As we get close to Thanksgiving, I hope that you have many things to be thankful for this year. I’m grateful to get to spend some quality time with family and friends. I’ve been working on meal planning for Thanksgiving this week and have my full menu ready (check it out and print it here).
Of course, the main part of many Thanksgiving meals is the turkey, but many people miss out on one simple step that makes it at least twice as delicious: brining.
Why Brine a Turkey?
Brining is essentially the process of soaking a turkey in a salt and liquid solution for at least a day prior to roasting, grilling or frying. This adds flavor and moisture and helps the turkey retain flavor during cooking. This is especially helpful if you use a pastured organic turkey since many conventional turkeys are essentially pre-brined with a vegetable protein (aka soy) solution.
Pastured turkeys, especially those from a local farm, won’t have this added solution to increase the moisture in the finished product but you can add it in an even more delicious (and healthy) way by brining.
Turkey Brining Ingredients
The essential elements of brining a turkey are:
- Liquid of some kind: Water works but I like to add apple cider and bone broth for added flavor.
- Salt: The common amount is 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup per gallon of water. I personally like to use 2 gallons of liquid and 1.5 cups of salt.
- Spices: Add any spices of choice. I like to add minced garlic, cracked pepper, and thyme. I also like to add two lemons and one orange, both zested and sliced.
You can customize these elements to suit your own taste and in a pinch, just use water, salt and any spices you like.
How to Brine a Turkey
The process of brining a turkey is much easier than the process of roasting one. It also makes the roasting process faster and the finished product more delicious. There are several ways to accomplish the practical steps of brining but the main thing is that you need to have a big enough air-tight container that maintains a cold enough temperature for long enough. The two ways I have accomplished this are:
- In a large stock pot in the fridge– this only works if you have room in the fridge, and I often don’t this close to Thanksgiving. The best and easiest way I’ve ever done this was the year I did have room in the fridge and I put a frozen turkey in the brine in the fridge two days before Thanksgiving in a 5-gallon food grade bucket. It defrosted and brined in those two days and the results were great.
- In a large cooler with constant ice– A little more work but it provides just as good of flavor if you don’t have fridge space. You’ll basically put the turkey in a large air-tight bag or container of some kind and pack ice around it. You’ll want to check it to make sure that it is maintaining a temperature above freezing but below 40 degrees.
The other great thing about brining is that you can do this if you have only a day or two until Thanksgiving and haven’t defrosted the turkey yet. The brine can defrost the turkey more quickly and infuse flavor as it does.
My Favorite Turkey Brine
This is my go-to recipe and the one I am prepping for this year…
How to Brine a Turkey (and Why You Should)
Yield 2 gallons
Make this simple and flavorful brine for your turkey this year and be amazed at how much flavor and moisture it adds to the finished meal!
- 1 gallon of warm water
- 1.5 cups of salt
- 3 quarts apple cider
- 1 quart broth (or more apple cider)
- 6 sprigs of thyme or 1 tablespoon dried
- 8 cloves of garlic minced
- 2 lemons, zest and slice
- 1 orange, zest and slice
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves, optional
- Dissolve the salt in the warm water.
- Add the apple cider, broth, thyme, garlic, lemons and orange and stir to combine.
- Place the turkey in whatever container you will use for brining (stockpot, 5-gallon bucket, or bag) and add brine.
- Cover or seal tightly and leave at least 24 hours but no more than 48 before your planned cook time. TIP: Place breast side down and make sure brine is touching all sides, if possible.
- Before cooking, rinse well and pat dry. I recommend rubbing skin with butter and adding spices before roasting.
- TIP: Roast breast side down and stuff with 1 apple, 1 lemon, 1 orange and 1 onion (all quartered). I roast uncovered at 450 for 45 minutes and then cover and reduce to 325 until done.
Happy Thanksgiving! Share your favorite recipes or memories below!