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Brining Thanksgiving Turkeys

Brining Thanksgiving Turkeys

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When it comes to turkey, most cooks (and turkey-eaters) are concerned with having moist and flavorful turkey grace their guest’s plates at Thanksgiving. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, magazines and food websites abound with turkey recipes, each promising a flavorful result with wonderfully moist meat… as long as you don’t overcook the bird.

Some recipes suggest brining turkeys, while others slather the bird in butter. Though the technique of brining foods has been around for centuries (think of making pickles—the solution the vegetables are preserved in is essentially a brine), it appears to be all the rage today. But of us are left wondering whether brining is really better.

What is brine?

A brine is essentially a solution of salt and water that is used to pickle or preserve foods. You can add additional ingredients, like sugar, herbs, saffron, and citrus to impart additional sweetness, color, and flavor. It’s quite easy to make brine, and the bird will typically sit in it for a couple of hours, to overnight, before it is rinsed and dried well before cooking. Some cooks have also heard this technique referred to as a “wet brine,” versus a “dry brine,” where a seasoned salt is rubbed all over (and inside) the meat to be cooked.

A couple of years ago, the Los Angeles Times published an article about the “Judy Bird,” a dry-brining technique for preparing roast chicken named for chef Judy Rogers, the chef at Zuni Café in San Francisco, and her beloved technique for cooking chicken which uses a “dry brine.” However, a “dry brine,” isn’t at all a brine, but instead a “cure” or “rub” that is just as effective as a “wet brine” when it comes to moisture and flavor.

The science behind the brine

A couple of years ago, Harold McGee, who writes on the chemistry of food and cooking for The New York Times in his column “The Curious Cook”, beautifully explained the science behind this culinary technique. Essentially, brining moisturizes meat due to the principle of osmosis: there is little salt in meat, so when a meaty bird sits in a tub of salty water, salt will permeate into the meat, displacing moisture. That salt in the meat then begins to break down the proteins, creating more space for water to enter. And you can feel the difference—on average brined meats will gain at least 10% of its original weight in water and salt.

So, to brine or not to brine?

Mainstream food punditry maintains that brining the turkey practically guarantees a moist, tender roast. I agree, it does. But I’m still a no-briner.” Harold McGee, Miracle Cure or Just Salt Water?

So why does Harold McGee say no to brining? Let’s compare the two.

Brining believers know that, because of this influx of water and salt (a flavor enhancer), a brined turkey is more moist, tender, and seemingly “more flavorful” than an un-brined bird. If you overcook your brined bird, the meat will still be quite moist because of all the added water in the meat. And the meat will be tenderer — because the salts are breaking down the proteins, the meat will not seem as tough.

In terms of flavor, if you choose one of the mass-market birds that are bred to maximize meat, and not flavor, brining with herbs and other flavors is nearly essential if you want a moist and tasty result. Many view brining as a turkey insurance policy: Short of undercooking the bird, it’s hard not to end up with something moist and flavorful.

But there are naysayers, too. Brining your turkey is time consuming, and takes forethought: you’ve got to get the container to brine it in, make the brine, and find a place to hold it for a couple of days. (I’m sure your fridge will not be big enough — or will already be full of Thanksgiving side dishes!) If you’re roasting a full-flavored Heritage bird, brining it will only leave it tasting, well… not as meaty, with all the water diluting the real turkey flavor. Are you a gravy fan? Bad news: You can’t make pan gravy if you brine your bird; the drippings will be way too salty.

Brining alternatives

If you’ve decided against brining your bird, all hope is not lost. Many recipes call for a bird to be slathered in butter before cooking. Chef Lauren Braun Costello swears by wrapping her bird in bacon. Whatever the technique, each does seem to add some additional moisture and flavor to your bird. Just don't forget to season both the outside and inside of your bird liberally, too.

- Classic: A Julia Child-inspired technique that calls for slathering the outside of your very dry bird with softened butter.

- Compound Butter: For even more flavor, make a compound butter by mixing in some seasonings and herbs or citrus into the butter, and slathering it directly on the breast meat, underneath the skin. When that butter melts, it has no place to go but to infuse into the meat.

- Martha Stewart: similar to coating your bird with butter, Martha layers melted-butter-and-wine-soaked cheesecloth on the bird's breast.

- Bacon: Chef Costello's choice technique — and it makes sense. "It keeps the breast moist and makes one heck of a deliciously crisp bacon snack. Also, the bacon is cured and fatty, so it can impart lots of flavor and moisture from the salt and fat. Coating the turkey breast and legs with bacon literally acts as a shield, creating a layer between the turkey and direct heat," she says. Sounds good to us: a tasty bird, and a salty-sweet treat? Yum!

- Upside-down: An unusual technique favored by Lydia Shire, the chef at Locke-Ober in Boston, Mass., is to begin roasting the bird upside down (you can also sit it on its side), essentially exposing the parts of the bird that take the longest to cook before exposing the quick-to-dry breast meat. Word of caution, though: If you’re juggling a 24 pound bird this year, rotating it around might prove to be difficult.

Tips not to forget

In the end, regardless of whether you choose to brine or not, properly cooking your meat, and letting it rest, will aid in yielding a moist and flavorful product. The goal of cooking a turkey so that the thigh registers at 180 degrees and the stuffing at 165 degrees, while keeping the breast under 155 degrees, eludes many cooks. This challenge is what oft plagues cooks, and is why it is essential that you have an instant-read thermometer on hand. More importantly, don’t forget to let it rest before cutting! As the meat rests, the juices will have a chance to settle and redistribute. For a turkey, it is wise to let it sit for about 30 minutes.

For more turkey talk, visit The Daily Meal's Guide to Thanksgiving!

With the holiday season upon us, one of the many things I hear my friends always saying is how they cannot cook a turkey for their holiday dinner. It saddens me to hear this because honestly guys, roasting a turkey is one of the easiest things!

One of the main reasons you might find that your turkey is a fail is because you cut it open and shove it right into the oven with no preparation at all.

Our Favorite Thanksgiving Turkey Brine Recipe

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and we always have an inn full of family. I must admit to being a bit proud of our wonderful turkeys. For years, I resisted the idea of brining the bird. Then, we had a guest who happened to be a well-known chef, so I asked him if it was worth the extra work. He said, “Try it, you’ll be surprised.” And yes I was. Our delicious turkey, which I thought couldn’t get any better, is simply amazing. We hope you try -and enjoy- our favorite Thanksgiving Turkey brine recipe.


  • 2 gallons cold water
  • 3 cups apple cider
  • 2 cups baked brown sugar
  • ¾ cup kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp tri-color peppercorns
  • 5 whole bay leaves
  • 5 cloves garlic minced
  • Peel of 3 large oranges cut into large strips
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary leaves stripped off
  • 1 uncooked turkey


  1. Combine all ingredients (except turkey) in a large pot. Stir until salt and sugar are dissolved.
  2. Bring to a boil and then turn off heat and cover. Allow to cool completely, and the place in the fridge to chill.
  3. Place fresh, uncooked, turkey in brine solution, and then refrigerate for 16-24 hours (you may add more cold water if your turkey is large). Note: we add ice cubes and use a clean cooler for the turkey and put it on our back porch. You may need to be a bit creative.
  4. When you’re ready to roast, remove the turkey from the brine, and submerge in a pot or sink of cold water. Allow to sit 15 to 20 minutes to remove excess salt from outside. Discard brine.
  5. Remove the turkey from the water and then rinse again.
  6. Pat dry and cook according to your usual roasting method. We like to stuff the turkey and rub it with butter and poultry seasoning. Then roast – at 325 approximately 15 minutes a pound, basting very frequently and test for doneness with a thermometer.
  7. Enjoy!

Let us know if you try our favorite Turkey brine recipe for thanksgiving, or if you have any questions. We wish you happy times in the kitchen and a joyful Thanksgiving!

How to Dry Brine a Turkey for Thanksgiving

It's super easy! All you need is some salt and a few of your favorite herbs and spices.

Dry-brining your turkey for Thanksgiving is the perfect way to step up your game in the kitchen this year. Some might argue that dry-brining is a way to flavor your turkey from the outside in, which is something you can't really achieve if you only season your turkey moments before popping it in the oven. That's what sets brining apart from just a sprinkling of your typical mix of herbs and spices. Don't worry though&mdashit's so easy to learn how to dry brine a turkey!

You've probably heard of a wet brine. In fact, Ree Drummond has a great turkey brine recipe that pairs well with a lot of different flavor profiles. Dry-brining, as you may have guessed, doesn't involve putting the turkey in a big pot of water. The best part about dry-brining (aside from the fact that all you need is a baking sheet to do it) is that you can still get a moist and flavorful turkey even if you're not using water. Thanks to the use of a lot of kosher salt, dry-brining builds flavors that penetrate the meat of the turkey while also maintaining juiciness. A good dry brine will also make for extra-crispy turkey skin.

Here's exactly why you'll be glad you used a dry brine: The use of salt in the seasoning mixture of a dry brine extracts the moisture from the turkey, and the salt dissolves into those juices, which then mingle with the flavors of your dry brine mixture. The juices that were previously extracted soak back into the turkey. During this process, not only does the turkey meat become flavorful and tender all over, but the outside of the turkey dries out in the fridge, which makes for perfectly roasted skin. All in all, you get a roasted turkey that's crispy and flavorful on the outside, and juicy and tasty on the inside&mdashsounds a lot like the perfect turkey to have on your Thanksgiving menu!

20 Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes

This simple recipe will please everyone at your Thanksgiving table.

Persian-Style Roast Turkey with Walnut Gravy

Photography by Eva Kolenko

Glazing your turkey with pomegranate juice gives it that gorgeous lacquered look.

All-in-One Turkey Breast with Herby Stuffing

Hosting a small Thanksgiving feast? This easy turkey breast recipe serves four - and your stuffing&aposs all taken care of, too!

Citrus-Mayo Roast Turkey with Citrus Jus

No dry turkey here! The mayo, mixed with citrus zest and herbs, melts during roasting, slowly basting the turkey. Yum!

Rachael&aposs Whiskey-Brined Turkey

If you&aposre wondering what Rachael and John would serve at Thanksgiving, it&aposs probably something like this!

Miso-Buttered Turkey with Shiitake Gravy

This recipe is totally umami-packed and ready to take your Thanksgiving table by storm.

Smoky Turkey with Apple-Cider Gravy

Holy smokes! This recipe is all-around delicious.

Spicy Fried Turkey with Hot-Honey Gravy

Inspired by Nashville Hot Chicken, this spicy fried turkey is AWESOME.

Tandoori-Spiced Turkey

This flavorful bird was inspired by tandoori chicken, a classic Indian dish that&aposs rubbed with spices and cooked in a clay oven. Talk about a beautiful finish!

Cherry-Chipotle Turkey Breast

The best part about this sweet bird is it&aposs speed: it calls for a turkey breast so it&aposs done cooking in half the time as a full bird!

Fresh Herb Grilled Turkey

Head out to your herb garden to get everything you&aposll need to season this grilled turkey.

Turkey with Cranberry-Grapefruit Sauce

Liven up your bird this year with a fruity zing of grapefruit!

Deep-Fried Turkey

Try something new this year and deep-fry your turkey! Inject your bird with all it&aposs natural juices for maximum moistness all while keeping a crispy skin.

Early Bird Turkey

This is a quick turkey fix and will have 8 bellies full and happy in one hour flat.

Buttermilk-Marinated Turkey with Onion Gravy

Give your bird a bath in buttermilk and hot sauce for moist meat and golden-brown skin without pricey ingredients like butter, wine or fresh herbs.

Butter-Basted Turkey

You just can&apost say no to a perfectly buttered bird!

Kiss-of-Lemon Roast Turkey

Freaked out about taking on your first Thanksgiving cooking experience? No need to fear, this beginner bird will give you a tasty dinner in just under three hours!

This easy turkey breast is just the right amount to serve Thanksgiving for two with leftovers, or four if you're not into post-feast sandwiches. While the turkey roasts, its juices mingle in the pan with aromatics and just enough cornstarch to add body, creating an expertly seasoned gravy that’s ready at the end of the cooking time.

Who needs pulled pork when you can have braised turkey legs? Pan-roasted in a garlic, orange, and red chile sauce, these beauties will give you a reason to cook turkey more than once a year.

The Hands-Down Best Way To Brine Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Let’s talk turkey. If you’re a zealot like myself, you’ve already planned out your Thanksgiving menu, tested any newcomers to your spread, and written a shopping list for when you head to the grocery store ready to throw elbows for the best bird. However, if you haven’t given your holiday table any thought yet, not to worry. I’ve taken the initiative to break down how to get the juiciest, most golden turkey you’ve ever had.

Call it a brine of the times, but I challenge you to make this the year you brine your turkey. If you’ve never done it before, it’s an easy way to add some much-welcomed flavor and moisture to your centerpiece dish. And if you have done it, I’m here to offer you my version, which I’m naturally inclined to say is the best.

So the first question you may have is, “what is a brine?” Simply put, it’s a solution of salt water in which you submerge (typically lean) meats overnight. The salt allows the proteins in the meat to absorb water, which is then retained after it cooks to make for a juicier end product. But that’s not all! Since it’s a salt solution, the brine seasons your turkey inside and out ― no matter how much salt you rub on the outside, there’s no other way to season the center of a 12-pound bird.

If you’re up for the challenge, let’s go through the process. My brine is a salt and sugar solution flavored with apple cider, lemon, rosemary, thyme and garlic. Adding aromatics to your brine helps take your turkey to the next level, letting all these holiday flavors infuse the meat. I add the salt, sugar and aromatics to a saucepan with the apple cider and a little water to dissolve, before adding ice water to cool it down (you don’t want to cook your bird when you throw it in). All you need to do is throw your turkey in a tall stock pot with the brine fully covering the bird.

The next morning, you’ll pull the turkey out and pat it dry with paper towels on a sheet tray. An important, often-overlooked step is to throw it back in the fridge uncovered to dry out the skin for a few hours. This is key to getting that crisp golden skin you crave. The final step is to pull out your bird at least an hour before cooking to let it come to room temperature (this helps it to cook evenly) and rub it down with butter.

Now you’re ready to roast: I start the turkey in a roasting pan at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 30 minutes to get golden and then drop the temperature to 350 degrees until it’s cooked through. Foil is your friend during this process. The second you see that skin getting too dark, tent it with foil to preserve that precious poultry skin.

Dry turkey should now be a distant memory, never to return again to your holiday table — something your family can truly be thankful for.

Spatchcocked Turkey

Crisp-Skinned Butterflied Roast Turkey With Gravy

As we've gone on about time and time again, spatchcocking your turkey is the easiest route to evenly cooked, moist meat encased in shatteringly crisp skin—and it doesn't hurt that it requires less cooking time than an intact roast, too. This recipe takes just two hours, start to finish, which leaves you with plenty of spare time to whip up a meaty homemade gravy.

Herb-Rubbed Crisp-Skinned Butterflied Roast Turkey

A properly roasted spatchcocked turkey should be so flavorful that it won't really need any seasonings beyond salt and pepper, but that doesn't mean you can't get more creative if you want to. This recipe follows our basic spatchcocked-turkey method, but adds an herb butter seasoned with garlic, chives, parsley, sage, thyme, and shallot. Rub it both on and under the skin before cooking.

Cajun-Spiced Spatchcocked Turkey

We designed this rub (and the seasoning blends in the two recipes that follow) for spatchcocked turkeys, but you could just as easily use them on whole birds if that's what you're planning for Thanksgiving. Here, we coat our turkey with a Cajun-inspired mix of paprika, cayenne pepper, coriander seed, cumin, black pepper, onion and garlic powders, dried oregano, and dried thyme, for a flavor profile that's a departure from the everyday yet still distinctly American. Because the rub is so powerfully flavored, you're better off serving the meat with a simple jus rather than a traditional gravy.

Porchetta-Flavored Spatchcocked Turkey

A deep-fried turkey porchetta makes an incredibly delicious holiday centerpiece, but it also requires quite a bit of work. This recipe offers a simpler option, applying classic porchetta flavors—sage, fennel seed, garlic, and red pepper flakes—to a roast spatchcocked turkey.

Chinese Red-Sauce-Glazed Spatchcocked Turkey

There's no way around it: This is a highly atypical treatment for a Thanksgiving roast turkey, and it may not be for the traditionalists in your crowd, but man, is it ever tasty. Drawing on a Chinese technique for braising meat, we glaze the turkey in a combination of soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, sugar, and spicy aromatics, like ginger, cinnamon, and star anise. If you really want to commit to the theme, try giving the rest of the meal a Chinese twist, adding a little ginger to your cranberry sauce and Chinese sausage to your stuffing.

Grilled Spatchcocked Turkey

If November is still grilling season where you live, you'll be happy to know that spatchcocked turkeys cook just as well over live fire as they do in the oven. By assembling your coals in a crescent shape, you'll keep the most intense heat under the legs and thighs, helping to cook the meat more evenly. Adding just one or two chunks of cherry- or applewood to the fire will give the turkey a nice whiff of smoke.

Spice-Rubbed Butterflied Smoked Turkey

Looking for more than just a hint of smoke? This is a true barbecue-style turkey, cooked low and slow to ensure moistness. Adding baking powder to the brine helps the skin crisp up beautifully. While a whole turkey smokes just fine, if you butterfly yours, you'll be rewarded with crisper skin and a significantly shorter cooking time.

Sugar’s Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey and Brine Recipe – A Holiday Traditional Favorite

Everybody loves a juicy, perfectly cooked turkey for Thanksgiving and it’s actually very easy to do if you follow some simple recipe instructions that are tried and true. This year, roast a delicious turkey that everyone will love by following this recipe.

It’s important to generously season a turkey everywhere possible. After all, twenty pounds is a LOT of meat! But great turkey also means moist and juicy meat. And, one of the best ways I’ve found to make sure your turkey gets enough moisture is to brine the turkey in advance.

A brine is a marinade of sorts that takes very little extra time and does the work for you while you sleep on Thanksgiving eve. You’ll make the brine, put the turkey in it the night before and the next day, cook the most delicious turkey ever.

Let’s start with the brine recipe . . .

Sugar’s Turkey Brine


  • 1/2 gallon apple juice or apple cider
  • 1-2 gallons water
  • 3-4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1 ½ cups soy sauce
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons whole peppercorns
  • 5 whole dried bay leaves
  • 5-6 sprigs of fresh thyme

Combine all ingredients except the water in a large pot and bring to a boil and stir until the sugar and the salt has dissolved about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Place in plastic container and cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

The night before you are ready to roast your turkey, place uncooked thawed turkey (gizzard and innards removed), breast side down in a plastic brining bag. I like to place the bag in a deep large pot so it supports the bag and is easy to transport to the refrigerator. Pour brine and water over the entire bird and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.

When ready to roast turkey, remove turkey from brine, rinse well under cold water to remove excess salt and discard brine.

Pat turkey dry, and roast according to the directions on the turkey packaging.


  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 2 cups turkey or chicken stock
  • 1 orange, cut in half
  • 1 large onion, cut into quarters

Place turkey breast side up on a flat rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2½ inches deep.

Turn the wings back to hold the neck skin in place. (Tucking the wings will help stabilize the turkey in the pan and when carving)

Rub the turkey with butter and, using your fingers, push a few pads of butter under the turkey skin being careful not the poke a hole in the skin.

Place the orange halves inside the cavity of the turkey, along with half of the onion. Scatter the remainder of the onion around the outside of the bird in the bottom of the pan. Or stuff your bird with stuffing of your choice. If you stuff the bird you will not need the orange but you can still cut up the onion and use it in the pan. (for my turkey stuffing recipe, click here) Pour one cup of stock in bottom of roasting pan and sprinkle the entire turkey with seasoned salt.

Place your turkey in the oven.

When the turkey is about ⅔ done pour remaining stock over bird and loosely cover breast and top of drumsticks with a piece of foil to prevent overcooking.

Your turkey is done when temperature is 180° F in thigh and 165° F in breast or stuffing.

How to brine a turkey: Recipes, times

Brining is similar to marinating, but is primarily focused on moistening the meat as opposed to adding flavor. Brining your turkey prior to cooking will help ensure you end up with a deliciously moist and flavor-packed turkey for your next gathering.

The first step in the process is selecting your brine recipe. Savory Turkey Brine made with Kikkoman Soy Sauce is a simple and versatile choice that works for any occasion. Once you've selected your brine you'll need to:

Purchase a fresh turkey to eliminate the need to thaw, or completely thaw a frozen turkey.
The night before roasting, remove the giblets and turkey neck. Rinse the turkey inside and out.
Prepare your brine. Be sure to mix ingredients until all of the salt is dissolved. If your brine is heated, be sure to cool it to room temperature before brining.
Place your turkey, breast down, in a large container made of food-grade plastic, stainless steel, glass, or a brining bag. Be sure the container will fit in your fridge.
Add brine, covering the entire turkey.
Place in the refrigerator for the specified period of time.
Remove turkey from brine after recommended time. Rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Cook turkey as desired.

Perfect Brine Time
12 lbs. or less - 8 to 12 hrs.
12 to 14 lbs. - 9 to 14 hrs.
20 lbs. and over -15 to 20 hrs.

Savory Turkey Brine Recipe

2 gallons cold water
10 ounces Soy Sauce
1/2 cup kosher salt

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dried sage
2 tablespoons dried celery seed
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 16 - 24 lbs. Butterball Whole Turkey

Mix all ingredients until the salt is dissolved and follow our Brining Steps.

Did You Know.
As a rule of thumb, you should brine your turkey 45 to 60 minutes per pound.

Recipe Summary

  • 1 (10 pound) whole turkey, neck and giblets removed
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons seasoned salt
  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 (12 fluid ounce) cans cola-flavored carbonated beverage
  • 1 apple, quartered
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper

Preheat smoker to 225 to 250 degrees F (110 to 120 degrees C).

Rinse turkey under cold water, and pat dry. Rub the crushed garlic over the outside of the bird, and sprinkle with seasoned salt. Place in a disposable roasting pan. Fill turkey cavity with butter, cola, apple, onion, garlic powder, salt, and ground black pepper. Cover loosely with foil.

Smoke at 225 to 250 degrees F (110 to 120 degrees C) for 10 hours, or until internal temperature reaches 180 degrees F (80 degrees C) when measured in the thickest part of the thigh. Baste the bird every 1 to 2 hours with the juices from the bottom of the roasting pan.

Watch the video: Ryba na klacku. MAD BBQ (May 2022).