Brining Turkey
Is Better Than Drying Turkey


Brining turkey is my favorite way to prepare my holiday bird.

People’s biggest fear is that their turkey will be dry after cooking it. This is a reasonable fear, because “roasting” is a dry-heat convective cooking process. When roasted, your turkey is cooked indirectly through the use of hot air. Hot air will evaporate moisture, making your turkey dry.

When your frustration rises from another dry bird, you might resort to a deep fried turkey in an effort to achieve your goals. Deep frying turkey is expensive, dangerous, unnecessary, and the just the wrong way to cook a carcass. Submerging your holiday bird in liquid is a much safer way than deep frying to get a moist result. You can’t burn down your house while brining turkey.

If you fear a dry turkey, adding moisture BEFORE cooking is the best strategy. Just like a grilling marinade adds moisture and flavor to your steak, brining turkey is the opportunity to add flavor and retain moisture when cooking in a dry heat process.

The most important part of brining turkey is salt.

Salt will be the medium that draws the liquid and flavors of your marinade into the meat of your turkey.

It’s important NOT to use a Kosher or Self-Basting bird, because they have already been injected with saline solution. Brining these types of turkey will give you a very salty result.

I use 1 cup of salt and 1 cup of brown sugar as a base for brining turkey. These first two ingredients must be completely dissolved in hot liquid first. If salt or sugar crystals remain in the brine, they will not penetrate the muscle tissue. This would be like sprinkling salt and sugar on the outside of the bird.

Using a 5-gallon bucket for brining my turkey, I can now add any combination of flavorful liquids and seasonings that I desire. To keep with the Fall flavors, I decide to use apple juice, apple cider vinegar, bourbon, chicken stock, cinnamon sticks, and whole peppercorns in my mixture. I’ll add enough liquid to fill half of the 5 gallon bucket.

Food safety is extremely important when brining turkey. While the presence of Apple Cider Vinegar, an acid, will lower bacterial growth, the raw bird should be brined no longer than 24 hours, and must be kept below 40F (4c) to be safe. Most people don’t have a refrigerator large enough to hold a 5 gallon bucket, so improvisation is necessary.

If you live in colder climates, the bird-in-a-bucket can simply sit in your garage. If the temperature is to climb above 40F, you can use a large cooler to brine your turkey. Add ice to the cooler every few hours and use a thermometer to assure the safety of your dinner to be.

Now you’ve combated the drawbacks of roasting. The dry cooking process has been thwarted by the liquid and flavors you’ve added 24 hours before subjecting the bird to evaporation of liquids in your oven.

Brining turkey takes no special skills, no study, no special equipment, no gallons of expensive oil and fire extinguisher at the ready like a deep fried turkey. It’s a way to create the most moist, flavorful thanksgiving turkey you’ve ever been that proud of. And, it will leave the firemen out of your holiday dinner plans.

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About Chef Todd

Chef Todd Mohr is a Certified Culinary Educator who has empowered home cooks all over the world with the reliable, dependable, repeatable METHODS behind cooking that build confidence, generate creativity and enable anyone to cook with the ingredients THEY desire.

34 Comments

  • Chef Todd
    Chef Todd
    1:36 PM - 20 November, 2017

    Hi Liz!
    I generally brine my turkey 24-48 hours in advance. If you are smoking the bird, you should dry it as much as possible. Smoking is a cooking method that I cover in my WebCookingClasses. It uses indirect convective heat to cook the bird, so it should be suspended in a way that the smoke can surround it and it is not in direct contact with the heat.

    If you skin does not get "crisp" it's because the bird is too wet. A wet turkey will steam, a dry turkey will brown.

  • Rian Jacobson
    Rian Jacobson
    8:59 PM - 19 November, 2017

    Bourbon in the brine sounds tasty! We brine our bird EVERY year, and ALWAYS use an herb butter under and over the skin after it dries out in the fridge. A couple hours on the countertop before roasting, then we roast with veggies and broth either traditionally, or spatchcocked. YUM! Every year, my turkey has come out the best and its worth the effort. I prep mirepoix ahead of time, peel potatoes and store in water, cook and freeze pies, etc. so on roasting day I can focus on cocktails, hosting, and the bird. 🙂

  • Liz
    Liz
    7:58 AM - 18 November, 2017

    How long should we brine if we smoke our turkey in an electric smoker? Any specific directions for using an electric smoker for our turkey? Do we add any additional seasonings after brining?Last year the skin didn’t get crisp?
    Thanks for any tips or specific directions - we need help 🙂

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  • Chef Todd
    Chef Todd
    1:59 PM - 13 November, 2017

    Hi Eve!
    No, don't rinse the bird after brining, but drying it as best you can will speed caramelization of sugars (browning).

  • Chef Todd
    Chef Todd
    1:58 PM - 13 November, 2017

    Hi Leigh!
    When you have dependable, repeatable, reliable METHODS of cooking, you gain confidence. That confidence unleashes your creativity and you start inventing your OWN original dishes, you start to CREATE instead of cook. That's the approach of WebCookingClasses.

  • Chef Todd
    Chef Todd
    1:57 PM - 13 November, 2017

    Hi Arlene!
    No, do not rinse the bird after it's been brined.

  • Arlene Maxwell
    Arlene Maxwell
    6:21 PM - 12 November, 2017

    This was Eve's question, but it wasn't answered.
    Hi Chef!
    Am I suppose to rinse the bird after brining is completed?

  • Leigh Vipond
    Leigh Vipond
    4:01 PM - 12 November, 2017

    Thanks for instilling confidence! I'm going to try brining the turkey this year. I've never been an adventurous cook, but thanks to you, my family is noticing how much more flavorful and varied dinner is each night.

  • Eve
    Eve
    3:20 PM - 12 November, 2017

    Hi Chef!
    Am I suppose to rinse the bird after brining is completed?

  • Chef Todd Mohr
    Chef Todd Mohr
    6:22 PM - 16 November, 2016

    Hey Tommy!
    If you choose to brine the bird before deep frying be sure it is absolutely and totally DRY. One of the reasons I don't like deep frying (beside the fact that it's just the wrong method for a whole carcass) is that any moisture in the bird can cause your deep fryer to explode. Dozens of house fires occur each year because of excess moisture or even ice crystals on a deep fried turkey. BE CAREFUL!

  • Tommy phillips
    Tommy phillips
    4:26 PM - 16 November, 2016

    Okay... ive been frying my bird for a few years now. Still do that after i brine? If i decide to put it in the oven... how long for a 20 pound bird and what temp? Do i put the brine in the pan while cooking?

  • Chef Todd Mohr
    Chef Todd Mohr
    9:32 PM - 14 November, 2016

    Hey Mashalle!
    An oven bag is beneficial because it captures moisture, but the down-side is that moisture inhibits caramelization of sugars. If you want a crispy brown bird, you'll have to use direct source conductive heat at the end, like broiling the top.

  • Chef Todd Mohr
    Chef Todd Mohr
    9:31 PM - 14 November, 2016

    Hey Albert!
    A rotisserie is a great way to cook whole birds. You're fortunate to have that piece of equipment, it enables you to cook a large item with direct source conductive heat instead of indirect convective. The rotisserie is great because it's like a broiler or grill, but covers every side of the bird, not just one.

  • Chef Todd Mohr
    Chef Todd Mohr
    9:28 PM - 14 November, 2016

    Hi Leslie!
    You don't need to de-bone the turkey to brine it. If you ARE going to go through the trouble to remove all the bones from the bird, do so before you brine it.

    If you don't have the refrigerator space for a 5 gallon bucket, you can use a beverage cooler, keep it outside, and/or pack it with ice, monitoring the temperature to stay below 40F/3C.

  • Leslie
    Leslie
    8:46 PM - 14 November, 2016

    Hi Chef Todd, Thanks for the great tips. Question, Can I debone the turkey before brining
    or do I need to brine first? I don't have a lot of space for a big bucket

  • Albert
    Albert
    4:38 PM - 14 November, 2016

    Chef Todd,

    Excellent lesson on brining a turkey. I'll have to try it for my second Thanksgiving dinner this year! The way I cook my turkeys is I stuff them with pineapple chunks, Apple chunks and melon chunks, I inject it with a combination butter, chicken broth, ground up garlic and a bit of salt. Then I put it in a rotisserie, and occasionally brush the turkey with my mixture as it spins until it's done. It is the most juicy turkey ever and it is always a hit!

  • MASHALLE
    MASHALLE
    4:32 PM - 14 November, 2016

    Thanks for the brining tip. I'll give it a try this year just for fun. I've never really had a problem with dry outs due to oven bags, but this should be interesting with taste and moisture along with oven bag. I'll let you know.
    Again, thanks for the time and tip.☺

  • Chef Todd Mohr
    Chef Todd Mohr
    3:33 PM - 14 November, 2016

    Hey Art!
    Thank you for the suggestions.

  • Art Sobczak
    Art Sobczak
    3:16 PM - 14 November, 2016

    Great tips, Chef, thanks! I used to wet brine, and results were good, but a pain for sure. Several years ago I adopted the injection method. A mixture of butter, turkey broth, and seasonings. Extraordinarily moist. Also put some duck fat beneath the breast skin, and rubbed on the turkey to promote crispiness. And the drippings make for a crazy good gravy. And I spatchcock the bird. It cooks a bit quicker. I do it on a pellet smoker with maple pellets... a very subtle smoke flavor. Also I have a pan of water in there for moisture. You don't have the traditional visual effect with spatchcocking, but if you want that, like Anthony Bourdain suggests, do a separate smaller "stunt bird" for appearance while you slice up the better one.

  • Chef Todd Mohr
    Chef Todd Mohr
    6:09 PM - 20 November, 2014

    That's a good tip, Bill. The reason for the deep fryer flare-ups is the interaction of ice or water with the hot fat.
    If the bird is COMPLETELY dry, you can avoid the turkey fryer volcano.

  • Bill
    Bill
    3:46 PM - 19 November, 2014

    hi chef Todd I usually bake my bird and I brine it all the time but I have deep fried my turkey in the past and one trick I learned is to turn off the flame while submerging your turkey into the oil that way you don't have to worry about the over spell and causing a fire

  • Chef Todd Mohr
    Chef Todd Mohr
    9:05 PM - 14 November, 2014

    Hi Dennis!
    I don't have exact measurements for my brine. In general, the chicken stock has to be most of the liquid. Thereafter, the apple juice is next, less vinegar because of the strong taste and even less bourbon. It's hard to say because a 20 pound turkey will take 3 gallons of liquid in a 5 gallon bucket. An 8 pound turkey will take 2 gallons or so. I can only give proportions because I don't know the size of your bird. In general, if I were using 3 gallons of liquid, 1 3/4 gallons would be chicken stock, 3 quarts of apple juice, 1 quart vinegar, 1 pint bourbon along with a few cinnamon sticks and a handful of peppercorns.

    The turkey should be defrosted OR brined 3 days ahead of time. You can put a frozen turkey into a brine to defrost, it will actually protect it. If you don't have room in your fridge, and the temperature outside is below 40F, you can leave it in the garage. Otherwise, you have to pack the bucket in a cooler with ice to keep it below 40F

    Thanks for attending the webinar last night, I appreciate your kind comments.

  • Dennis
    Dennis
    8:47 PM - 14 November, 2014

    Relly enjoyed last night, but the accountant in me has the following brining questions.
    1.. 1st how mcuh water to use for salt and brown sugar. Then what amounts of apple juice, apple cider vinegar, bourbob, chicken stock, number of cinnamon sticks and peppercorns. Also, last night you mentioned in step three to place turkey in fridge 3 days prior to cooking, then 2 days later do the brine?
    Again, I really enjoy your classes that have made me a better cook.

    Dennis

  • Emmett Hines
    Emmett Hines
    5:19 PM - 15 November, 2011

    Yep, you do have to plan ahead and have the right equipment to do it safely. Alton Brown has a funny but useful step by step how to brine and fry a bird SAFELY - I particularly like his ladder trick - takes the most dangerous step (putting the raw bird in the hot oil) and makes it nearly foolproof...
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E270Qx5OpxU
    We like to fry up a mess of dressing hushpuppies while the bird is resting post-fry.

  • cheftodd
    cheftodd
    4:57 PM - 15 November, 2011

    Hey Emmett!
    I agree, I've had some fantastic brined and deep-fried turkeys. It's an involved process, but someone with EXPERIENCE can pull it off well. You've been watching my videos long enough to know I can go to extremes to make a point, and this is one of those cases. I just want to warn first-time-fryers that is an involved and dangerous process to be respectful of.

  • Emmett Hines
    Emmett Hines
    9:01 AM - 15 November, 2011

    We've been brining birds of all types for years. The double play of deep-frying a well-brined bird makes for a to-die-for moist and flavorful feast. It's tough to burn down your house if you choose your fry location away from, and downhill from, any standing structures. And not having a proper extinguisher close by would be a typical rookie mistake.

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  • cheftodd
    cheftodd
    11:41 AM - 20 October, 2010

    Thanks for the invite, Henry.
    It sounds like you've got great experience with deep frying and a good curiosity to try new cooking methods.
    Safety first in this topic.

    Todd.

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  • henry
    henry
    8:15 PM - 19 October, 2010

    Hi Chef Todd,
    I have enjoyed your classes and videos...
    Here is my take of turkeys,
    I used to live in Gulfport, MS and we allways fryed turkeys. I averaged 7 for family and friends on thanksgiving yearly.
    We moved to TN. and don't have the big crowd, so we only cook 2. (one for T-day, one for the rest of the week).
    I allways brine mine overnight, and inject with creole butter seasoning before frying. last year I tried something new, I bought a "Big Easy Cooker" it's infrared, gas, Oilless frying. this works very well, you cook by temp, not time. it's slower than frying (2 hrs vs. 45 min for a 12 lb. bird) but it's well worth it, no cost of oil and the skin is crisp. I have also cooked a pork loin, and chicken with good results.
    If your ever in TN, look me up.
    Well Thanks for the videos!!!
    Henry in TN.

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