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Turkey in a Brine : Our Favorite way to Prepare a Turkey

Updated on June 18, 2011
There is nothing like getting together for a good meal during the holidays, or any time.
There is nothing like getting together for a good meal during the holidays, or any time.

Our favorite way to prepare a whole turkey

A few years back our family discovered the magic of a brine, especially for turkey. My husband loves to watch the food network on occasion, and Alton Brown was the one that inspired the idea, to the point that we just had to try it one Thanksgiving. It was the best turkey that any of us have ever had.  It is an extra step, but a simple one before you cook your turkey.

I just want to share the basic idea with you here, and I would highly encourage you to try it at least once. You can change it up to make it your own as well. In short, you are soaking the whole turkey in a salt water solution (the brine). The twist is to add some key spices to infuse more spices into the whole turkey, so that it is not just a salt water solution. I will share a recipe for a brine below, so you get the idea. We soak it overnight, and let the brine do its magic. It really seems to! My brother in law one Thanksgiving is quoted as saying, "Bob, even if my wife and I get a divorce (totally joking) can I still come over to your Thanksgiving? This is so good!" You get the idea! We literally have no reason to ever try making out turkey another way, we all love it so much.

Benefits of Brining

Some of the benefits of brining your turkey will include keeping it moist during the cooking process all the way until you serve it.  All of us have probably had turkey that was very dry, if for no other reason than you don't ever want to under cook your turkey.  We tend to really cook them, for safety reasons, then just drown the meat with gravy.  That is all well and good, but you can go for even better.

The high content of salt in the brine, causes some of the proteins in the the turkey to break down a bit.  When this happens, the liquid of the brine soaks into the meat of your turkey, and it tends to retain that moisture.  You will soak the turkey in the brine for approximately 6 - 15 hours, but even on the shorter end, you will find great benefit.  There isn't a lot of fat and moisture in the turkey naturally, so this helps to retain the moisture there is, and adds a bit along with flavor.  The results are outstanding!

The proteins inside the meat coagulate some.  This prevents more liquid from running out of the turkey while it cooks.  So even when you go to serve the turkey, it is moist.  This is great for those times when you have a lot of left over turkey, which will tend to get more and more dry when you reheat it, or put it on sandwiches, etc. 

Allspice berries
Allspice berries

Simple Turkey Brine Recipe

For all of the benefit you get from brining your turkey, the ingredients for the actual brine are really not that much.

One gallon of vegetable stock. We used Emerils vegetable stock this year.

One gallon of iced cold water

One cup of salt (we use kosher salt as recommended the first time we tried it)

One half cup of sugar. Some use honey, but the favorite and most recommended is brown sugar.

One half teaspoon of allspice, or allspice berries

One and a half teaspoons of ginger. (Alton uses candied ginger, but we never used that and still have great success.)

Garlic (in whatever form you like)

A few dashes of cayenne (this won't make it too spicy.)

Cracked pepper, as much as you like

*Slowly bring this mixture to a boil, then allow to cool. The bringing to a boiling a point allows for the flavors to be maximized. Then allow to cool and refrigerate until you are ready to soak your turkey in it.

*The container you use to hold your turkey and all the brine will need to be large enough to submerge the turkey in liquid, and kept very cool. If your container is too big, the turkey won't get submerged in it. You don't want your turkey frozen, but not room temperature either. Keep it cold, we keep the water iced always. You will want to turn the bird over at least once during the soaking process.  

Roast as you normally would. Then there is the whole idea of adding aromatics to your turkey if you really want to get fancy. This is just a simple way to get fantastic tender turkey meat. The spices added during brining, do not replace your usual way of spicing the outside of your turkey. I use a lot of other spices for the main part of the turkey, for during the roasting stage. We use a meat thermometer, and a foil tent as well after initially browning our turkey. If your turkey keeps floating up above the level you want it to, put something like a heavy platter or plate on top. You want it submerged. Remember to wash your hands a lot when handling the turkey, before and after. Safety first. Enjoy your turkey, however you decide to cook it!

Have you ever had a turkey that was brined before it was cooked?

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    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Peter, so glad to hear about your great success with that turkey! It sounds wonderful! We add those other herbs to the turkey itself, inside and out during cooking, but I want to try what you did and put it right into the brine as well next time. Thanks for the comment!

    • Peter Allison profile image

      Peter Allison 7 years ago from Alameda, CA

      Yes, this year for the first time I brined a turkey (and smoked it on our Weber) and the results were fantastic! I'll never go back. The brine we used looked fairly close to yours except it had Thyme, Bay Leaves and Juniper berries in addition to the Allspice. Thanks for sharing.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Thank you Daydreamer!

    • daydreamer13 profile image

      daydreamer13 7 years ago

      Sounds good, thanks for sharing.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Russell, I have heard of people deep frying, and also smoking and grilling a turkey! We haven't tried it in those ways yet, but I am sure they are great. Thanks for the comment!

    • Russell-D profile image

      Russell-D 7 years ago from Southern Ca.

      Brining correctly means you can also deep fry the bird or barbecue it on a grill. Each of these is a less known method, but each turns out a beautiful bird to present to the Thanksgiving Table. David Russell

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Pamela, Thank you! Happy Thanksgiving :)

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Thanks Scribenet! I hope you like it as much as we do.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      I think this is a great way to prepare a turkey also. Thanks for sharing your method of doing so. Happy Thanksgiving.

    • Scribenet profile image

      Scribenet 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have heard of this, but never in such wonderful detail. This is going to be on my "to do" list.

      Voted up and useful!

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Thanks Carolina!

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 7 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      A turkey prepared this way is tender and juicy-- yummy!!!!