The Art of Turkey Brining

Brining a turkey

Turkey brining Gene Kim/Flickr/2003/CC BY 2.0

During the process of brining a turkey, water is infused into the bird's raw flesh to help it swell up and season the meat thoroughly. Fans assert that brined turkeys appear more tender and moist when cooked. They also claim that the additional saltiness makes the turkey meat irresistible for salt lovers.

People who aren't fans claim it muddles the flavor, gives the meat an odd texture, and ruins the gravy.

Others assert that although they have done it for years, it is no longer worthwhile because it involves too much work for a negligible benefit, and as such, it has served its purpose.

A kosher turkey should not be brined because it has already been salted. Additionally, it is advised against using the method with a self-basting turkey. Do not brine a kosher or self-basting turkey when roasting it because it already contains a significant amount of sodium. ”

Safety measures

  1. Avoid washing the turkey before beginning. Washing a turkey can spread germs outward up to a few meters (5 to 6 feet). In any case, it does a poor job of eliminating bacteria.
  2. The turkey must be kept in a safe temperature range between 1 C and 4 C (between 33 and 40 F) while brining. ) In addition, pests can proliferate, contaminate food, and degrade meat. Salted water won't prevent the nasties from thriving. (And below that, obviously, there won't be any brining because the meat will freeze. )
  3. Turkey must be treated as potentially harboring harmful organisms like salmonella, campylobacter, clostridium perfringens, etc. One drop of uncooked turkey juice is enough to make one sick. Be cautious of any potential contamination. It might be ideal if you have a space other than the kitchen to do the preparations, such as a basement, garage, balcony, etc.
  4. Clean up After preparation, sanitize any contaminated kitchen surfaces. Sanitize any relevant surfaces and any reusable tools once the brining is finished. Use a mixture of water and bleach. "Work surfaces, equipment, or other items, including can openers and clothing, that may have come into contact with suspect foods or liquids should be treated with a fresh solution of one part unscented liquid household chlorine bleach (5 to 6% sodium hypochlorite) to five parts clean water. Spray or wet the bleach solution onto the contaminated surfaces, then let it stand for 30 minutes. ”

Turkey brining procedures

Start with a fresh or thawed turkey to brine. Avoid doing this with store-bought "self-basting" turkeys because they've already been injected with a solution and probably won't absorb any more, and avoid doing this with kosher turkeys because they've already been salted to draw the blood out.

Purchase a sizable, clean pot that will hold your turkey or a sizable pail that will fit in your refrigerator, whose cleanliness you can vouch for (see below). Have the largest measuring cup or jug available, roll up your sleeves, be close to a sink, have the salt and the turkey ready.

The turkey should be taken out of any plastic and any giblets, etc. should be placed in the refrigerator to be used to make gravy later. (Rinse the turkey under cold running water and put it in your pot or pail. Keep track of the amount of water as you add it to the measuring jug, then use it to cover the turkey with an inch (2 to 3 cm) of water. The time has come to add the salt. Use fine sea salt, which is also iodine-free, or uniodized table salt. Regardless of the size of the bird, Cooks Illustrated suggests a ratio of 400 g (1 cup / 13 oz weight) of salt to 4 litres (1 US gallon) of water.

For medium-sized 15-pound turkeys, a four-hour soak in a solution of 1 cup table salt per gallon of water works, but we were curious to see if the salt levels should be adjusted for smaller and larger birds. We brined light, medium, and heavyweight birds for four hours in solutions with salt contents ranging from 12 cup to 4 cups, with the exception of a dislike for the taste of the meat from the weakest and strongest solutions. Most variations were deemed acceptable by tasters... So even for a rather large or small bird, our standard formula of 1 cup of table salt per gallon of water is perfectly acceptable. ”

If brining overnight, they advise lowering the salt. "Halve the salt—use 12 cup table salt per gallon of water—for an overnight brine." ”

If you want to use kosher salt, they add that the amount needed will vary by brand even because brands differ in terms of coarseness: "Substitute 2 cups of Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt or 1 12 cups of Morton Kosher Salt for 1 cup of table salt." ”

Put your hands inside, stir the salt to make it dissolved, and then rub the salt into the skin of the turkey.

Put the container in the refrigerator after covering it with plastic wrap to prevent contamination from splashes. You must carry out this step in a refrigerator. Salted water won't prevent undesirables from growing.

Brining period

According to Cooks Illustrated, a turkey up to 7 kg (15 pounds) only needs 4 hours to cook. Evening brining is acceptable. (See above recommendation for overnight use of less salt. )

Additionally, they advise adhering to the suggested brining time of 4 hours and not brining for more than overnight.

"If you brine a bird for much longer than our standard four- or overnight brine, the bird will be too salty, but we didn't find significant differences in birds brined for an hour or two longer than that. Additionally, if you brine a turkey for only two or three hours, you won't get all the advantages of brining (meat that retains moisture, is well-seasoned, and is better able to withstand hot oven temperatures, which is necessary for crisp skin). ”

Preserving the turkey's ideal temperature

Anyone will find this difficult at this time of year when refrigerators are already overflowing. Instead, place frozen ice packs in the container with the turkey and then put it in a covered picnic cooler. The turkey must, for reasons of food safety, spend the entire time in the safe zone at refrigerator temperatures. If in doubt, you could also surround the pot or pail with ice. The range of "refrigerated temperatures" is 33 to 40 F (1 C and 4 C). )

If you don't have a pot or pail, you can purchase one of those Styrofoam/polystyrene disposable picnic coolers and do the brining inside of it while chilling the water with ice or ice packs. After soaking raw meat in it, you should probably prepare to discard the disposable picnic cooler because you might never be able to sterilise it again. If it's cold outside, you can also place it outside on your porch, balcony, garage, or other outdoor space (as long as there aren't any raccoons or stray cats where you live). )

Brining a turkey in a cooler

Turkey brining in a cooler CC BY 2.0 image by Andrew Malone from flickr from 2007.

Says Cooks Illustrated

If a refrigerator is not available, a sizable, food-safe container (such as a cooler) can be used to store the turkey. Before and after use, the container must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. You need to add enough ice packs or bags of ice to keep the container's temperature below 40 degrees F (4 degrees C) because it won't be kept in the refrigerator. Select a container that is sufficiently large to keep the bird submerged. ”

Be aware that some people fervently advocate brining in a sizable, airtight oven roasting bag, with the bird taking up only one rack in the refrigerator after that. Any plastic bag you use should be leak-proof and safe for food. You might want to double-bag because, on the busiest day of the year for cooking, a leak of raw turkey juice could force you to sanitize your entire refrigerator.

Turkey ready for brining in roasting bag

Turkey in roasting bag ready for brining Celeste Lindell/Flickr/2008/CC BY 2.0

A turkey being brined in a crisper drawer

Some people brine their turkey in their refrigerator's crisper drawer.

If you're thinking about doing this, make sure the turkey will fit in the drawer when it's closed first. (Pro tip: carry out this action prior to removing the turkey's packaging. Typically, this will only be effective with smaller birds.

As seen in the picture below, DO NOT directly use the crisper drawer as a brining basin. It would cause your refrigerator to become infected throughout by an open bacteria bathtub.

Instead, put the turkey inside a leak-proof, food-safe plastic bag. This essentially refers to a large, brand-new oven bag. Place the bag containing the turkey and brine in the refrigerator's crisper drawer after sealing it.

This is contaminated with raw turkey.

If the bag begins to leak, be sure to thoroughly sterilize the refrigerator's drawer and the area around it with a solution of water and bleach. Some people advise double-bagging the bird to help avoid this.

Brining a turkey in the crisper drawer

Avoid doing this Directly brining a turkey in the crisper drawer Afterward, the crisper and its surroundings in the refrigerator would require careful sterilization. 2012's insatiablemunch on Flickr; CC BY 2.0

Brining the solution with aromatics

To the brine, you can add aromatics if you'd like. Spices, citrus fruit pieces, onion slices, and apple cider vinegar Some people only care about aromatics. Pulling out the cooler and preparing the brine, with its specific, fixed list of aromatics, are equally important components of the holiday as playing front-yard football or grumbling about the Jell-O mold your brother-in-law insistence on making. ”

If you'd like, you could include some kind of sweetener. In 1999, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, created one of the first turkey brines that was discussed in newspapers. It contained sugar.

Reporter for the New York Times, R W Apple suggested to his readers to add fennel seed and star anise to that brine. The San Francisco Chronicle stated that they added "four juniper berries, five crushed allspice berries, and a head of garlic" to the Chez Panisse sugar-salt brine. ”

J, at least one food author, The Food Lab author Kenji López-Alt strongly discourages brining with any acidic substance, such as vinegar or citrus juice:

To start, avoid brining your poultry in cider (or any other acidic marinade, for that matter). Not doing it Simply don't The meat will begin to denature due to the acid in the cider, effectively "cooking" it without the use of heat. The outcomes Meat that is incredibly dry and has a wrinkled, completely desiccated exterior ”

The unfortunate truth about aromatics is that they might all be irrelevant: "There is no scientific proof that the brine actually carries those flavors into the meat... the molecules in cider, herbs, and other flavorings are too large to penetrate the membrane surrounding the meat before the salt molecules do. as a result, they don't impart much flavor to the turkey. ”

Cleaning an encrusted turkey

Remove the turkey from the brine and discard it.

After that, it is advised to thoroughly wash the turkey in cold water while rinsing off any salt residue. "Remove turkey from brine and rinse well under cool running water," advises Cooks Illustrated. ”

Because of the invisible spray of germs that contaminates nearby work surfaces up to a few meters (5 to 6 feet) away, washing raw poultry now goes against all food safety advice offered by all reputable food safety authorities. However, the brining procedure seems to require that extra salt be removed.

Here are some tips from the USDA. They claim that the only time you should wash raw meat is after brining it:

The only time a whole turkey, or any other meat or poultry, should be washed is if it has been brined, Before putting the turkey in the oven, cooks who are brining their turkeys at home or buying pre-brined turkeys must remove the brine. Here are some tips for reducing the chance of cross contamination if you intend to serve a brined turkey this holiday season.

... first spend some time clearing the area around the sink of dishes, dish drainers, dish towels, sponges, and other items. Then use paper towels to enclose the area around your sink. Awaiting the turkey, set the roasting pan close to the sink.

After thoroughly rinsing the sink, fill it with a few inches of cold water and clean it with hot, soapy water. Rinse the cavity with cold water, and then run the water slowly to avoid splashing. Verify that the water is coming out of the cavity's other end. The neck or giblets might still be inside if it isn't.

That's it, then. The remaining turkey doesn't need to be washed or scrubbed. Gently place the turkey in the roasting pan after holding it up to let the water drain into the sink. Remove the paper towels, scrub the sink with hot, soapy water, and then continue with your preparations. ”

The Extension Service at North Dakota State University claims:

"Water can splash up to 3 feet (1 meter) around your sink, along with all the accompanying turkey juice. Everything placed on it or nearby could later pick up those microscopic gifts. Be sure to completely disinfect your sink, counters, backsplash, and any other surface that might be contaminated if you do need to rinse your bird after brining it. ”

Cooks Illustrated and others advise letting the turkey sit on its own in the refrigerator overnight after brining and rinsing it to help it dry out:

"Air drying produces incredibly crisp skin and is worth the effort if you have the time and refrigerator space." Place the turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack placed over a rimmed baking sheet after brining, washing, and patting it dry. Refrigerate, uncovered, for eight to twenty-four hours. ”

Brining and roasting a turkey

Put your turkey in the oven and roast as usual after rinsing and, optionally, drying it.

Needless to say, the turkey doesn't need to be salted before cooking.

How to brine a turkey

Since salt from the water moves into the meat, it initially has the effect of making the meat a little bit drier by displacing water from the meat. However, the salt separates the protein fibers in the muscle, softening them, and creating space for more water, which then seeps back in from the brine.

The meat can hydrate by up to 10% of its weight. The turkey will lose some water during cooking but will still have enough to appear moister, and the weakened proteins make it more tender.

Problems with brining a turkey

Some complain that the meat with added salt is too salty for their tastes.

The majority of people concur that the juices from a brined turkey are too salty for them to use as pan gravy. Some people speculate that the reason for the salty juices may be that the cook was rushing at the end of the brining process and didn't thoroughly rinse the birds before roasting them. Others complain that it's too salty no matter how much they rinse it, so they always make sure they have chicken or gravy stock from a different source (or use the giblets). )

Because they believe that brining renders the drippings useless, many people dislike the process.

Harold McGee, a food scientist, commented on the topic in 2008, when brining was very popular. Although he acknowledged that brining makes meat more "juicy and tender," he refused to use brine because it made the meat too salty and destroyed the drippings for gravy. He also added that turkeys that haven't been brined have tastier meat because the natural flavor and juices haven't been diluted by tap water.

Others claim that any additional juice is essentially just more tap water with no flavor.

Others believe the meat has an odd texture as a result.

Brined turkeys no longer a thing?

Some chefs now believe that brining the turkey was once popular but has since lost its appeal.

Harold McGee was the first to speak out against it in 2008.

After a few years, J Former Cooks Illustrated contributor Kenji Lopez-Alt also abandoned the strategy. He stated in 2012 that he didn't like how much brining changed the texture of the turkey. He referred to it as "wet-sponge syndrome," where "the flavor is a little bland and the texture is a little too loose." ”

In 2018, famed New York chef Alex Guarnaschelli, who is known for his brining instructions, told the New York Times, "I'm so over it... It's very large. It's crooked It aims high. And the texture isn't always my favorite. ”

Furthermore, the New York Times declared brining a turkey out-of-style in 2018 to put a stop to the fad:

Many of us have been advising you to submerge your turkey in a bucket of flavored salt water for a day or two for almost 20 years now. It was promised that the dryness would be eliminated, and that there would be a foolproof answer to the problem of how to cook a bird with both light and dark meat. But turkey fashion changes, just like the length of a pant leg. The wet, salty turkey has lost some of its appeal, according to interviews with major figures in the food media conducted over the past few weeks. ”


Turkey brining, according to Cooks Illustrated, was first made popular by them. "Since we introduced the brined turkey in 1993," the company writes on its page about brining turkeys. ”

In 1999, Alton Brown demonstrated how to brine a turkey on his Food Network program "Good Eats."

The Berkeley, California restaurant Chez Panisse brined its turkeys, according to articles published in the New York Times and The San Francisco Chronicle that same year.

Pam Anderson published a turkey brining technique in her cookbook, "The Perfect Recipe," in 2001. She also included freshly made apple cider vinegar.

Editor of Gourmet Magazine Ruth Reichl then adopted the notion. She is cited as saying, "I did feel that once you started brining them, they tasted better."

Turkey brining had become popular by the time Cooks Illustrated editor Christopher Kimball recommended it in the early 2000s.


A. Rebecca Hays Turkey brining techniques Cooking magazine November 1st, 2004 January 2020 accessable at https://www cooksillustrated com/articles/36-how-to-brine-a-turkey

Mr. Harold McGee Just Salt Water, or a Miracle Cure? Times of New York November 12th, 2008

Julia Moskin In the Kitchen with Isaac Newton Times of New York: New York 24 Nov 2004

Kim Severson Bird in Brine Avoid bothering The New York Times, New York November 14, 2018 Page 1 of Section D

Roasted, brined turkey

Brined and roasted turkey 2010 photo by Dan Costin on flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0

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