Turkey: Tips on Brining

Over the years, I’ve made and eaten turkey prepared in a variety of ways:  butter and herbs rubbed on the skin or under the skin, roasted in a bag, and yes, even roasted with a brown paper bag that was buttered and pressed against the skin.  Luckily with all the experimentation, I haven’t had any disasters — and that has paid off, because although we still haven’t deep fried a turkey, we have found that brining is what we now prefer.  We may alter the ingredients of the brine, but the basic idea is that our turkey sits in a bath of very salty liquid for at least 24 hours before it’s roasted.

As Thanksgiving nears, many stores carry pre-made brining mixes, and we’ve tried those too.  Whether you choose to purchase or make your own mix, I know you’ll find that when you brine a turkey, it will be the most moist you’ve ever had.

Basically, the steps for brining are similar regardless of the recipe you choose:

1)  Mix herbs and spices and other ingredients
2)  Measure a large quantity of salt
3)  Add to water and heat to dissolve the salt
4)  Pour over turkey and keep cold for at least overnight


What really matters is that you do some planning.  Here’s what we used last year:

1)  A large stock pot to mix everything and heat brining solution.  If you don’t have one large  pot, then mix the salt with the brining herbs first and then split it in half.  Make two batches.  Don’t worry about exact quantities — it’s all going in the same bag with the turkey.
2)  A large Rubbermaid tub, plastic storage bin, big ice chest or clean trash container that can be lined with plastic bags is a necessity. It needs to be large enough for the turkey to sit in without touching the sides and more importantly, hold water and ice that will sit around the turkey on the exterior of the bags to keep the turkey chilled.
3)  Tall 13-gallon kitchen trash bags, doubled or tripled in case of leaks.  Ask me how I know this.
4)  Bagged ice.


Essentially, the brining solution is heated to dissolve the salt, then removed from the heat and cooled to room temperature.  Additional ingredients are then added.  Line the large container with the plastic bags and place the turkey inside.  If you can, turn the edges of the plastic bags over the edge of the container or have a helper hold them for you.  Carefully pour the brine over the turkey, making sure the liquid doesn’t escape if the bag adjusts to the liquid.  Tie the bags tightly and fill the exterior of the container with water and ice to keep chilled.  Brine at least overnight, but 24 hours is what we usually plan for.


Because we purchase fresh turkeys, there is no thawing time, so we keep an eye on the bird as it brines, adding ice to the exterior to keep things chilled.

Last year, we used Food & Wine’s Alsatian-Brined Turkey with Riesling Gravy recipe and it was excellent.



  • We’re paranoid about poultry sitting in a warm environment for an extended period of time, and since our extra fridge isn’t large enough to hold a turkey and brine, we’ve gotten used to the whole container idea.
  • The first mistake we made years ago was to pour in the brine before the bag was set in its container.  A 20-25 lb. turkey plus gallons of brine is way too heavy for a plastic bag — even if it’s doubled.  And if you can lift it, the chance of catching it on something and tearing it is fairly high when you use a metal container.
  • Here are other resources you may be interested in if you’re considering brining a turkey

SFGate:  Top Thanksgiving turkey:  Brine and roast
Tauton Fine Cooking:  Why brining keeps meat so moist
Culinate:  How to brine and roast a turkey
Foster Farms:  Brining Turkey