Brined turkey might sound like a lot of work but it really is very simple. If you have never tried brined turkey you are in for a treat. After a bath in a flavorful salt solution, the roasted meat comes out moist, tender, juicy, and incredibly flavorful.
The first time I tried brining before cooking a turkey I was nervous about the process. I had heard stories of people storing their soaking birds for days in coolers filled with ice – necessary to keep the turkey at a safe temperature. I had visions of cartoon salmonella germs throwing a party in my garage as they waited to infect our family with food poisoning. I also couldn’t figure out how a cooler would be clean enough, before or after, to use in such an application. (btw – I now know, there is such a thing as a brining bag, you don’t actually place the raw turkey directly in the cooler)
But, I wanted to try brined turkey because it seemed everyone was talking about how amazing the meat turned out. My curious mind just had to know – is brined turkey better?
There is big science behind brining and I have also seen some interesting debate on the merits of wet (this method) versus dry (encasing in a salt mixture). The short answer to the question, is brining better, is yes! But, it doesn’t have to be as big of an ordeal as I initially thought.
For this method I make a quick salty solution, add the aromatics (herbs, apples, etc), ice it down, and add just the turkey leg quarters (legs and thighs attached). All in a large soup pot. I don’t need to buy a brining bag or sanitize my cooler, I simply cover the pot with plastic wrap and slide it in the refrigerator. Preparing the brine takes a few minutes.
I also don’t leave the turkey in the brine for very long compared to other methods, which can get a little too salty for my liking. I stick to about 40 minutes per pound, and since we are just using the legs it only takes a few hours.
Once the brining is done most of the seasoning work is finished. From there I do a simple roast, with more aromatics, and the meat comes out super flavorful, extremely tender and oh so delicious.
This step may sound a little daunting but trust me, it makes nailing the turkey so much easier. With this quicker method you can do everything on the same day and still have a beautiful meal on the table by 3 or 4 in the afternoon if you wish. First brine the turkey, then make the sides, put the turkey in to roast, and enjoy a less stress holiday, the way people do in television commercials.
The process of brining generally yields pan juices that are too salty for making gravy or stock. Brining only the leg quarters of your turkey is much faster than brining the entire bird. It also leaves the whole breast for a more traditional roast, whose pan drippings may be used to make a gravy. --Inspired by Alton Brown’s Brined Turkey recipe
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup Kosher salt
- ½ cup maple syrup (may substitute brown sugar)
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp whole pepper corns
- 1 lb (2-3) crisp red apples, quartered
- 8 cups heavily iced water
- 5 lbs turkey leg quarters, bone-in and skin on
- 3 (6+ inch) rosemary sprigs
- 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
- In 3 quart pan, combine the water, salt, syrup, vinegar, and pepper corns. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the solids have completely dissolved into the liquid then combine with the ice water to cool immediately. Alternately, you can cool and refrigerate the mixture, before adding the additional water, until you are ready to brine your turkey.
- When you are ready to brine the turkey, get out a large stock pot or line a large, clean, food safe bucket with a brining bag, secure the edges by folding them over the top of the bucket. Place the turkey and apples in the pot or bag then cover with the ice cold brine. Make sure the turkey is fully submerged in the brine, place a plate over the meat if needed to keep it in the liquid. Tie off your brine bag if using or cover your pot with the lid or plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate the brining turkey for 40 minutes for every pound - 3 hours and 2 minutes for 5 lbs. When enough time has passed, remove the turkey from the brine, carefully discard the brine and all the additional ingredients. Pat the skin dry with paper towels and allow the meat to sit for 30 minutes to reach room temperature.
- While the meat rests: Set the oven rack to the vertical center and pre-heat the oven to 425F. Slice a large onion and a large navel orange into ¼ inch rounds. Arrange the slices, rosemary, and thyme sprigs in an even layer in a roasting pan. Place the turkey, skin side up, on the onion and orange slices.
- Roast the turkey for 45 minutes - 1 hour, until the thickest part of the thigh has reached 155F degrees. Remove the turkey from the oven, tent loosely with foil, and let rest 10-30 minutes - the temperature of the meat should continue to increase to 165F.
Other great brined turkey recipes