November 18, 2012

How to brine a turkey before you roast it {perfect Thanksgiving turkey recipe}

How to Brine a Turkey

I was wondering how to brine a turkey – so I called Alton Brown. Well not really called him, more like a digital dial-up through Google. I knew he’d steer me right. And he did. Best. bird. ever.

Why should you brine a turkey? Brining a turkey adds about 10% of moisture to your bird BEFORE you start roasting, so when it loses a bit of moisture in the oven, it will still have plenty to keep it moist.

Do brined turkeys roast faster? I think so. I can’t explain it, but everything I’m finding online says that you need to shorten the roasting time when it’s been brined.

Can you make gravy with a brined turkey? This is one disadvantage to brining a turkey – the turkey drippings are going to be much saltier than if you had roasted a non-brined turkey. So you can’t make gravy the traditional way, but I did find a video on how to make gravy using a brined turkey and I tried this using beef broth and it worked like a charm!

Do brined turkeys taste salty? Nope. I didn’t think so. The Pioneer Woman has some great tips for reducing salty flavor when brining – simple things you can do (like rinsing well or soaking in water before roasting) that will help!

Ingredients for the brine

1 cup kosher salt

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 gallon vegetable stock (I used chicken broth, because that’s what I had)

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger (found in produce section, near fresh ginger)

1 gallon heavily iced water

Ingredients for the AROMATICS
Fancy word for things that will season your bird while in the oven?

1 red apple, sliced

1/2 onion, sliced

1 cinnamon stick

1 cup water

4 sprigs rosemary

6 leaves sage

Canola oil


3-4 days head of time – start thawing your bird. The Butterball Turkey Website has a good thaw your bird calculator. I checked for a 16 pound turkey (what I have) and it said 4 days in the fridge.

2-3 days ahead of time – make your brine. Yes, you need to plan ahead. Yes, I *might* have just made my brine the night before, but that’s how I roll and it still worked. Just make sure it’s cooled completely before you put your bird in there. For obvious food safety purposes you don’t want your bird sitting around in luke warm brine.

How to make your brine: Get a big pot and throw in your stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries and candied ginger. Turn to medium-high heat and stir until you’ve disolved all the solids and you bring it to a boil. Remove brine from head and cool to room temperature. We put ours on the back porch to speed down the cooling process (with a lid, so we didn’t end up with extra seasonings). Refrigerate.

The night before or the morning of the day you want to cook your turkey – Take your brine out of the fridge.

Combine the brine, water and ice in a big bucket. Make sure it’s in a big enough container to fit your brine and your turkey (I hear you can get food-safe buckets from the bakery at your local grocery store, possibly for FREE!).

Wash your bird (NOT with soap, haha!), pat dry, pull out any inside pieces. Plop the bird into the brine. Breast side down. If you need to, weigh down the bird so it’s fully immersed. Cover and put in the fridge (we put an old towel under it to keep raw poultry juice from spilling in our fridge). Keep it cool for 8 to 16 hours. You can turn the bird half way through. I didn’t bother.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Take your bird from the brine and rinse it well with cold water – both inside and out. Toss the brine, it’s done it’s job!

Place bird on a roasting rack. Alton recommends using a half sheet pan, I used my roasting pan (here’s a great deal on a roasting pan from Amazon: Cuisinart 7117-16UR Chef’s Classic Stainless 16-Inch Rectangular Roaster with Rack). Pat it dry with paper towels (I read somewhere that this is good for poultry because if there is moisture on the surface it will dry out the bird when cooked.)

Combine apple, onion, cinnamon stick and 1 cup water in microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for five minutes. We don’t have a microwave, so I did this on the stove top. Add this to the inside of your turkey, with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings under the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.

Roast turkey on lowest level of oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. This caused our fire alarm to go off due to the smoke of the high-heat. I recommend doing this for maybe 15 minutes then turning it down, but try it out. After you’ve had it at the high heat, insert probe thermometer (we have this one from Amazon!) into the thickets part of the breast, then reduce oven temp to 350 degrees F

Set your thermometer alarm (if it has one) to 161 degrees F. Alton says that a 14-16 pound turkey should be done in 2- to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let your bird rest after you take it out, covering it lightly with foil.


I’d love to hear your turkey brining tips – do you brine your turkey?

(I take absolutely no credit for this recipe it is all from my best friend Alton Brown’s Turkey Brining Technique)


    Leave your comments here...


  1. Liz Coleman says

    Alton taught me how to perfectly cook steak, so I have no doubt he is a turkey expert as well!

  2. I use a water cooler, the big one will fit a 20 pound. I use a big new unscented garbage bag, place the turkey, add cold water 1 cup salt and 1/2 brown sugar. Close the bag and add ice on top and put the lid. Check for more ice before you go to bed. Next day drain and dry. Season next day with garlic, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper olive oil and vinegar. Bake and enjoy.

  3. Kari-Ellen Elsdon says

    Thanks for the tip on getting a bucket at the bakery! I was thinking about using my cooler and finding a food safe bag but now I don’t have to contaminate anything else. My Albertson’s baker lady was more than happy to offer me a choice from several that were headed to the recycle bin! FREE! Yeah!

  4. We brine and it definitely makes for a moist and flavorful bird. We usually put the brine and bird in a big trash bag and put the bag in a cooler with lots of ice. If it is cool outside we put the cooler on the porch. The night before.

  5. AWESOME! I have heard of doing this. Thank you for the recipe. I will be following this recipe for sure.

  6. I have used Alton’s recipe for three or four years and it comes out perfect and moist each time. I have never used the allspice berries because I can’t find them in the store. Its a great easy recipe…enjoy!

  7. Sounds awesome! I love Alton Brown too.

  8. The voice of experience here: PLEASE do be careful when lifting a turkey in brine! It adds the weight of the water to the weight of the turkey, and it may be in a container that’s awkward to hold, depending on what you use to brine.

    I somehow managed to injure myself TWO years in a row brining a turkey. Once I fell and got some nasty bruises (but saved the turkey!) and the other time I pulled a shoulder muscle putting it up on the counter. It makes the best flavored turkey, just be careful with the lifting!

  9. I do brine but I use another of Alton’s recipes. A pound of salt, a pound of brown sugar, 6 qts of water, 5 pounds of ice. Very plain because that’s how we roll. And we deep fry so we can’t add the extra stuff in the cavity. Turns out great every year.

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