Your guests want moist, well-seasoned turkey. You want easy solutions. Meet brining — a nearly foolproof way to achieve the turkey everyone wants. But where do you start? Brining your bird to juicy, crispy perfection may seem intimidating, but with the right game plan, it’s easier than you think. If you brine, this year’s turkey could be next year’s legend. Here’s what every home cook should know.
What is Brining?
Earn lots of wows with just a little work: Brining produces a tender, juicy bird with flavor infused throughout the meat. First things first, there are two different ways to brine a turkey:
What is it? This is a classic technique. It includes soaking the turkey in a saltwater solution for four to 24 hours before roasting. A big turkey in a big pot of water can get heavy and take up a lot of refrigerator space, so think about the logistics before brining a bird that's 20 pounds or more.
How to do it: You can get everything in place the night before cooking, including making and cooling the brine, and then start soaking your turkey five to six hours before you plan to begin roasting. Alternatively, decrease the salt by half and brine the night before. Something to consider: A big turkey in a big container of water gets heavy and takes up a lot of fridge space. (You can set it up in a cooler if refrigerator space is scarce. Just be sure to fill the cooler with plenty of ice and use a brining bag to contain the turkey and brining liquid.)
What is it? This is the new classic — the trendy way of brining your turkey. (Crispy skin fans, this one’s also for you.) It too yields a succulent bird, just without the water. Instead, the turkey is rubbed with a mixture of salt, sugar, spices and aromatics and then refrigerated for 24 hours. Why dry brining? The turkey can dry brine and roast in the same roasting pan and rack — fewer dishes are always a plus!
How to do it: Rub the turkey with a mixture of salt, sugar, spices and aromatics and then refrigerate it uncovered for 48 hours before roasting. Think of it as hands-off way to lock in moisture for a tender, full-flavored turkey with extra-crispy skin. The spice rub — plus time uncovered in the fridge — is what gives you that crispy skin.
Our Best Brining Tips
So, you want to try your hand at brining a turkey? Follow these tips to guarantee success, every single time.
Keep it clean: Containers must be cleaned and sanitized both before and after brining.
Watch the salt: Brining will produce salty pan juices. If making gravy with them, be sure to use low-sodium broth and don’t add any additional salt until you taste the gravy.
Don't stuff your bird: Also, don't stuff a brined bird; the stuffing will become too salty.
Want Crispier Skin? Pat the turkey dry with paper towels after removing it from the brine. You can place it on a rack and leave it uncovered in the fridge for a few hours before you cook it; this lets moisture evaporate and helps the skin caramelize better.
Don't Forget to Adjust Your Gravy: Remember that the juices from brined turkey will be quite salty, so adjust your gravy recipe by using only low-sodium stock and taste-test it first before you add any additional salt.
Brined Turkey Recipes
Get inspired with our favorite brined turkey recipes.
Three Twists on Basic Turkey Brine
Feeling adventurous? Level up the basic turkey brine with these three flavorful twists.
Smoky Brine: Use smoked coarse sea salt in place of the kosher salt.
Beer Brine: Replace all of the water with lager beer.
Spiced Cider Brine: Use a gallon of apple cider instead of water. Add zest of one orange removed in strips with a vegetable peeler, one cinnamon stick and one teaspoon whole cloves with the aromatics.