When it comes to preparing Thanksgiving turkey, there are two distinct camps…those that brine, and those that don’t. Me, I’m a briner.
I first tried brining maybe eight or so years ago, and I’ve been a fan of the flavor and juiciness it produces ever since. There is no doubt, however, that brining is a messy job. This is surely part of what keeps those non-briners from hopping on the brining bandwagon. It takes some planning and a little courage to wrangle that turkey into its briney bath, but it’s well worth it in the end. Here’s the process I follow for how to brine a turkey…
The process all starts with procuring your bird. These days, there are tons of great options for organic, free range turkeys. They are a little bit more expensive, but I highly recommend you go for a quality bird that lived a happy, healthy, and natural life.
You’re also going to need a really huge tub or pot…you’ll want something that’s large enough to hold the turkey fully submerged in the brining solution. I picked up an 18 quart tub with a lid at my local Cash & Carry store. (I even took my turkey into the store with me to make sure it would fit in the tub before I bought it).
The process of brining starts the night before you cook your turkey. Before you even touch the bird, you’ll want to mix together the brining solution (recipe below). There’s no need to heat the brine, but you’ll want to stir thoroughly until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Then set the tub on the ktichen counter right next to the sink.
Now it’s time to prep the bird. Unfortunately, there’s no way around it…touching the raw turkey is a little funky. Just bear in mind, it’s a quick task, and all of your extremeties can be thoroughly washed when you’re done…so just get in there!
Place your turkey in the sink. Using kitchen shears, cut off the outside wrapper, and remove any plastic that might be binding the legs together. Take a quick poke around inside the cavity, and remove any parts that are tucked in there. This usually includes the neck and potentially a small bag of organs. You’re welcome to discard these, or you can set them aside for later use. Then just give the turkey a good rinse with cool water, inside and out, and dunk it into the tub of brine. Your turkey will probably want to float so be sure to weight it down with a heavy plate or pot lid (a Le Creuset lid works very well).
Now it’s time to say “night, night”. I put the lid on the tub, and let it soak in the refrigerator overnight. You’ll need to clear out quite a bit of space for it to fit in the fridge. I had to remove a shelf to make room for the height. (If you have absolutely no room to spare, you can consider brining overnight in an ice chest with enough ice to keep it chilled overnight).
Turkey Brine Recipe
- 1 turkey (13-15 pounds), thawed
For the brine:
- 2 gallons of water
- 1 cup salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 lemon, sliced
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon cloves
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- Combine all of the ingredients (except for the turkey) in a pot or container large enough to hold the turkey, fully submerged. Stir the mixture until the salt and sugar are completely dissolved.
- Place your turkey in the sink; remove and discard the packaging. Pull out any parts from inside the cavity, and either discard or set them aside for later use.
- Rinse the turkey (inside and out) with cool water, and place in the brine. The turkey should be fully submerged. If necessary, use a heavy plate or cast iron lid to weight down the turkey.
- Allow the turkey to soak for at least 6 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
- When done soaking, line a cooke sheet with paper towels and place next to the sink. Lift the turkey out of the brine, rinse inside and out, and place on the cookie sheet to drain. Using additional paper towels, pat the the inside out outside of the turkey dry.
- To discard, pour the solution down the sink through a strainer. Discard the strained bits.
Now your turkey is ready for roasting! I’ll be sharing my favorite recipe for that tomorrow…
Looking for more Thanksgiving inspiration? You can find it here: