room temperature or lower. I prefer to dissolve my salt in less water than the 1-to-1 ratio, and then later add cold water or ice to speed up cooling. Don't use too little water though because it won't dissolve the salt. Make sure the final brine is COLD because you don't want to cook the turkey by boiling, and you don't want a temperature habitable by bacteria.

3) Storage. I like to place the THAWED turkey in a big CLEAN plastic bag to brine, i.e. a cooking bag. Not only does that save on clean up (just throw away) but the confined space also allows me to use less brine. Clean up is important because turkey is poultry and cross contamination is a risk. In fact, I'm so concerned about leakage that I usually double or triple bag. Watch out for punctures caused by sharp turkey parts, i.e the wing tips.

Simply place the turkey in the bags, and put the bag in a rigid container. I prefer to use a large bucket that fits the turkey vertically with very little wiggle room. You can even use a cardboard box if you're sure the bags won't spring leaks. The bucket or box is simply there for support, making sure the brine doesn't all sink to the bottom. Then pour enough COLD brine to cover the turkey. I prefer to fill the brine 4-5" above the turkey. Tie the bag tightly, squeezing any air out. Cover the container if possible.

4) Safety. If possible, place the entire container in a refrigerator. if not, try putting it in the yard or fire escape if the outside temperature is cold (< 40 degrees). Keep in mind that you'll leave it there for 6-12 hrs so don't forget that it'll get warmer as the sun rises. I always put a few ice packs on top just to be safe. The packs should placed on top of the bags, under the container's lid. Cold travels downward, so you need not place any around or under the bag. I tend to replace the packs every 2-4 hrs. You can simply use blocks of ice (freeze water in a large plastic container). Put the blocks in an airtight plastic bag so no water leaks out.

5) Duration. Many people recommend an hour per pound. We brined a 10 lb turkey for 12 hrs one year and the cells had broken down so much that it tasted mushy. It's always safer to under-brine than to over-brine. At worst, the under-brined turkey will still be moister than a non-brined turkey. But if you brine too long, you can't repair the cellular damage. So play around conservatively if this is your first time. if you don't think it taste significantly moister, then add an hour next year.

6) Roasting. After taking the turkey out of the brine, rinse it well, inside and out. This is another reason all those extra ingredients don't make much of an impact: they mostly go down the drain. Then pat very dry with lint-free paper towels, drying the inside and outside. A wet turkey will not crisp well. I then prepare a rub with butter or olive oil, and various spices. I rub this all over the turkey as well as under the skin (make some slits in the skin and put bits of the rub inside ... this makes the turkey self-basting)

Play around. Don't worry too much about the flavorings. As long as you don't use anything too strong, you can always use gravy to mask the turkey's original flavor.

Happy Holidays! (12/13/2008)

By bryguy

Make Moist Turkey With Brine

I brined chicken pieces on Tuesday ( legs with the thigh ) in 1 quart of water, little less than 1/4 cup of salt, 1/2 cup of brown sugar ; in a 350 degree F. oven. They came out golden, the skin was crispy, and ooooh soooo juicy. Once you try it. It really is the only way to go. I haven't brined a turkey yet, but I definitely will now. Try it.!! You will LUV it! (01/10/2009)

By redskin.

Make Moist Turkey With Brine

Redskin wrote: I brined chicken pieces on Tuesday ( legs with the thigh )

Hmmmm, that's interesting. I never considered brining dark meat before since the higher fat content already prevents it from drying out.

We brined our first chicken last week and it tasted amazing. And amazingly simple -- possibly the easiest recipe I've ever tried. We simply used a brine of 1 cup table salt to 1 gallon of water. We then put a 4 lb chicken in the cooled brine, and let it sit in the fridge for 4 hrs. The chicken was then rinsed well and dried with paper towels to allow crisping. Season the chicken inside and out with salt and pepper and THAT'S IT. (okay, we used sea salt and freshly grounded pepper) I think we roasted at 350 degrees for an hour, but follow the temp/times for any other roasted chicken recipe. It was the best roasted chicken I've ever had.

A few days later, we made a variation. We added garlic powder to the seasoning and rubbed a bit of butter. Plus, we butterflied the chicken (cut it open like a book, and layed it flat, as if grilling) to decrease cooking time. Finally, we used an advanced toaster oven (the Black and Decker Infrawave). The extra intense heat and butterflying cut the cooking time to 40 minutes and the "toaster" effect made the skin even crispier. Amazing.

We're planning on more complex flavors in the future, i.e. lemon, thyme, sage, etc but the plain salt-and-pepper version was already pretty amazing. We're also planning on brining longer (one site recommends overnight brining for the chicken although I'd hesitate to bring even a turkey for more than 12 hrs). (01/12/2009)

By bryguy

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