Hello and Welcome to Turkey Brine Recipes! This the where you can learn how to brine a turkey. Here you will find all kinds of brining recipes, do’s and don’ts, and include a catalog of the very best Turkey Brining products to choose from.
What is Brining?
Brining is a scientific process that adds moisture and sometimes other flavors to the turkey and keeps it from drying out when it’s roasted or fried. As the name implies, brining also adds a tremendous amount of salt to the turkey and is not good for people on salt-restricted diets.
I have been roasting and frying turkeys for the past 10 years and I had my first try at brining a turkey this past Thanksgiving, and I must say there is a really big difference in taste and texture. If you enjoy eating Turkey with your family for the holidays or whenever then I will suggest that you definitely find a good Turkey Brine Recipe and incorporate the Brining process for your Turkey. You won’t regret it!
There are many different ways to prepare the perfect turkey but in my opinion, the best method is brining. Planning in advance to brine your turkey is a must but it’s an easy process that will turn out the most flavorful and satisfying results. Brining is very similar to baking.
It is a scientific process, so it is very important to prepare the correct ratio of salt to sugar to water. Basically, the salt concoction unwinds meat proteins to form a hollow tube. The brine solutions get in the protein, carrying the flavors of the herbs and the other ingredients.
The solutions are trapped inside, creating a deliciously juicy turkey that is hard to resist. So take a look around here at Turkey Brine Recipes and discover good tips and some delicious recipes to spice up your holiday turkey.
The History of Brining
Brining has been used as the most common method to preserve meat. Meat is soaked for many hours in a very strong saltwater solution with the addition of sugar, spices, and other ingredients. This curing process binds the water in the meat or removes it altogether so it’s not available for the growth of food-spoiling microorganisms.
With the advent of mechanical refrigeration, traditional brining became less popular for food preservation but is still used today in the production of products like corned beef and pastrami.
Introducing Flavor Brining
In recent years, there has been a surge in popularity of “flavor brining”, a term coined by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly in the book The Complete Meat Cookbook.
While traditional brining was meant to preserve meat, the purpose of flavor brining is to improve the flavor, texture, and moisture content of lean cuts of meat. This is achieved by soaking the meat in a moderately salty solution for a few hours to a few days. Flavor brining also provides a temperature cushion during cooking—if you happen to overcook the meat a little, it will still be moist.
At a minimum, a flavor brine consists of water and salt. Other ingredients may include sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, fruit juices, beer, liquor, bay leaves, pickling spices, cloves, garlic, onion, chilies, citrus fruits, peppercorns, and other herbs and spices. Many recipes call for bringing the ingredients to a boil to dissolve the sugars and bring out the flavor of herbs, then cooling the mixture to below 40°F before use.
Sometimes a small amount of a curing agent like sodium nitrite or Morton Tender Quick (a mixture of salt, sugar, sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, and other ingredients) is added to a flavor brine. These curing agents create color and taste reminiscent of ham and help prevent the growth of botulism.
This is important when cold smoking brined meat at temperatures below 140°F or when smoking a large brined turkey that might not reach 140°F internal temperature within the first 4 hours of cooking. Sodium nitrite and Morton Tender Quick can be purchased at butcher supply stores or from suppliers like Allied Kenco. Tender Quick is also sometimes found in larger supermarkets.
It’s important to point out that not everyone likes the effects of brining on meat. Some people don’t like the texture that results, while others complain about the flavor, saying that it makes everything taste like ham (especially if sodium nitrite or Morton Tender Quick has been added to the solution) or that the meat tastes too salty. You’ll have to judge the results for yourself.
How Brining Works
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines diffusion as “the process whereby particles of liquids, gases, or solids intermingle as the result of their spontaneous movement caused by thermal agitation and in dissolved substances move from a region of higher to one of lower concentration.” Merriam-Webster defines osmosis as “movement of a solvent through a semipermeable membrane (as of a living cell) into a solution of higher solute concentration that tends to equalize the concentrations of solute on the two sides of the membrane.”
There is general agreement among food scientists and writers that the processes of diffusion and osmosis are involved in achieving equilibrium between the flavor brine solution and the meat—in other words, that these processes attempt to balance the difference between the amount of water, salt, and flavorings in the flavor brine solution and the amount of water and dissolved substances inside the meat cells. However, opinions differ as to the mechanics of this balancing act.
The most commonly offered explanation is that the flavor brine solution contains a higher concentration of water and salt than the meat, so the solution passes into the meat cells through their semi-permeable membranes, adding water and flavor to the inside of the meat cells. This explanation is offered by authorities including Cook’s Illustrated magazine and Robert L. Wolke, author of What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained.
Other experts state the opposite situation, but with the same end result: That meat cells contain a higher concentration of water and dissolved solids than the flavor brine solution, so the solution passes into the meat cells through their semi-permeable membranes, again adding water and flavor to the inside of the meat cells. Shirley O. Corriher, the author of CookWise, provides this explanation in her book.
Yet another explanation is that the flavor brine solution does not actually penetrate the meat cells at all. Instead, it just flows into the spaces between cells, where it draws out some moisture through the semi-permeable membrane of meat cells, increasing the concentration of naturally occurring sodium inside the cells. Some of the flavor brine solutions remain between meat cells where it flavors the meat. The California BBQ Association website provides this explanation in an article written by Joe O’Connell.
Regardless of the explanation, all sources seem to agree that a higher concentration of salt inside meat cells causes protein strands to denature. The tightly wound proteins unwind and get tangled together, and when heated, the proteins form a matrix that traps water molecules and holds them tightly during cooking.
In the case of the first two explanations, the denatured proteins hold on to some of the water, salt, and flavorings that flowed into the meat cells; in the case of the third explanation, the denatured proteins are holding on to free water that was already inside the meat cells and would have been lost had the meat not been brined.
Which of these explanations is correct? I’m not sure, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is that flavor brining results in meat that is more moist and flavorful than unbrined meat, regardless of which explanation you choose to believe.
Which Salt To Use
Kosher salt and table salt are the most common salts used in flavor brining. I use kosher salt most of the time because it dissolves quickly and it’s what most professional cooks use in their kitchens, but I also use table salt on occasion.
Sea salt can be used for flavor brining, but it tends to be quite expensive. If you have a cheap supply available, go for it; otherwise, stick to kosher salt or table salt.
Some people say that kosher salt tastes “cleaner” than table salt because it does not contain the anti-caking agents added to table salt. Some people prefer non-iodized table salt over iodized table salt, believing that potassium iodide creates an off-taste. However, these flavor differences melt away when salt is diluted in large quantities of water in a brine.
In an article about salt in the September/October 2002 issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, taste testers felt that “all nine salts tasted pretty much the same” when dissolved in spring water and chicken stock, whether it was 36¢/pound iodized table salt, 66¢/pound kosher salt, or $36/pound Fleur de Sel de Camargue sea salt from France.
Table salt and kosher salt do not have the same saltiness in a flavor brine when measured by volume—but they do when measured by weight. Table salt weighs about 10 ounces per cup, while kosher salt weighs 5-8 ounces per cup, depending on the brand. If using kosher salt in a brine, you must use more than a cup to achieve the same salt flavor you would get from a cup of table salt. The chart below shows equivalent amounts of table salt and the two most popular brands of kosher salt.
1 Cup – Table Salt
1 – 1/2 Cups – MortonKoshSalt
2 Cups – Diamond Kosher Salt
Morton Kosher Salt weighs about 7.7 ounces per cup, making it three-fourths as strong as table salt. Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt weighs about 5 ounces per cup, making it half as strong as table salt.
Low-Salt Brining Doesn’t Work
Some people find that flavor brined meat is just too salty for their tastes. Will a flavor brine still work if you cut the amount of salt in half? Not according to the November/December 2002 issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.
Choosing A Container
You’ll need a non-reactive container large enough to hold the meat and the brine.
- Food Service Containers: Cambro or Rubbermaid food-grade containers from a restaurant supply store
- Food-Safe Plastic Buckets: Used bulk food buckets. You can often get food grade HDPE buckets at restaurants, delis, and bakeries free for the asking. Think pickles, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, chocolate syrup, strawberry puree, shortening—all these things come in food-grade plastic buckets.
- Coolers: Large, medium, and small insulated ice chests
- Ziploc Bags: Big Bags XL (Photos 9-11) and 1- and 2-gallon sizes
- Reynolds Turkey Roasting Bag: Nylon bags intended for oven roasting
- Pots: Stainless steel or anodized aluminum (do not use regular aluminum)
- Bowls: Large glass, ceramic, or stainless steel mixing bowls
- Non-Food-Safe Plastic Buckets: Lined with a food-safe plastic bag, Ziploc Big Bags XL, or turkey roasting bag
Avoid garbage bags, used laundry detergent buckets, or other plastic containers not intended for human food use. See Food Grade Plastic Containers For Brining for more information. Also, keep in mind that the bigger the container, the more brine you’ll have to make, so match the size of the container to the meat. The meat must be completely submerged in the solution during the brining process. Place a heavy ceramic plate or bowl on top of the meat to prevent it from floating in the brine.
Refrigeration Is Required
Flavor brining does not preserve meat. The meat and brine solution must be kept below 40° at all times.
If storing the meat in the refrigerator during brining, check to make sure that the container will fit in your refrigerator! A container large enough to hold a whole turkey might be too big for your fridge.
If storing the meat in a cooler during brining, you must keep the meat and brine cold without diluting the mixture. 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 meat and brine into a turkey oven roasting bag inside the cooler, then pack ice or gel packs around the bag. Monitor the temp of the cooler to make sure it stays below 40°F at all times.
Estimating The Amount of Brine To Make
Place the meat in the container and cover it with plain water. Remove the meat and measure the remaining water to determine the amount of flavor brine you’ll need to make.
How Long To Brine
The length of time meat soaks in a flavor brine depends on the type of meat and its size, as well as the amount of salt used in the brine—the saltier the brine mixture, the shorter the soaking time. A common time for Turkey Brining is approximately 12 – 48 hours.
It is possible to end up with meat that’s too salty for your taste, so you may want to brine on the low end of the time range to see how it turns out. You can always brine longer next time, but there’s no way to salvage a piece of meat that’s been brined too long.
Brine Should NEVER Be Reused. Discard the brine solution after use. The brine will contain proteins, blood, and other stuff from the meat that is soaked in it. From a food safety standpoint, it is not advisable to reuse brine, even if it is boiled first.
To Rinse or Not To Rinse
Some recipes suggest that you rinse meat after brining, while others skip this step. Do whatever the recipe calls for. Rinsing is common in recipes with a very high salt concentration or recipes that contain sugar since sugar can burn on the surface of meat during cooking. Regardless of whether you rinse or not, make sure to pat the meat dry with paper towels before cooking.
Air-Drying Brined Poultry Skin
Cooking brined poultry at “low & slow” temperatures of 225-250°F can result in soft and rubbery skin. One solution is to place brined poultry on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet, pat it dry with paper towels, and let it sit uncovered in the refrigerator for several hours. This allows some moisture to evaporate from the skin so it browns better. Try 4-6 hours for chicken and 12-24 hours for turkey. Probably the best way to get better skin on brined poultry is to cook in the 325-350°F range. The higher temperature gets the fat under the skin hot enough so that it browns the skin.
Brined Meat Cooks Faster
Brined meat tends to cook faster than unbrined meat. Some people believe that the water added to meat through the brining process conducts more heat, resulting in faster cooking time. The more likely cause, according to Robert L. Wolke in an e-mail to TVWB, is that the denatured meat proteins are partially “cooked” by the brining process, so the heat has less work to do and the meat cooks faster. So, if you’re used to cooking an unbrined turkey for a certain length of time, start checking the internal temp about 2/3 of the way through the normal cooking time.
How To Brine a Turkey
Brining makes the turkey very moist. And what makes brined turkeys so juicy? Salt causes the meat tissues to absorb water and flavorings. It also breaks down the proteins, resulting in a tender-seeming turkey. This means that–despite the moisture loss during roasting and the long cooking time–you end up with one juicy bird.
The real trick with brining is finding a container that’s large enough to submerge the turkey, yet small enough to fit in your refrigerator. Try a stockpot, a bucket, or a roasting pan; if you use a shallow roasting pan, you will need to turn the bird periodically so that each side rests in the brine. Place the container on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator (so spills won’t reach the foods below).
The Brining Process
The basic ratio for turkey brine is 2 cups of kosher salt to 2 gallons of water. Some recipes include sweeteners or acidic ingredients to balance the saltiness.
- Dissolve salt (and sugar, if using) in two cups of hot water.
- Stir in remaining gallon plus 3 ½ quarts of cold water.
- Remove giblets and neck from turkey.
- Immerse turkey in brine and refrigerate for at least eight hours but no longer than 24 hours.
How will you prepare your Turkey this year?
Many people put a lot of thought into how they will cook their turkey for the holidays each year. Some will people will deep fry it, some will set it on a rotisserie, and some will do it the old fashion way and bake it. Well whatever method works best for you, it is important to properly prepare your turkey before you decide on how it will be cooked.
If you’re anything like me, traditionally I started out baking my turkey dinners every year. Sometimes I would wash and dry the turkey and put a little salt, pepper, and oil on the outside, and put it in the oven to get a good crisp and brown surface.
As the years went by, I would gain a little knowledge on how to cook turkeys so I started making better basting sauces for the skin. Then I got into making different marinades for injecting my turkeys. Sometimes I would go the lazy route and purchase the Cajun-Creole marinade from the local grocery store.
Nevertheless, injecting a turkey got to be a pain at some point because I never knew exactly where to put the injection needle. So I would just pick random places on the turkey and fill it with marinade. Then there’s the other problem, once the turkey is done all nice and brown on the outside but as dry as the Mojave desert on the inside, I would have to drink a gallon of sweet tea just to help it down. I could never get the flavor just right. I mean, there were times when the turkey would come out alright, but it never was something that would just make you slap-yo-mama for!
When I first heard the word “Brine”, I thought that it was some type of mechanical process that would de-bone the turkey! Until one year, I was determined to prepare the best turkey dinner ever for my family. So the search began and I looked deeper into this process called turkey Brining and quickly learned that it wasn’t as complicated as I thought it would be.
I found a simple recipe called, “The Basic Brine” and decided that if it worked for others then surely I could get it to work for me. So I gathered my ingredients and prayed that it would turn out perfect because all eyes were on me cooking the main dish that year.
- 1-gallon vegetable broth
- 1 cup of sea salt
- 1 tablespoon crushed dried rosemary
- 1 tablespoon dried sage
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon dried savory
- 1-gallon ice water
I started the process 24 hours before Thanksgiving and carried out each step carefully. On Thanksgiving morning, I got up early just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything and that I was on time for dinner. By noon my turkey was in the deep fryer. My wife asked me if I was going to inject the turkey with the marinade and in confidence, I replied, “Brining is the way to go, there’s no need to inject the turkey” in my manly voice so she gave me this look with one eyebrow cocked up as if she was saying, “Oh my!”
By 1:00 pm, I was reading over the Brining process and the chemistry behind it. Then I got to the part where it clearly read, “Brined meat tends to cook faster than unbrined meat”. My next thought was that I had overcooked the turkey and I was doomed by my family and friends. All the other dishes were prepared and done except for the turkey. I slowly raised the handle on the deep fryer and the aroma of flavor was just overwhelming. The turkey was browner than it ever had been. It looked juicy and crisp so I was sure that it was done.
Needless to say, by the look on everybody’s face at the dinner table, I just knew that it was a winner. I’m talking about people who were eating my Brined turkey in silence. The after remarks were, that the turkey had flavor in every bite. It was tender, juicy, succulent, and a taste that would make you slap-yo-mama!!!
And that was just with “The Basic Brine” recipe. There are many brine recipes out there to choose from. Take a stab at your favorite brine recipe and watch your family close their eyes after the first bite.
Turkey Brine Recipes
Brining a Turkey makes it juicier and more tender. These Turkey Brine Recipes do that and add a lot of extra flavor to turkey no matter how you cook it. Perfect for grilling, smoking, or deep frying turkey.
To be quite honest, No one wants a dry Turkey!!! That’s why people have accepted the process of simple brining for years. The brine helps make a juicer and tastier Turkey. Salt, sugar, herbs, and water makes a basic and simple brine for Turkeys. Just make sure you use the correct container. A resealable plastic bag or a large plastic container is okay. You can use a plate or a large can to keep Turkey from floating to the top of the brine. I’ve tried this on my first go-around with Turkey Brining, and it was delicious. And this is only the basics!
The Poultry Brine
- 1 1/4 cup salt (2 cups Kosher or coarse salt)
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1-gallon vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon allspice berries
- 1/2 tablespoon candied ginger
- 1-gallon ice water
Pour vegetable stock into a large pot over high heat. Add salt, brown sugar, and spices. Bring to a light boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Pour in ice water and stir to combine. Place turkey in a large plastic container (at least 4 gallons). Pour brine over top. Refrigerate and brine for 1 hour per pound. Thoroughly rinse all the brine from the turkey before cooking. Otherwise, there will be a salty flavor to the turkey.
Apple Cider Brine
This brine is simple but flavorful. The resulting turkey is very moist, as all brined turkeys are, but using apple cider gives a wonderful, mellow apple flavor to the turkey that is very pleasing. This recipe is light on spices and herbs to make it usable for a wide range of turkey recipes. For added flavor, add additional herbs, spices, fruit, or vegetables to the brine that you will be using in other dishes or when roasting the turkey. Some excellent additions are sage, rosemary, thyme, cloves, allspice, ginger, garlic, cranberries, fennel, oranges, and lemons…although probably not all at the same time of course!
- 8 cups apple cider
- 2/3 cups kosher salt
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 cup chopped carrots
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 4 cups cold water
- Combine the cider, salt, sugar, onion, carrots, bay leaves, and peppercorns in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the sugar and salt dissolve.
- Remove from the heat, add the cold water, and cool to room temperature. Wash the turkey inside and out and remove the giblets and neck and reserve for gravy or stuffing if desired. Place the turkey in a pot large enough to hold the turkey and the brine or else in a large food-safe plastic bag resting in a pot or roasting pan to collect any possible leaks and to make moving the turkey easier.
- Cover with the brine, making sure both cavities of the turkey are filled as well. Cover or tightly close the bag and refrigerate for 12-24 hours.
- If you are using a bag, rotate the turkey a few times to make sure all of the turkey gets brined.
- Before roasting, remove the turkey from the brine and rinse with cold water.
- Pat dry with paper towels and proceed with your favorite roasting method. Makes 2 servings.
When you’re ready to roast or fry your turkey, pour off the brine. Rinse the turkey well with cool tap water, and pat dry with paper towels. Tuck the wing tips behind the back and place the bird, breast-side up, on a roasting rack. Proceed with your preferred recipe, but remember that the turkey has already absorbed a significant amount of salt–any drippings that you use for gravy will already be salty, and no salt should be added to compound butter or spice rubs.
Are You Ready To Deep Fry Your Turkey?
Deep frying is my preferred method when preparing a Thanksgiving Turkey. Mainly because of its fried crispy skin and also because of the shortened time it takes to cook. Deep-fried turkey is practiced by many people in the United States but originated in the south as early as the 1930s.
The Deep Fryer
So what is Deep Fried Turkey? It is when you inject a turkey with your favorite marinade and fries it in a large apparatus called a Turkey Fryer at a temperature of 350 degrees F. This contraption includes a large stockpot with a lid, a burner, a poultry holder, a lifter, and a thermometer. The burner operates on a standard propane tank (which is sold separately). Most people use peanut oil to fry their turkey because it’s healthier to use and it is one of the most stable cooking oils that can cook your turkey at temperatures of 450 degrees F.
Using a deep fryer is no walk in the park and there are a few things that you need to consider when deciding to deep fry a turkey. However, before you light up your fryer, make sure that you have read all safety precautions and step-by-step instructions that will help prevent any accidents.
First, you need to make sure that you have a full or at least more than a half tank of propane gas. Propane tanks can be purchased locally at a grocery or convenience store. Next, you need to read the package on your turkey to see how many pounds it is to determine how long you will fry your turkey. A good-sized turkey is about 10 – 20 lbs.
You need to thaw out your turkey at least two days prior to the day you deep fry it depending on the size of the turkey. While larger-sized turkeys will need more than 2 days to completely thaw. Once thawed, you need to remove the giblets and the neck from the turkey’s cavity. You can either discard this or use it for gravy and stuffing.
You should always set up your deep fryer away from your house out in the open and never use your deep fryer on a patio, deck, or in a garage. Once you have your propane gas, your peanut oil, your deep fryer in place then the next thing you need to do is use the turkey-to-water measurement. This method will help you determine how much peanut oil to put in the deep fryer so hot oil won’t overflow while cooking. What you do is put the turkey in the stockpot and fill it with plain water until the water reaches about 1 inch below the top of the turkey. Then remove only the turkey from the stockpot and note where the water level reaches. This will be your oil level line. Dry both your turkey and the stockpot.
Deep Frying Turkey
Assuming that you have already prepared and used a Turkey Brine Recipe (optional), your turkey is ready for cooking. According to your deep fryer’s instructions, connect your propane tank to the burner and light it starting with a low flame. Pour the high-quality cooking oil into the stockpot and fill it to the oil fill line. Make sure that your thermometer is attached accordingly to your deep fryer. Slowly increase the flame until the oil reaches a temperature between 325 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Do NOT leave the deep fryer unattended. You may need to adjust the temperature control a few times to keep the oil at the right temperature depending on the weather outside. It will take at least 30 minutes for the oil to reach the correct temperature. In the meantime, your deep fryer should have come with either a turkey stand or a poultry basket. Most come with the stand so if you have the stand, place the loop of the stand through the neck of the turkey and exit the loop through the body cavity at the legs then tie the legs together with a piece of string.
Depending on the size of your turkey, your desired temperature should be at least 350 degrees F for turkeys 13 lbs. and under and 325 degrees F for turkeys 14 lbs. and over. Once you reach that temperature, slowly lower the turkey into the boiling oil partially and then lift it out. You should repeat this 3 or 4 times for it will help seal in the juices and keep the oil from spilling over. It is always a good idea to wear gloves and to stand clear of the deep fryer while it is cooking.
Finally putting the entire turkey in the hot oil, cook it for 3 to 3 1/2 minutes per pound. Turkey’s that have been brined will usually cook faster than normal so take note of the time that you submerge your turkey and watch it carefully. You should cook the turkey until the internal temperature reaches between 180 and 190 degrees F. Do NOT use the lid while frying.
When the turkey is done, grab the hook of the turkey lifter with heavy gloves. Slowly lift up the turkey out of the oil and let all excess oil drip down into the pot. You will know your turkey is done when you see dark brown crispy skin. Place the turkey on a clean surface over paper towels for extra draining.
The turkey must rest or at least 20 minutes before it’s time to carve it. You can place the lid on the deep fryer after cooking and let it cool for about 3 – 4 hours. The oil can be reused up to 3 times and then it’s time to toss it.
Deep frying can be very fun and rewarding when done with care. You can learn to appreciate all of the preparation that goes into deep-frying a turkey for the holidays. I suggest trying different injection marinades and definitely brining the turkey before any cooking methods. You won’t regret it.
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