Turkey Brine Secrets for Your Juiciest Bird Yet

Food & Party 18

roasted turkeyAre you a turkey-brining virgin? Are you ready to take the plunge (or make your turkey take the plunge) and find out what all the fuss is about? Brining a turkey is like a magical spell you cast on your turkey to make it super-moist and flavorful. The salt solution can actually dissolve some of the proteins and ... oh bla bla bla. Who cares about why it works. You want to know HOW TO DO IT!

Okay, we're going to tell you about two different brine methods: dry and wet. Are you ready? Grab your giant box of kosher salt. We're gonna salt us some birds. And you brine-masters out there, jump in and give us your advice!

First, the Wet Brine. This is where you soak your turkey in a bath of salt water. Glancing over at master chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's recipe in this week's Goop, you'll need 2 gallons of water, 4 cups of kosher salt, and 3/4 cup sugar for a 12-pound turkey. Dissolve the sugar and salt in the water first, then add your turkey and soak (refrigerated!) for 4-6 hours. Chef V then rinses the bird and lets it air dry in the refrigerator overnight.

That's probably the most basic method. But you can add all sorts of ingredients to your brine for extra flavoring. Check out Alton Brown's recipe. If his spice mix is too weird for you, try just peppercorns. The grocery store often sells special bags for brining so you don't have to find room for an entire giant pot in your fridge. Or you could even just use a garbage bag (closed very tightly). And remember -- don't soak the bird for more than 6 hours or the meat will start to go mushy. There IS such a thing as too much brine time.

Now for the Dry Brine. Personally I find this much easier than a wet brine, but you have to be comfortable touching raw bird meat. Instead of soaking the bird in a salt-water bath, you're just rubbing kosher salt all over the bird, inside and out. You can mix in some dried herbs and ground spices into the salt for some extra seasoning. Let the salted turkey chill in a sealed bag overnight -- or even longer, if you want. Then rinse it out and let it sit uncovered in the refrigerator for a few more hours before you roast.

Who is the authority on the dry brine? According to the L.A .Times, that would be food editor Russ Parsons. His dry-brined turkey won their taste test in 2006. Check out his recipe on Food 52. Dang, it's too late for the 3-day brine, but I'm giving my turkey its spa treatment tonight, and honestly, I think it will be just fine. Good luck, turkey briners!

Have you ever brined a turkey? What did you think? Do you have any advice for first-timers?


Image via Adriana Velez

thanksgiving, recipes


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Magno... MagnoliaQueen

ThIs will be the 4th year I've done Alton Borwn's brine turkey. It is FANTASTIC.

Bmat Bmat

I've never brined a turkey, but I hear they are really good.

Luisa Perkins

Nothing to add; I've always done it the Jean-Georges way, and I'm perfectly happy. Great, comprehensive article!

nonmember avatar Natalie

No, the meat does NOT go mushy if you brine it more than two hours. I brine turkeys every year for for Thanksgiving and Christmas and I always let them brine for at least 2 full days. I also occasionally brine a whole chicken and again, at least for 2 days. It's always the best meat anyone has tasted. Not mushy.

nonmember avatar Queencdj

I have always followed very detailed herbal recipes for brining and all of them...even Martha Stewart's etc.. states to brine it for 24 hours or more. I havent had a mushy turkey...maybe its the mixture of the ingredients. For ones with heavy herbs, you need at least 24 hours for them to really get into the core of the meat. For more simpler types salt/sugar/water...it may be less of a requirement.

Lucre... LucretiaMcEvil

That turkey has leeches on it!

elasmimi elasmimi

Never a turkey, but I have brined chicken breasts, and the difference is unbelievable.

mille... millerbunch

never have.. heard they are pretty good..

that turkey up there looks gross though..

Luisa Perkins

I have often brined our turkeys overnight, and the meat is spectacular.

After reading your post and mulling it over, though, I decided to dry brine our heritage turkey. If it doesn't work, I'm holding you responsible, AV.

(Just kidding. I trust you like I trust few cooks. I'm sure it will be awesome, and I'll report back.)

bethw7 bethw7

I am looking forward to trying a wet brine.

I would not use a trash bag though!  They are not food grade...

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