How To Brine a Turkey

Prepare your holiday main event by locking in moisture.

By Leah Brickley for Food Network Kitchen

Want to set turkey up for success? Then consider brining your bird for more flavorful and extra-moist meat. With minimal planning and some extra space and time, you'll need just a few pantry ingredients to achieve turkey success.

What Is Brine?

A traditional water-based (wet) brine is a mixture of water, salt, sugar and aromatics — like herbs, spices and citrus peel. That brew is brought to a boil and then cooled before you plunge your bird in to take a bath in it (usually for no more than 24 hours).

One of the biggest complaints about wet brining is the physics of it all — you need a vessel large enough for the turkey, plus enough fridge space to keep it cold while it takes a swim. A large stock pot in a mostly empty fridge works, as does a brining bag, which take up less space. Some enthusiasts dunk their turkeys in insulated coolers and let them sit outside in the cold — it's important that the internal temperature in the cooler be less than 41 F for food-safety reasons. An alternative that requires less refrigerator real estate is dry brining, when a concentrated mixture of salt, sugar and aromatics is rubbed all over the turkey before it's chilled overnight and then rinsed and air-dried. You'll get the same infusion of flavor and extra moistness without a vat of liquid to contend with.

What Does Brine Do for a Turkey?

The theory is that both the skin and meat take on extra flavor, and the additional water can make the meat moister. Brining is in the eye of the beholder (or mouth of the taster), and many feel that it's an unncessary step that involves too much effort for not enough payoff. But if you think it makes a difference then go for it.

How Long Should I Brine My Turkey?

When it comes to bringing, more isn't necessarily better. If your bird sits in that salt-and-sugar mixture for too long, the protein can begin to break down, which can mean mushy meat. A good brining range is eight to 24 hours.

What Brine Should I Use?

When it comes to choosing between a wet or dry brine there's vitually no difference in the end result. However, the process is less messy with a dry brine, plus there's no time spent waiting for a wet brine to cool down.

Do I Need to Season a Brined Turkey?

If you follow a balanced brine recipe like our best turkey brine or dry-brined turkey with classic herb butter, then there is no need to season with additional salt. This is especially true if you plan to make gravy with the pan drippings — it could end up too salty. Feel free to rub your bird down with butter and proceed with roasting as you would normally.

The Most-Important Step in Brining

Whether you choose to wet or dry brine your turkey it's important to calculate enough time for air-drying — the skin will be extra brown and crispy. Let a brined and rinsed turkey dry, uncovered, in the fridge ideally overnight but realistically even for just a few hours — it's worth it to budget the time.

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