How to Make a Basic Turkey Brine With Just 3 Ingredients
By Alice K. Thompson
If you’ve ever brined a turkey before, you’re probably sold on the technique. But if you haven’t, consider this: By prepping your bird beforehand with an easy-to-make brine, you can totally transform your turkey in flavor, juiciness and succulence. Hard to resist, right?
Why Should You Brine Your Turkey?
As a professional recipe developer and veteran holiday cook, I can vouch for brining: Turkey absorbs liquid, keeping it juicier as it roasts and distributing flavor throughout the meat for a noticeably fuller taste. But holidays can be hectic, so we developed a recipe that covers all the basics and keeps it as quick and foolproof as possible.
You can get everything in place the night before cooking, including making and cooling the brine, and then start soaking your turkey five to six hours before you plan to begin roasting. Alternatively, decrease the salt by half and brine the night before.
Basic Brine for Turkey
Makes 1 gallon (for a small turkey)
Watch the video for step-by-step instructions.
This simple, adaptable brine recipe gives roasted turkey a terrific flavor base. It makes enough to submerge a small turkey (up to 12 pounds). Double the recipe for birds up to 20 pounds.
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup granulated or brown sugar
Small handful of aromatics (garlic cloves, thyme sprigs, whole peppercorns, bay leaves, lemon or orange zest removed in strips with a vegetable peeler)
Combine salt, sugar, aromatics and 1/2 gallon (8 cups) of water in a large pot and place over medium-high heat. Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Stir in another 1/2 gallon water (or water and ice) and cool completely.
Pour brine into a container just large enough to hold turkey. (A 4- or 5-gallon pot or tub vessel should be good for a 10- to 12-pound turkey.) Add turkey and then add a little more water or ice to submerge it if necessary. Turn the bird a few times and then leave breast-side down in the water; place a heavy plate over the poultry if it floats. Chill 5 to 6 hours. (If you prefer to brine overnight, decrease the salt by half.) Remove bird from brine, discard brine and roast the turkey as directed.
Three Twists on Basic Turkey Brine
Feeling adventurous? Level up the basic turkey brine with these three flavorful twists.
- Smoky Brine: Use smoked coarse sea salt in place of the kosher salt.
- Beer Brine: Replace all of the water with lager beer.
- Spiced Cider Brine: Use a gallon of apple cider instead of water. Add zest of one orange removed in strips with a vegetable peeler, one cinnamon stick and one teaspoon whole cloves with the aromatics.
How to Store It
If finding space for brining in your fridge is challenging, you can place the whole container inside a cooler and keep it surrounded with ice. Or if the weather cooperates, some people have good luck storing their turkey on a screened porch or in a garage; just be sure the temperature stays between 33°F and 44°F.
Want Crispier Skin?
If you love a crisp skin like I do, pat the turkey dry with paper towels after removing it from the brine. You can place it on a rack and leave it uncovered in the fridge for a few hours before you cook it; this lets moisture evaporate and helps the skin caramelize better.
Don't Forget to Adjust Your Gravy
Remember that the juices from brined turkey will be quite salty, so adjust your gravy recipe by using only low-sodium stock and taste-test it first before you add any additional salt.