How to Brine a Turkey

By: Devon O'Brien, Digital Food Editor

Pictured Recipe: Michel Nischan’s Roast Turkey with Potato Pan Gravy

A big, beautifully roasted whole turkey at the center of your Thanksgiving table is already so special it hardly seems there'd be anything you could do to take it to the next level. That's where brining steps in to tell you you're wrong. Soaking your bird in a luxurious salty herb bath will truly make you feel like you're at a royal feast.

Related: Best-Ever Thanksgiving Recipes

What Is Brining and Why Should You Do It?

Dry-Brined Lemon-&-Fennel-Rubbed Turkey with Homemade Giblet Gravy

Pictured Recipe: Dry-Brined Lemon-&-Fennel-Rubbed Turkey with Homemade Giblet Gravy

"Wet brining" refers to the act of soaking a raw turkey in a water-and-salt solution overnight. "Dry brining" means rubbing the salt and seasonings directly onto the bird and letting it sit overnight (no liquid required). Brining brings out turkey's juiciest, most flavorful side—the taste you'll crave year after year. The salt breaks down connective tissues in the muscles of the meat to give you the most tender melt-in-your-mouth turkey you've ever eaten. Meanwhile, the turkey is absorbing extra moisture to make sure it stays juicy throughout the cooking process while infusing flavor deep into the bird no matter how you cook it afterward. It takes some planning, but the flavor payoff is worth it.

The Best Turkey to Brine

When it comes to brining, skip the conventional supermarket turkey that's been enhanced with water and sodium. Make sure you start with an all-natural bird without any added sodium solution as you will be enhancing the turkey yourself without adding a ton of extra sodium.

Equipment

large pot

For wet brining, you will need a large pot, bucket or clean cooler large enough to hold the turkey (but small enough to fit in your refrigerator) or a brining bag. Skip this if you are dry-brining: you can do that right in a roasting pan or on a platter.

Step 1: Make Your Brine

brine ingredients

For a wet brine: Bring 1 gallon water to a boil in a large pot. Add salt and sugar and stir to dissolve. Turn off the heat. Add flavorings such as carrots, onions, celery, spices and fresh herbs. Add 2 more gallons of water to the pot.

For a dry brine: Mash minced garlic and salt together on a cutting board to form a paste. Transfer to a medium bowl and mix in olive oil, sugar and flavorings such as citrus zest, juice, spices and fresh herbs.

Step 2: Brine Your Turkey

how to brine a turkey

For wet brining: Remove giblets and neck from the turkey and make sure there is nothing in the cavity. Place the turkey in a container large enough to hold it and the brine, such as a large pot, clean 5-gallon bucket, similar-size clean cooler or brining bag. Add the brine. Place a plate on top of the turkey, if necessary, so it stays below the surface, or add enough additional liquid to make sure the turkey is mostly submerged. Cover and refrigerate overnight (or if it’s cold enough—under 40°F—you can put it outdoors in a protected spot).

For dry brining: Remove giblets and neck from the turkey and make sure there is nothing in the cavity. Thoroughly pat the turkey dry inside and out with paper towels. Place on a platter or in a roasting pan and loosen the skin of the breast and legs. Spread about one-third of the dry rub mixture under the skin, one-third on the outside and the remaining third inside the cavity. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

Step 3: Remove from Brine

For wet-brined turkey: When you're ready to cook, remove the turkey from the brine, brush off any briny bits and let stand at room temperature for a half hour. Discard the brine.

For dry-brined turkey: Leave the brine rub on, but use paper towels to carefully dab away any excess liquid. Transfer the turkey to a roasting rack fitted into a roasting pan.

Step 4: Roast Your Turkey

lemon garlic roast turkey

Pictured Recipe: Lemon-Garlic Brined Roast Turkey

A brined turkey can be cooked just like an unbrined one. Prepare your turkey by tucking the wing tips under the bird, tying the legs together with kitchen string and filling the cavity with any additional citrus or aromatics. Roast using your favorite method.

Next Up: How to Roast a Turkey

Watch: How to Roast a Turkey

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