How to Brine a Turkey for Thanksgiving: 3 Basic Steps

butterball turkey

Yesterday as I was chauffering my kids around town to various events – I caught a segment on NPR where Alton Brown (Host of Iron Chef America) proceeded to tell Melissa Block (Turkey traditionalist) that she was doing her turkey all wrong.

First of all – I love Alton Brown – he’s nerdy in a high-school science teacher kind of way. Secondly – I was NOT having any of his guff about turkey traditionalists being wrong. Don’t baste my turkey? My grandmother would be ashamed of me!

But somehow, by the end of the episode – he had convinced me to skip my traditional methods for once and try brining my turkey this year. (He’s so darn convincing!)  It’s true – I’ve never been  completely wowed with my turkey on Thanksgiving – and according to Alton,

“….you should be wowed. You should be like, oh, wow, that’s turkey.”

So okay – I want a WOW Turkey. Show me how to brine Alton! I’ve spent the last couple days watching YouTube videos about brining a turkey and reading articles on the science of brining – now I’m ready to jump in.

Here are the 3 Basic Steps I’ve learned after researching how to brine a turkey:

  1. The Turkey:
    Start with a fresh or thawed turkey the night before Thanksgiving. (Make sure to buy a turkey that isn’t a self-basting or Kosher, as they already have a salty solution). Take out any innards and rinse off the turkey. Pat it dry completely.
  2. The Brine:
    Find a container for your brine that’s big enough to hold both the brine liquid and the turkey. (Some options: a big stockpot, a 5 Gallon Bucket, or one of those enormous heavy duty Ziploc bags.) Make a brine in a large pot using one of the many recipes online – or this basic recipe of Alton’s:
    – Pour in 1 Gallon of Veggie Stock
    – Stir in 1 C Salt and 1/2 C Brown Sugar, Stir until dissolved
    – Add these spices: 1 Tbsp Peppercorns, 1/2 Tbsp Allspice Berries, 1/2 Tbsp Candied Ginger. If you don’t have the last couple ingredients – Alton says that’s ok, it’ll still be good. (I told you I love that guy – he’s so understanding!)
  3. Turkey Meets Brine:
    Leaving the lid on, bring the brine to a boil on the stove and then turn off the heat. Let it cool to room temperature and refrigerate it. Once cold, move the brine to your official brining container, pour in 1 Gallon of heavily iced water, and put the turkey in, breast-side down. Leave it in the brine for 6-12 hours (or overnight). Turn the turkey once during the brining.

Now – the next day, just wash off the brine, pat the bird dry and rub it down with Canola oil. Place it breast-side-up on the bottom shelf of a 500 degree oven for 30 minutes. Then decrease the temp to 350, pull out the bird for a moment to tent the breast with foil, and put it back in the oven for another 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours*. (Until the inside temp reaches 160 degrees)  Remove it from the oven, cover it with foil or a giant lid/bowl of some sort and let it rest for 15 minutes. *For a 14-16 lb turkey

If you are just getting started like me – you can go over and order your basic brining supplies on Amazon and get started by Saturday afternoon!

Fire & Flavor Turkey Perfect Herb Brining Kit

If you’re new to brining like I am, one of these kits is perfect for you – depending on what you are wanting to cook. With Thanksgiving coming so soon, these Brining Kits are selling out fast! This Fire & Flavor Brining Kit uses a Rosemary, Bay Leaf and Thyme blend.

Taylor’s Market Turkey Brine Brining Kit

The Taylor’s Market Turkey Brine Brining Kit includes their own special mix, brining bucket, and recipe!

Gourmet Gobbler Turkey Brining and Roasting Kit

This Gourmet Gobbler Turkey Brining and Roasting Kit is perfect for those who are on a Gluten Free Diet because this one is a Gluten Free Brining Kit that contains a Spiced Brine Blend, a heavy duty brining bag and a Smokey Peppercorn Turkey Rub. Just follow the directions on the box!

You can also purchase Brining Bags and Spices without purchasing a kit:

Stonewall Kitchen 6.5-oz. Farmhouse Turkey Brine

Turkey Brine Seasoning, 14.1 oz (400 g)

Elizabeth Karmel’s 24-inch Turkey Brining Bag

Regency Brining Bag

We’d love to hear about any of your experiences in brining a turkey! How do you do it? Do you have a secret brining recipe? Leave us a comment and let us know!

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  1. Bed Bath & Beyond has the Fire & Flavor Turkey Perfect Herb Brining Kit listed above for 9.99 and you can use one of the 20% off coupons on it.

  2. I have brined my turkey in nothing more that salt water in a cooler (lined with a garbage bag) several times and it does come out flavorful and moist. This biggest problem is finding a turkey that does not have the solution already and being willing to pay a much higher price to get a fresh, natural one

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