The Best Way To Brine Turkey

Preparing a holiday turkey is a juicy mission. We’ve got a secret weapon (or two) that will lead you to victory.

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Roast turkey on a bed of salad

Simple roasted turkey recipes are guaranteed success. Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Cooking the perfect turkey is an annual mission. We go to extremes (and even pay extreme prices) to get fresh, high-quality birds. So, what is the best way to prepare it? There are more than a few opinions, but for the most part people fall into two categories, those who brine, and those who don’t.

Advocates of brining argue that the process results in a tender, juicier more flavourful turkey. There are two methods of brining, wet and dry. Wet brining involves submerging the turkey in a saltwater solution for up to a day before roasting. When dry brining, the cavity of the bird is salted, then salt is generously rubbed over the turkey. It’s then placed in a plastic bag, and left to sit in the fridge for up to a day.

What is the purpose of a turkey brine?

It allows for moisture absorption. In the case of wet brining, the salt water solution is absorbed into the turkey. The function of the salt is to alter the protein structure of the meat, allowing the muscle fibres to relax, letting moisture into the turkey. It also reduces how much the protein contracts when heated, so less water is forced out as it cooks, so most of the water absorbed during brining will remain there once it’s cooked, resulting in a juicy bird.

Dry brining functions in a similar way. Once a turkey is rubbed with salt and left to sit, the salt naturally pulls moisture out of the turkey. This moisture combined with the salt becomes a natural brining solution that is then reabsorbed into the bird.

Pros

Those who brine their birds swear by it. The extra step seems to rid the holiday table of the dreaded dry-as-a-bone turkey. It can also perk up a lower-quality bird. A brined turkey will be juicy and tender.

Cons

Brined turkey can sometimes taste watery due to the amount of liquid introduced. The water can dilute the natural flavour of the turkey, replacing it with saltiness. Wet brining is also very tricky. First of all, you need a tub or container large enough to hold both the bird and the brining liquid. Second, this tub must be refrigerated for the whole process, keeping the turkey cold (this is where a second fridge comes in handy). Some people prefer to brine in a cooler, but then have to keep a close eye on the temperature.

wet turkey brineHow To Brine Turkey Overnight

Should you try a turkey brine solution?

Of course! It’s always good to experiment with new and different techniques of cooking. However, holiday crunch-time may not be the time to try if you haven’t brined before. For now I’d say skip the brine and just buy a good bird.

Turkey brine recipes

If you’re going to take a run at it, make sure to check out our top 10 tips for a perfect turkey. If you’re interested in trying either a wet- or dry-brined turkey, here are the basics:

*Note: For these recipes you MUST use kosher salt:

Wet turkey brine

Stir 28 cups of hot water with 1 1/2 cups kosher salt and 1/2 cup sugar in an extra large pot until dissolved. Throw in any herbs or spices (such as rosemary sprigs, whole peppercorns or crushed garlic cloves) and let cool to room temperature. Add your 18-20 lb turkey and soak overnight in the fridge. Remove from brining solution and rinse if desired. Dry very well. Proceed with your roasting ritual.

Dry turkey brine

Rub the inner cavity of an 18-20 lb bird with 2 tbsp of kosher salt. Rub the exterior with 1/3 cup kosher salt. Place into a turkey bag or plastic bag. Place on a baking sheet. Let sit in the fridge for 24 hours, flipping once halfway through. Remove from bag and rinse if desired. Dry very well, and then proceed with your roasting ritual.

Originally posted December 2014. Updated December 2018.