I have been brining my Thanksgiving turkey for over 20 years and learned a few tips for a succulent bird. Use your favorite cooking method once prepped.
Timing: Start the brine the evening before, allowing at least 8 hours for the turkey to sit in the brine. It can brine up to 16 hours, especially for larger turkeys.
- Large Pot – at least 4 quarts
- Hard Plastic Cooler with Lid – large enough to hold your turkey
- Turkey Pan with Rack
- Aluminum Pan – to line the turkey pan for an easy cleanup
- Large Garbage Bags
- Ice or Ice Packs
I try to get the biggest turkey I can find, which is usually about 20 pounds. Start with a defrosted bird in the size of your choice. Remove giblets and neck from the cavity. Use them in your favorite manner.
In your largest pot add:
- 2 quarts water, can be part broth, or apple juice or a mix
- 1 & 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 3/4 cup sugar – you can use white, brown, honey or a mix
Everything below this is optional in the brine:
- Tablespoon each of your favorite dried herbs. Double that if using fresh herbs. You can add a spice blend or rub you already have if you think it would make a turkey taste good. This is a chance to clean out your spice pantry if bottles are almost empty. You don’t need to use a large variety, but include your favorites:
- Poultry seasoning
- A teaspoon or so of red pepper flakes, black pepper, white pepper, or hot sauce
- Chopped up apple, oranges, lemons, or limes
Heat to a simmer until the salt and sugar are dissolved. The brine should be aromatic. Let it cool to room temperature or add some ice to speed it along.
Add ice or ice packs to the bottom of the cooler as you will be surrounding your turkey with ice to keep it cool overnight. Once your turkey has an ice bed, line it with one or two garbage bags. Put your turkey breast down in the bag/s on and add your cooled brine. Add ice and water so the brine just covers the turkey, and close the bag with a knot or a twist tie if you need to. Add ice packs on the turkey and cover. Depending on your brine’s coverage, you may wish to turn the turkey over in the brine halfway through.
About 2 hours before you want to start cooking, take your bird out of the brine. Rinse and dry it and allow it to air dry for 2 hours in the roasting rack. I like to push the wings behind the back so the tips don’t burn.
If you want to add more flavor, use one or both of these techniques:
- Rub compound butter mixed with garlic, herbs, and/or spices under the skin
- Layer bacon under or over the skin
- Place fresh herbs under the skin
While your oven is preheating for your desired cooling method, place your favorite aromatics with a cup of water or juice. Cook on high for 3 – 5 minutes. Some ideas are:
- Chopped up apple, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, ginger, orange, lemon, any fresh herbs that were used for brine
Once the aromatics are cooked and cooled a few minutes, spoon them into the turkey cavity, cinch up the legs, and place into your preheated oven.
I like to cook turkey slow and low at 325 degrees. Here is a cooking guide for reference:
I also like to baste occasionally with melted butter if not already using compound butter or bacon. Cover the breast with aluminum foil if you find it is browning too fast. Let rest for 20-30 minutes, and remove aromatics before carving if using.
- Use a crockpot, hotpot, or even a rice cooker to cook turkey dressing or other side dishes and keep them warm
- Instead of butter, use ghee for a deep nutty buttery flavor
- Try frozen chopped onions and carrots to speed prep time for side dishes
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Photo “How long to cook a turkey” Credit: Southern Living
Photo “marinated turkey ” by Jonathan Cooper on Unsplash