How to Brine Turkey

Selecting the Turkey for Brining:

When purchasing a turkey for brining, choose a natural turkey (not a self-basted bird that has been injected with a solution of salt and other flavorings).  Look for the words “natural” or “no additives added.”  Choose a 12- to 20-pound turkey.  If the turkey is frozen, thaw according to the package directions before brining.

Remove the giblets from the neck cavity and the neck from the body cavity (save in the refrigerator or freezer for making  Perfect Turkey Giblet Gravy).  Blot the turkey with paper towels, trim away any large areas of fat or excess skin around the body cavity. Per USDA Guidelines do not wash your turkey. Washing your turkey can cause cross contamination in your kitchen. Be sure to wash your hands with warm soapy water before and after handling the turkey.

Choose a container large enough to hold your turkey and brine mixture, plus it must be able to fit either in your refrigerator or a large cooler. Make sure the turkey goes into the container before you add the brine. This way you do not have a mess by putting the turkey into the brine,but the brine on the turkey. There are big bags you can get for brining a turkey if you choose to use a cooler. Monitor the temperature of the cooler (using a Digital Thermometer) to make sure it stays below 40 degrees F. at all times.

How Long To Brine Poultry:

It is possible to end up with meat that’s too salty for your taste.  To avoid this, brine on the low end of the time range on your first attempt.  You can always brine longer next time, but there is no way to salvage a piece of meat that hass been brined too long.

Whole Chicken (4 pounds) – 4 to 12 hours

Chicken Pieces – 1 to 1 1/2 hours

Whole Turkey – 1 to 2 days

Turkey Breast – 5 to 8 hours

Cornish Game Hens – 1 to 2 hours

Do not salt brined poultry before cooking.  Cook poultry according to your favorite recipe.  Do not overcook your brined poultry.  Once brined, the poultry cooks faster, so be careful and use a Meat Thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat.

Poultry Brine Recipe:

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Yield: enough for one (1) whole turkey


For each gallon of cold water used in the brine, add the following:

3/4 cup coarse kosher salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup boiling water
1 gallon cold water
1 tablespoon black pepper

Optional ingredients for flavor:
Apple juice or cider
Bay leaves
Favorite dried herbs and spices (sage, oregano, thyme, basil, cloves, cinnamon, etc.)
Cracked black peppercorns
Lemon or orange slices
Crushed garlic cloves
Sugar (granulated, brown sugar, or maple syrup)

Equipment Needed:

Whole Turkey:  A heavy-duty large food-grade plastic, stainless steel, or glass container (5- to 6-gallon).  Large brining bags may also be used.  Weight with a plate, if necessary, to keep the meat fully covered by the brine.  See above How To Refrigerate Poultry During Brining.

Chicken:  Stainless-steel bowl or resealable plastic bag can work as a brining container, as long as the poultry is fully submerged.  Weight with a plate, if necessary, to keep the meat fully covered by the brine.



Determine How Much Brine Is Needed:

To determine how much brine you will need, place the poultry (chicken or turkey) to be brined in your chosen container.  Add water to cover.  Remove the poultry and measure the water.
Brining Directions – How To Make Poultry Brine:

One of the great things about brining is that there are so few rules.  Most brines start with water and salt — traditionally, 3/4 pound of salt per gallon of water, but since we are not concerned with the brine as a preservative, you can cut back on the salt.  The amount of brining time is likewise not set in stone.  Even a little brining is better than none.

Dissolve salt and sugar in the boiling water.  Add it to the cold water; add pepper and stir to combine.

turkey brineWhat type of salt to use in brine:  Kosher salt and table salt (without iodine) are the most common salts used in brining.  Sea salt can be used, but it tends to be quite expensive.  I usually use coarse kosher salt.

A cup of table salt and a cup of kosher salt are NOT equal.  Table salt weighs approximately 10 ounces per cup and kosher salt weighs approximately 5 to 8 ounces per cup (depending on the brand).  If using kosher salt in a brine, you must use more than 1 cup to achieve the same “saltiness” you would get from 1 cup of table salt.

To learn about different types of salt and how to use them, check out the article Salt – The Spice of Life.

This chart below shows substitutions for the two most popular brands of kosher (coarse) salt for 1 cup of ordinary table salt (remember without iodine) when brining poultry.

Table Salt (without iodine) – use 1 cup
Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt – use 2 cups
Morton Kosher Salt – use 1 1/2 cups

OtherFlavoring Options:

Use brown sugar, honey, or molasses in place of the sugar (some sweetness tends to offset a saltiness the brine might otherwise impart).

You can also use apple juice, cider, orange juice, beer, wine, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, stock, tea, or other liquids to replace some or all of the water.

You can also put together decidedly Oriental flavorings with soy sauce or the Japanese rice wine mirin. In other words, be creative with the flavorings!

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