How to brine a turkey for Thanksgiving

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Brining poultry before cooking is one of my favorite ways to increase its moisture content and enhance its flavor. There are a few ways to brine a Thanksgiving turkey. You can use a dry brine, a wet brine mixture or a saltwater brine.

Brining a turkey for Thanksgiving requires a little planning, refrigerator space and a short list of ingredients. Learn how to meet food safety requirements and choose the brining method that’s right for you.

Brining a turkey

Poultry brines are typically made up of a mixture of water, salt, sugar, herbs, spices and sometimes citrus peels. They can infuse your turkey with moisture, seasoning and flavor.

However, others believe brining a turkey is unnecessary and alters the natural flavor of the bird.

Dry brine. A dry brine is rubbed on the surface of the turkey and left on the bird for 24 hours before cooking it. It penetrates the meat more slowly than a wet brine and results in crispy skin and moist meat.

  1. Pat your turkey dry with paper towels.
  2. Make a seasoning blend that contains ½ tsp of Kosher salt and ¼ tsp of baking powder per pound of turkey and includes any herbs and spices you desire.
  3. Season the entire bird including the cavity, bottom and underneath the wings and drumsticks.
  4. Refrigerate uncovered for 24 hours before cooking.
  5. Brush the entire surface of the turkey with melted butter before cooking.
  6. Roast as you normally would.

Wet brine mixture. A wet brine mixture is made from water, salt and a combination of spices, herbs and sometimes citrus peels. It’s boiled and cooled before the turkey is completely submerged in it for 12-24 hours in the refrigerator. The result is succulent meat, but the skin is sometimes less crisp.

  1. Combine spices, herbs, citrus peels, sugar, water and salt (1 tbsp of Kosher salt per quart of liquid) in a large pot or container big enough to submerge your turkey. Make sure sugar and salt are dissolved completely.
  2. Submerge turkey completely in brine. You can also use a brining bag if refrigerator space is a concern.
  3. Refrigerate 12-14 hours before cooking.
  4. Remove the turkey from the brine and discard the brine. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels and allow it to sit uncovered at room temperature for 1 hour before cooking. You can also allow it to sit uncovered in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours before cooking to help the skin crisp.
  5. Coat turkey with softened butter.
  6. Roast as you normally would.

Saltwater brine. This third option is nearly the same as a wet brine mixture, but much simpler. 

  1. Combine 1 cup of salt for every gallon of water used. 
  2. Fully submerge turkey in brine and refrigerate for 24 hours.
  3. Rinse excess salt off off turkey after removing from brine and discard brine.
  4. Pat turkey dry with paper towels and allow to sit before roasting.
  5. Coat turkey in butter and roast as you normally would.

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