Brine and Cook a Turkey Perfect Every Time
Brine and Cook a Turkey with ease! “If it were only that simple,” you say. With just a few steps, you will have a perfect turkey on the table.
Cooking a whole turkey, whether it be wild or domestic, is a daunting task. We all covet those beautiful turkeys we see people put on that gorgeously decorated Christmas table. I can almost taste it – crispy skin with tender, flavorful meat. You can create a perfect turkey every time with these few tips.
If you are cooking a wild turkey, you will want to make sure it has aged properly. I prefer dry aging my meat before it is frozen. During dry aging, the meat needs to be surrounded by a constant air temperature of 34-37 degrees. This denatures (breaks down) the meat.
A domesticated turkey from the grocery store is ready to cook. You can thaw the meat as per the instructions and begin with a brine.
If you decide to spatchcock your bird (which I highly recommend), you can either brine before or after you spatchcock. If I want to wet brine the turkey, I will spatchcock after brining. If I dry brine, I will spatchcock before putting the dry rub on the bird.
Brine the Turkey
Brining ensures moisture will be retained in the meat during the cooking process. There are two types of brine; a wet brine and a dry brine. Salt is the key component to both.
A Wet Brine is simply a mixture of salt, water, and spices used to season and retain moisture in meats. Along with the salt being absorbed into the turkey, the water is absorbed at the cellular level in the bird. This ensures a moist bird on the table.
I enjoy a light flavored brine that enhances the turkey’s flavor, especially if cooking a wild turkey. In addition to salt, I find that acid assists in poultry prep by aiding in the breaking down of muscle fiber and connective tissue to further enhance tenderness and flavor. I also add sugar to balance the saltiness and sourness. To me, it’s a perfect balance. Prepare the brine to your favorite flavor profile; just be sure to have at least an 8% salt to water by weight to ensure the retention of water during cooking.
Wet Brining a whole turkey can prove troublesome. More often than not, there will not be room in a refrigerator to house a completely submerged whole turkey. The turkey and brine must remain cold for the entire brining process.
By placing the brine in a trash bag, inside a cooler, and periodically pouring ice into the bag, your turkey will remain at a safe temperature (between 35 and 40 degrees F). So that the brine doesn’t get too diluted, wrap the bag around the turkey and you ice over the bag. I brine my turkey for 24 to 48 hours.
When you are ready to cook the turkey, remove it from the brine, rinse and dry very well.
Watch me demonstrate how to wet brine a turkey for the Outdoor Channel:
Turkey Brine Recipe
- 1 gallon water
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup salt
- 5 cloves garlic
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon pepper
- peel of one lemon
- In a large pot, bring water, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, and salt to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, turn off the heat and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Add the garlic cloves, bay leaves, pepper, and lemon peel. Allow mixture to cool completely. Add 4 cups of ice to the mixture.
- Place a large plastic trash bag inside a cooler. Put the clean, dry turkey inside the cooler and pour the brine over the turkey. Periodically check the temperature of the cooler. It should remain between 35 and 40 degrees F. Leave the turkey in the brine for 24 hours.
Close the bag around the turkey and pour ice over the bag to ensure a consistent right temperature.
Dry Brine (Dry Rub)
I often use dry brines, especially with venison and beef as I relate in my post, Tenderizing Tough Cuts of Meat with the Best Dry Rub Recipe.
It works equally as well with turkey. Dry brine will help your turkey retain its natural moisture.
Tough cuts of meat are usually tough due to the connective tissue and muscle fiber in the meat of the animal. Kosher salt breaks down the protein and improves the texture of the venison by drawing out the hydrogen and leaving oxygen in the muscles which forms lactic acid that breaks down the fibers in the muscles and connective tissue.
To use this method, combine salt and spices and rub vigorously into the meat. Refrigerate uncovered overnight to allow the spices to permeate flavor into the meat and to tenderize the meat. Keeping the turkey uncovered will help dry the skin producing a much more crispy skin. My Favorite!
In the video below, I show you how to spatchcock, dry brine, and smoke a turkey:
Turkey Dry Brine Recipe
- 1/2 cup Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary minced
- 3 Tablespoons garlic powder
- In a medium-sized bowl, mix salt, brown sugar, rosemary, and garlic powder until fully incorporated. Place turkey on a roasting rack inside a large roasting pan. Pat mixture all over the entire surface area of the turkey, inside and out. Chill in the refrigerator uncovered (air needs to surround the turkey) for 48 hours.
- About 1 hour before you will be cooking the turkey, remove turkey from refrigerator and rinse thoroughly. Pat turkey until completely dry. Allow to come to room temperature before you cook the bird. It will cook more evenly and more quickly.
- Your turkey has been brined and is now ready to fry, roast, or smoke!
Cooking the Turkey
Roast Spatchcocked Turkey
Roast Spatchcocked Turkey Recipe
- 1 whole fresh turkey 12 - 14 pounds
- 1/2 stick melted butter
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 2 Tablespoons Kosher salt
- 2 Tablespoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 teaspoon fresh rosemary minced
- 2 teaspoon fresh thyme chopped
- With the breast-side down, cut the backbone out of the turkey with heavy-duty kitchen shears. Save the backbone for making stock for gravy.
- Remove the wishbone from the turkey.
- Turn the bird over and flatten by pressing the middle of the turkey with both hands to break the breast bone.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- In a small bowl, combine melted butter, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme and mix well.
- Rinse and dry the turkey including the inside of the turkey.
- Place turkey on a roasting rack inside the roasting pan or on rack on a sheet pan. Tuck the wingtips under the breast.
- Liberally rub butter mixture on the skin and the on the inside of the turkey reserving 1/4 cup for basting.
- Place turkey in 450 degree oven for 30 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and baste with reserved butter mixture every 30 minutes.
- Roast the turkey until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of thigh registers 165 degrees F., about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, depending on the size of your turkey and your oven.
- Remove turkey to a cutting board and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. Make gravy while you wait.
Roasting Whole Turkey
I remember one year my mom made the best turkey I had ever had. I was 13 years old and my Meme and Momsie were coming over. My mom took the roasted turkey out of the oven and I just had to get a pinch. It was the best pinch EVER! The secret to that turkey was in the cooking method. She cooked on high heat for an hour or so then turned it off – yes, I said off – and in the morning, there was a gorgeous turkey waiting to be eaten.
Although I do not plan on cooking the turkey for 20 plus hours, I do use the technique of roasting at a high temperature for the first 45 minutes and then lowering the temperature to 350 degrees for the remainder of the cooking time.
Roast Turkey Recipe
SHORTCUT to Roasting a Turkey – Instead of brining the turkey, add all dry rub and basting ingredients together and rub the turkey inside and out. Place in the refrigerator uncovered for 24 to 48 hours. Remove from oven and place in 425 degree oven for 45 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and continue to cook for another 30 minutes. With an internal thermometer, periodically check the temperature in the thickest part of the breast. When the temperature reaches 160 degrees, remove the turkey to a cutting board and allow to rest at least 30 minutes before carving.
How to Roast a Turkey
Turkey Dry Rub
- 2 Tablespoons Kosher salt
- 1 Tablespoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme chopped
Turkey Basting Recipe
- 1 stick melted butter
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Mix dry rub ingredients in a small bowl.
- Combine melted butter, olive oil, and garlic in a small bowl.
- Place turkey, breast side up, on a rack inside a roasting pan. Fill the bottom of the pan with about 1 cup of water to keep the drippings from burning the pan. Brush butter mixture over the entire turkey and inside the cavity of the turkey. Liberally massage turkey rub all over turkey. Reserve some of the butter mixture for basting during the cooking process.
- Roast turkey for 45 minutes or until skin is golden brown. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to roast turkey, basting with butter mixture every 30 minutes. After the second hour, begin checking the temperature of the turkey every 15 minutes to keep from overcooking.
- Remove turkey when an instant-read thermometer reaches 160 degree when thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the breast. Allow the turkey to rest on a cutting board for at least 30 minutes to one hour for carry-over cooking and to allow the juices to redistribute.
SHORTCUT to Roasting a Turkey - Instead of brining the turkey, add all dry rub and basting ingredients together and rub the turkey inside and out. Place in the refrigerator uncovered for 24 to 48 hours. Remove from oven and place in 425 degree oven for 45 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and continue to cook for another 30 minutes. With an internal thermometer, periodically check the temperature in the thickest part of the breast. When the temperature reaches 160 degrees, remove the turkey to a cutting board and allow to rest at least 30 minutes before carving.
Frying the Turkey
For many years, we have loved frying our turkey for the holidays. For one thing, it leaves me plenty of cooking space in the oven for the sides, which happen to be one of my favorite things. Another advantage is that the men love hanging out frying the turkey for me, so there is one less item on my to-do list.
There are several culinary advantages to frying a turkey as well. When using this method, cooking time is dramatically reduced. Take a look at the stats:
Roasting a Spatchcocked Turkey: 8 to 10 minutes per pound on average
Roasting a Whole Turkey: 20 minutes per pound on average
Smoking a Turkey: 30 minutes per pound on average if temperature is around 120 degrees
Frying a Whole Turkey: 3 to 5 minutes per pound on average
Along with the cooking time being reduced, super crispy skin and juicy delicious meat will await you!
Though the advantages are weighty, there are a few challenges to frying a turkey. You’ll want to make sure you have the right amount of oil in the fryer or only some of your bird will get done. Hot oil is always another deterrent to me, especially when I had young kids. Of course, adults using caution will have no problems.
As far as knowing how much oil to use, there is a simple trick that always works. Simply place the turkey inside a pot or bucket large enough to hold the turkey and fill with water over the turkey 3 inches. Remove the turkey from the vessel and measure the amount of water left. Use this measurement to determine the amount of oil you will need for frying.
Brining the turkey always leaves me with a much better bird than those I don’t brine when I am frying. The meat tends to dry out more quickly when frying than when using other cooking methods, but not if brined and not overcooked.
It is best to use turkeys that are less than 12 pounds when frying.
Deep Fried Whole Turkey Recipe
4 to 5 gallons cooking oil (peanut oil if no one has allergies to peanuts), for a 12 to 14 pound turkey in a 30 quart pot
1 12 to 14 pound turkey
Turkey Dry Rub (mixture of 2 Tbsp. Kosher salt, 1 Tbsp. pepper, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 2 tsp. thyme, 2 tsp. rosemary)
Bring oil in the fryer to 375 degrees.
Dry the brined turkey (recipe above) and cover with the dry rub, inside and out.
Once the oil reaches 375 degrees, SLOWLY lower the turkey into the hot oil until fully submerged. The temperature of the oil will drop. Bring the temperature of the oil back up to 350 degrees and continue to cook at 350 degrees until the turkey is done, 40 to 50 minutes or when the instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reaches 165 degrees.
Courtesy of GameandGarden.com
Frying a Whole Turkey
- 4 to 5 gallons cooking oil peanut oil if no one has allergies to peanuts, for a 12 to 14 pound turkey in a 30 quart pot
- 1 12 to 14 pound turkey
- Turkey Dry Rub mixture of 2 Tbsp. Kosher salt, 1 Tbsp. pepper, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 2 tsp. thyme, 2 tsp. rosemary
- Bring oil in the fryer to 375 degrees.
- Dry the brined turkey and cover with the dry rub, inside and out.
- Once the oil reaches 375 degrees, SLOWLY lower the turkey into the hot oil until fully submerged. This should take at least 5 minutes. The temperature of the oil will drop. Bring the temperature of the oil back up to 350 degrees and continue to cook at 350 degrees until the turkey is done, 40 to 50 minutes or when the instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reaches 165 degrees.
Smoking the Turkey
Perfect Smoked Turkey Recipe
Perfect Smoked Turkey Recipe
- 1 turkey 12-14 pounds
- 1/4 cup butter melted
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
- Rinse the turkey and dry thoroughly.
- Spatchcock the turkey for more even cooking.
- Place turkey breast side up on a sheet pan. Liberally rub butter-herb mixture completely over entire turkey. Refrigerate 24 to 48 hours uncovered.
- Remove turkey from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature while your grill or smoker is reaching 225 degrees.
- Oil the rungs of the rack to keep the bird from sticking.
- Bring either the grill or smoker to 225 degrees. Add several chunks of hickory or apple wood (they burn more slowly and won’t overtake the flavor of the turkey) to the smoker or on top of the charcoal if using a grill.
- Place turkey in the middle of a smoker or on the grill preheated to 225 degrees. Maintain temperature between 225 to 250 degrees during entire cooking process, 2 to 2 1/2 hours depending on the size of the bird. Account for 11-13 minutes per pound.
- Once the bird reaches 160 degrees, remove from the smoker and cover loosely with foil and allow to rest 30 minutes before carving.