I’m focusing in this post on how to easily brine a turkey. Brining is the easiest, best way to ensure moist, flavorful meat in your perfectly cooked turkey. Once you’ve brined it, you are ready to roast, fry, or smoke your moist turkey to perfection.
How Do You Brine a Turkey? the Basics
There are two types of brine: a wet brine, and a dry brine. I use both, depending on the method I intend to use to cook the turkey.
Salt is a key component in both brines. The salt breaks down the muscle and enables water to be absorbed into the meat.
Wet Brine vs. Dry Brine
Both wet brines and dry brines have their advantages and disadvantages. Both will take up refrigerator space, but the wet brine will take the most space since the bird has to be completely submerged. Below, I’ll cover the solution to that problem.
In essence, a wet brine plumps up the bird with moisture. The turkey absorbs up to 40% more water in a wet brine. The salt breaks down the muscle, allowing the water to penetrate into the meat and stay there while cooking.
A wet brine ensures moist meat, to be sure. However, unfortunately, the flavor of the turkey may suffer. With a wet brine, you may be left with an overly moist but bland-tasting bird. One solution is to add more aromatics like bay leaves, garlic, peppercorns, whole spices, rosemary, and thyme.
In a dry brine, the salt draws out the moisture, combines with it, and then penetrates back into the meat. A dry brine breaks down the muscle fiber and protein, allowing the moisture to stay in the bird during cooking. You will still need room in the refrigerator for the bird to brine, but usually not as much as if you were using a wet brine.
Though a dry brine may not be quite as moist, it really packs in the flavor.
How to Wet Brine a Turkey
Wet brining is a super easy process: a wet brine is merely a mixture of water, salt, spices, and sugar. I also like to add acid to the brine for an element of flavor that otherwise can get lost with all the extra water added to the bird.
Combine water, spices, vinegar, sugar, and aromatics to a boil and stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Turn off the heat.
Allow the mixture to cool completely. Add 4 cups of ice to the mixture.
Submerge thawed, cold turkey into the mixture and place in the refrigerator or in a trash bag submerged in ice in a cooler. Allow to cool for 24 to 48 hours. If using the cooler method, check the temperature to make sure it remains between 35 and 40 degrees. Pour ice over the trash bag as the ice melts.
Before cooking, dry the skin completely. Now you are ready to roast, fry, or smoke your brined turkey!
How to Make a Turkey Brine
- 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.
How to Dry Brine a Turkey
Dry brining is my favorite method of cooking a Thanksgiving turkey, especially when I am planning to smoke the bird. Here is how to brine a turkey to smoke.
First, I usually spatchcock the turkey so that I won’t need as much room in the refrigerator. “Spatchcocking” may sound like a funny word, but it is basically the same as butterflying a bird. You are just cutting out the backbone with kitchen shears or a cleaver so that you can press the turkey flat. You can watch me spatchcock a turkey in this video for the Outdoor Channel.
Then for the brine, I use salt and spices to impart rich, earthy flavors. As mentioned, dry brines will give more intense flavor to the turkey meat than wet brines.
Dry brining is much easier to me than wet brining because you only have one step.
- Mix the dry ingredients (Kosher salt, rosemary, brown sugar, and garlic) and coat them all over the turkey. Place the turkey uncovered in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours.
- When ready to cook, remove the turkey from the refrigerator and allow the turkey to come to room temperature. Once it has reached room temperature, dry it with paper towels. Your dry brined turkey is ready for smoking, roasting, or frying!
Dry Brine Recipe for Turkey
- 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 cooking, remove turkey from refrigerator and rinse thoroughly. Pat turkey until completely dry. Allow the bird to come to room temperature before you cook it so that it will cook more evenly and quickly.
- Your turkey has been brined and is now ready to fry, roast, or smoke!
– Happy Thanksgiving from Stacy Lyn!
Here are more of my top holiday recipes.