Guidelines For Brining Turkey

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The secret to perfect juicy chicken and turkey is simple - Brine them before cooking!

This is the secret that chefs never tell you about. It's very easy and economical, and requires no special cookware. Brining is like a marinade, as it keeps food moist and tender. Brining or salting is a way of increasing the moisture holding capacity of meat resulting in a moister product when it is cooked. Salt changes the structure of the muscle tissue in the meat which allows it to swell and absorb water and flavorings which results in a tender turkey or chicken once cooked.

Who wouldn’t want to eat a tender, moist, and flavorful turkey for their Thanksgiving dinner? Give it a try!

brining thanksgiving turkey in a large bucket
Turkey being brined in a large 5-gallon bucket.


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Selecting the Turkey for Brining:

When purchasing a turkey for brining, choose a natural turkey (not a self-basted bird that's been injected with a solution of salt and other flavorings). Look for the words "natural" or "no additives added." Choose a 12- to 20-pound turkey. If the turkey is frozen, thaw according to the package directions before brining.

Remove and discard any leg restraints from the purchased turkey. Remove the giblets from the neck cavity and the neck from the body cavity (save in the refrigerator or freezer for making Perfect Turkey Giblet Gravy. Trim away any large areas of fat or excess skin around the body cavity, and cut off the tail.

Rinse thoroughly, inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels.

Choose a container large enough to hold your turkey and brine mixture, plus it must be able to fit either in your refrigerator or a large cooler.

Your turkey is now ready for brining.



Poultry Brine Recipe:

Recipe Type: Poultry and Chicken
Yields: enough for one (1) whole turkey
Prep time: 30 min



For each gallon of cold water used in the brine, add the following:

3/4 cup coarse kosher salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup boiling water
1 gallon cold water
1 tablespoon black pepper

Optional ingredients for flavor:
Apple juice or cider

Bay leaves
Favorite dried herbs and spices (sage, oregano, thyme, basil, cloves, cinnamon, etc.)
Cracked black peppercorns
Lemon or orange slices
Crushed garlic cloves
Sugar (granulated, brown sugar, or maple syrup)


Equipment Needed:

  • Whole Turkey: A heavy-duty large food-grade plastic, stainless steel, or glass container (5- to 6-gallon). Large brining bags may also be used. Weight with a plate, if necessary, to keep the meat fully covered by the brine. See above How To Refrigerate Poultry During Brining.

  • Chicken: Stainless-steel bowl or re-sealable plastic bag can work as a brining container, as long as the poultry is fully submerged. Weight with a plate, if necessary, to keep the meat fully covered by the brine.

Determine How Much Brine Is Needed:


To determine how much brine you'll need, place the poultry (chicken or turkey) to be brined in your chosen container. Add water to cover. Remove the poultry and measure the water.

Brining Directions - How To Make Poultry Brine:

One of the great things about brining is that there are so few rules. Most brines start with water and salt — traditionally, 3/4 pound of salt per gallon of water, but since we’re not concerned with the brine as a preservative, you can cut back on the salt. The amount of brining time is likewise not set in stone. Even a little brining is better than none.

Dissolve salt and sugar in the boiling water. Add it to the cold water; add pepper and stir to combine.

What type of salt to use in brine: Kosher salt and table salt (without iodine) are the most common salts used in brining. Sea salt can be used, but it tends to be quite expensive. I usually use coarse kosher salt.

A cup of table salt and a cup of kosher salt are NOT equal. Table salt weighs approximately 10 ounces per cup and kosher salt weighs approximately 5 to 8 ounces per cup (depending on the brand). If using kosher salt in a brine, you must use more than 1 cup to achieve the same "saltiness" you would get from 1 cup of table salt. To learn about different types of salt and how to use them, check out the article =Salt - The Spice of Life=.

container of saltThis chart shows substitutions for the two most popular brands of kosher (coarse) salt for 1 cup of ordinary table salt (remember without iodine) when brining poultry.

Table Salt (without iodine) - use 1 cup
Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt - use 2 cups

Morton Kosher Salt - use 1 1/2 cups

What flavorings to add to brine:
You can add flavor in all sorts of forms such as herbs and spices. Use brown sugar, honey, or molasses in place of the sugar (some sweetness tends to offset a saltiness the brine might otherwise impart). You can also use apple juice, cider, orange juice, beer, wine, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, stock, tea, or other liquids to replace some or all of the water. You can also put together decidedly Oriental flavorings with soy sauce or the Japanese rice wine mirin. In other words, be creative with the flavorings!



Refrigerate Turkey While Brining - Refrigeration is absolutely required during brining:

The main logistical problem with brining is that you need a container that is large enough to submerge your turkey in the brine, but will fit in your refrigerator or cooler. The meat and brine solution must be kept below 40 degrees F. at all times. Since brining does not preserve meat, the turkey and brine must be kept refrigerated at all times.

Refrigerator -  If storing the poultry in the refrigerator during brining, check to make sure that the container will fit in your refrigerator first! A container large enough to hold a whole turkey might be too big for your refrigerator.

Picnic Cooler -  First, choose a cooler that is large enough to keep the turkey completely submerged during the brining process. It is important to thoroughly clean and sanitize the cooler before and after use.

You must keep the poultry and brine cold without diluting the mixture when using a cooler. Put the meat and brine directly in the cooler, then place Ziploc bags filled with ice or reusable gel packs into the brine solution.

Another approach is to put the turkey and brine into a turkey oven roasting bag or brining bags inside the cooler, and then pack ice or gel packs around the bag.

Monitor the temperature of the cooler (using a Digital Thermometer) to make sure it stays below 40 degrees F. at all times.

Turkey Brining Bags:

Use large brining bags. These brining bags are very easy to use and take up less room in your refrigerator or cooler. Bags are sold large enough to hold a 20-pound turkey. Every now and then, turn the bag around and upside down to ensure even brining.

For brining chicken, I use either small brining bags or regular re-sealable plastic bags.

How Long To Brine Poultry:

It is possible to end up with meat that's too salty for your taste. To avoid this, brine on the low end of the time range on your first attempt. You can always brine longer next time, but there's no way to salvage a piece of meat that's been brined too long.


Whole Chicken (4 pounds)

4 to 12 hours

Chicken Pieces

1 to 1 1/2 hours

Whole Turkey

1 to 2 days

Turkey Breast

5 to 8 hours

Cornish Game Hens

1 to 2 hours


Do not salt brined poultry before cooking. Cook poultry according to your favorite recipe. Do not overcook your brined poultry. Once brined, the poultry cooks faster, so be careful and use a Meat Thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat.



Turkey Cooking Techniques:

Thanksgiving TurkeyGuidelines For Roasting a Whole Turkey - Learn how to safely and easily prepare and roast your turkey. Oven-Roasted Turkey Tips.

Cajun Fried Turkey - This way of cooking your turkey is anything but greasy as the deep-frying process seals the outside and the turkey remains incredibly juicy, while the skin gets wonderfully crispy.

Barbecued Turkey - Avoid the mess in your oven and use your barbecue.

Outdoor Turkey Pit Cooking Recipe - Turkey In the Hole Recipe - This style of pit cooking is also know as "Bean Hold Cooking." If you have the time and place to cook your holiday turkey in an outdoor pit, wouldn't this make a great Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey dinner.

Smoked Turkey - Enjoy the delicious smell and taste of the smoked turkey.

Planning your Thanksgiving dinner:

Thanksgiving Day is the time to gather with your friends and family, turn on some football, and enjoy your Thanksgiving meal. Plan ahead and have a wonderful stress-free Thanksgiving dinner:

Thanksgiving Turkey - Do you know that a frozen turkey is fresher than a fresh turkey? Hints and tips on preparing your Thanksgiving turkey.

Thanksgiving Planning - Have a Stress-Free Thanksgiving - The Thanksgiving dinner is a simple meal to prepare. All it takes to pull it off is some advance planning. The best advice is to write down everything you'll do and then prioritize according to your needs and schedule. And, above all, give yourself ample time to prepare everything; do not "rush things."

Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner Menu (with recipes) - Check out some ideas and recipe for your Thanksgiving dinner menu.

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