How to Brine a Turkey
Do you have many Thanksgiving memories of having to eat dried out turkey? If so, you might be interested in brining your turkey this Thanksgiving. Many people swear by brining their turkeys to ensure they have a nice, tender bird to serve for Thanksgiving dinner. Brining is similar to marinating; it makes the meat better able to retain moisture and flavor from other seasonings you use on the turkey.
First, you’ll want to make sure you have the right kind of turkey for brining. Thawed frozen turkeys or organic turkeys work best for brining. Kosher, self-basting, and pre-marinated turkeys may be delicious, but they aren’t ideal for this purpose. Kosher and self-basting turkeys already have a salty stock added to them, so brining those will result in an extra salty bird and brining a pre-marinated turkey will interfere with the flavors already added.
There are dozens of types of turkey brine you can work with, so you’ll have to do some research to find out which kind sounds best to you. Many turkey brines involve kosher salt and sugar, but various recipes call for adding things like apple cider or juice, peppercorns, orange or lemon peels, bay leaves, brown sugar, beer, or garlic.
Before putting the turkey in the brine, make sure to remove any giblets and rinse the turkey inside and out. A good rule of thumb for brining a turkey is to let it soak for 45 minutes to an hour for each pound of turkey. Letting your turkey soak for too long can make it too salty and change the texture of the meat, so you don’t want to let it go for longer than an hour per pound. It’s actually better to take a turkey out of the brine early than it is to leave it in too long.
One of the most difficult things about brining a turkey is finding a place to let it soak. Turkeys by themselves take up a lot of space in the refrigerator and if you brine your turkey in a pot, you have to find room for a container that’s even larger than the turkey. If refrigerator space is an issue, and it so often is when you’re making Thanksgiving dinner, some people prefer to use brining bags or put their turkeys in a cooler while they brine. If using a cooler, just be sure to frequently add ice to the cooler to make sure it stays at 40 degrees or colder.
Make sure you have enough brine to completely cover the turkey; you don’t want any part of the bird not being covered. If you’re storing it in a way where one side of the bird is laying flat against a surface, like in a brining bag in the refrigerator, make sure to turn the turkey over halfway through so it’s able to soak evenly.
2-3 hours before you want to start cooking the turkey, remove it from the brine, thoroughly rinse it inside and out, and pat it dry. Make sure there is no salt left on the surface of the turkey or in the cavity. Now all you have to do is pat it dry and cook the turkey just like you normally would. If you’re planning on making stuffing or gravy with your turkey, many people find stuffing cooked in a brined turkey or gravy made with drippings from a brined turkey to be too salty. For brined turkeys, stuffing is best cooked in a separate dish alongside the turkey.