How to Brine a Turkey

Dry turkey is a thing of the past with this recipe for garden herb and apple cider brine.
Add moisture and flavor to the Thanksgiving turkey by brining.

Add moisture and flavor to the Thanksgiving turkey by brining.

Add moisture and flavor to the Thanksgiving turkey by brining.

Add moisture and flavor to the Thanksgiving turkey by brining.

Ever spend the day roasting a 15 or 20 pound turkey for the big day only to end up with something so dry that gravy becomes the most popular commodity at the Thanksgiving table? Sure, the guests are kind. “Best Thanksgiving ever!” or “You sure put a lot of work into this.” They are careful not to mention the turkey directly, but you know.

Cooking the turkey too fast is often the culprit. Low and slow is the way to go to help avoid a dry turkey. Wrapping the turkey in aluminum foil helps, as does basting, but brining is an often-overlooked, virtually surefire method for avoiding the dreaded dry turkey and infusing spectacular flavor from breast to drumstick.

Brining involves soaking the turkey in a cold water solution of salt, sugar and herbs or spices. The process can take a long time, but the moisture and flavors absorbed by the turkey virtually guarantee a moist turkey. And there is no better way to ensure that the great taste of those garden-fresh herbs fully penetrate the meat.

The procedure is simple, but can be unwieldy. Turkeys are big, and finding a vessel big enough to hold the bird and brine may be a challenge. Trash bags are not food-grade plastic and should be avoided. If a non-reactive pot large enough to do the job is not available, consider using a cooler. If living in cooler climates, take advantage of the cold weather by simply placing the cooler or container of choice on the back porch for the duration (you may wish to set something heavy on the lid to discourage curious animals).

The typical brine should include roughly ¾ to 1 cup each of salt and sugar and several sprigs of your preferred herbs to allow full penetration. The longer it soaks, the richer the flavor and moister the turkey will become. If planning to deep fry instead of roasting, cut the amount of sugar in half to prevent blackening.

If trying your hand at brining this year, make sure the turkey you select has not been pre-brined or seasoned. Buy fresh or thaw your turkey completely before brining to maximize absorption.

Try this easy brine that combines fresh garden herbs commonly used to season Thanksgiving turkey with a tangy apple cider to produce a tender, tasty bird with a touch of tart apple flavor that plays well with the more traditional flavors.

Garden Herb and Cider Turkey Brine

  • 1 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 gallon water
  • 1/2 gallon apple cider
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh sage
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns

Dissolve salt and brown sugar in water and cider in a large pot and bring to a boil.

Remove from heat and add rosemary, sage, thyme and peppercorns.

Refrigerate until cold.

Place turkey in a large, non-reactive pot or other food-grade container and add brine.

Add cold water, as needed, to completely cover turkey (if the bird floats, you can use a plate to keep the turkey submerged)

Store chilled for at least 1 hour or up to 2 hours per pound of turkey (e.g. A 12-pound turkey should be brined for at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours).

Drain brine and pat turkey dry before roasting. For a crispy skin, allow the turkey to rest uncovered in the fridge for several hours before roasting.