Flavorful Turkey Brine Recipes
A great Thanksgiving turkey begins with a great brine. Brining the turkey makes it juicy and flavorful, which is a great reason to begin with this step. There are many kinds of brines that you can use, from a basic seasoning mix to even using other ingredients such as beer or maple syrup. Whatever brine you use, learn how to perfect the technique with these great recipes. Your dinner guests will certainly thank you for it.
Dry-Cured Roasted Turkey with Herb Butter
Cindy Daniel of Healdsburg Shed in Northern California rubs her turkey with salt 2 days before roasting to season it beautifully without the messiness of a brine. A flavorful herb butter adds juiciness. Daniel likes the free-range turkeys from Northern California BN Ranch (eatlikeitmatters.com). As for wine, she pours local Pinot Noirs from DuMol and Copain Trousseau and the dry Radio-Coteau Platt Riesling.
Roasted Beer-Brined Turkey with Onion Gravy and Bacon
Dry Brined-Herb Roasted Turkey
Skip the cumbersome wet brines that call for soaking turkey and making the skin flabby. This classic overnight dry brine--a simple herb, salt, and sugar mixture--gives the turkey deep flavor and a crackly crust. Be adventurous and create your own signature dry brine using our sugar and salt ratios as a guide, or try one of our three variations below.
Basic Brine for Seafood, Poultry, and Pork
Brining is a technique that submerges food in a salt solution to prevent moisture loss during cooking, creating succulent, juicy bites. Use our Basic Brine for fish and shrimp, or for white meat, such as chicken, turkey, or pork chops.
How to Brine a Turkey
What is Brining?
Brining turkeys is a technique where the turkey (or other meat) is soaked in a saltwater mixture in order to tenderize, moisturize, and flavor the meat. It’s method that comes in and out of style and there are debates about the pros and cons of brining. Some cooks claim that it’s the only way to get a moist and juicy bird; other claim that it doesn’t make a difference and you can get a juicy bird without brining.
Steps for Brining
Prepare the brining mixture according to your recipe directions.
Use two turkey-size oven bags, one placed inside the other, or buy a food-grade resealable brining bag in order to prevent leaks. (You can buy these bags at places such as Williams-Sonoma, Bed, Bath, and Beyond, or other types of cooking stores.) Fold down the sides of the bag for a contamination-free seal, then place the turkey in the bag, breast side up.
Transfer the bag to a large cooler filled halfway with ice, snuggling the bag down into the ice. Spread open the top of the folded bag, then pour the brine over the turkey.
Fold up the sides, press out any excess air, the seal the bag. Fold over the top of the bag and completely cover bag with ice. You can brine a turkey in a large bucket, stockpot, or other large container, but it needs to stay in the refrigerator. Since most people don’t have that kind of room in the refrigerator, we recommend using a cooler. Also, you can just pour the cooled brine mixture over the turkey, seal the bags, and place the bags directly in the refrigerator instead of covering the bird in ice.
Check the temperature of the ice with a thermometer to make sure it registers 40 degrees or lower at all times so that bacteria can’t grown. Keep the cooler shut, and refill with ice as necessary.
Soak the turkey in the brining mixture 12-24 hours.
Remove the turkey from the brining mixture and discard the brining mixture.
Cook the turkey according to your recipe directions.
Pay attention to the balance of salt in the brining mixture because too little salt won’t do any good and too much salt will make the turkey taste too salty.
Kosher salt works well for the brine because it dissolves more easily than table salt.
Use a fresh turkey instead of a frozen for brining because many of the frozen turkeys have already been injected with salty solutions.
For more recipes, see our collection of Turkey Recipes.
Foolproof Brined Turkey
Brining a turkey is well worth the day-ahead time investment. It removes all guesswork, producing an incredibly moist bird that's more forgiving of being slightly overcooked. If you can't find an organic turkey, look for a fresh one without "added solution."
Maple-Brined Turkey Breast with Mushroom Pan Gravy
Because you're starting with a boneless cut, the brining time is much shorter than if using a whole bird.
Spice-Brined Turkey with Cider Pan Gravy
You can use a double layer of turkey brining bags, then keep the bagged turkey in a stockpot in the refrigerator to guard against punctures. Garnish the turkey with fresh herbs and apples, if desired.
Dry-Brined-and-Marinated Smoked Turkey
Make Ahead: Dry-brine the turkey two days before Thanksgiving, and smoke it the next day. Cut the turkey into pieces (legs, breast, wings, etc.), and place in a zip-top plastic bag. Store in refrigerator. About an hour before dinner, place turkey pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet, and cover with aluminum foil. Warm in 300° oven until heated.
Honey and Thyme-Brined Turkey Breast
Even if you are only serving the turkey to a small group, it is great to have leftovers for sandwiches. Briefly boiling the thyme and black pepper in water extracts the flavor and helps infuse the brine. If the turkey starts to brown too fast, shield with aluminum foil. Serve with mashed red potatoes and roasted baby carrots.
Brined Maple Turkey with Cream Gravy
Brining makes for a juicier bird, and the subtle flavors of the brine soak into the turkey. Kosher salt works well for the brine because it dissolves more easily than table salt. If you have time and refrigerator space, the brining procedure is worthwhile. If not, the turkey will still be quite good.
Brined Turkey Breast with Cranberry Jus
Brining the turkey makes it juicy and flavorful; using a bone-in, skin-on breast keeps it moist during roasting. Don't brine the breast longer than 24 hours, or it will become too salty. If you're not ready to roast the breast, chill it, uncovered (for crisper skin), up to 1 day after step 2. The sweet-tart pan juices that go with this turkey were inspired by Faz Poursohi, chef and proprietor of the Faz restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Roasted Beer-Brined Turkey with Onion Gravy and Bacon
Herb-Brined Creole Turkey
Apple Cider-Brined Turkey with Savory Herb Gravy
This turkey is a pleasure to offer on your table. It's incredibly moist and flavorful, and it received our highest Test Kitchens rating. Brining is an overnight process, so if you're using a frozen turkey, be sure to thaw it well in advance. Choose turkey-sized plastic oven bags for brining the turkey. Use two bags to prevent brine from leaking, and place the turkey in a large stockpot as another precaution. This recipe goes with Savory Herb Gravy.