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How to Brine a Turkey

As the holidays approach, our chefs are busier than ever! You might recognize our executive chef, Fred Youngblood, from our ads in Sauce and St. Louis Magazine. He has compiled the following information to help you prevent turkey “fowls” and prepare for a really great-tasting centerpiece.

Why do we brine?

Brining a turkey is a fundamental step in the cooking process. It does take more time than other suggested remedies, but it helps to retain moisture during the cooking process and increase the flavor of the bird. The seasonings and liquid from the brine slowly work their way into the meat of the turkey while it’s marinating—a process that keeps the meat from drying out in the oven and becoming chewy. Some chefs go into great detail about the science of this process, but we are more concerned with flavorful, moist meat than molecules.

Straub’s Brine Recipe (Yields 2 gallons – can be kept refrigerated for up to 30 days)

1 ¾ gal. warm water

1 ¼ lbs. kosher salt

13 oz. brown sugar

1 oz. peeled, minced garlic

4 fl. oz. lemon juice

1 ½ yellow onions, peeled & chopped

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Let the brine stand for at least one hour before using to ensure the ingredients mix properly.

Brining Your Turkey

Plan ahead and reserve enough time to brine the turkey before cooking. Generally, this is about an hour per pound. If you are starting with a frozen turkey, also allow enough time for the bird to thaw completely before the brining process. You will need a container large enough to hold your submerged turkey and plenty of refrigerator space. Most turkeys should fit into a large stainless steel stock pot or a clean 5 gallon plastic tub. If your refrigerator is too small, try using a large cooler packed with ice. If it’s cold outside and not freezing, you can leave the turkey to brine in a closed container in a place that is inconspicuous to wildlife. As always, be safe when handling raw poultry.

1) Choose a turkey that is the proper size for your gathering. It is best to brine only natural turkeys that have not been injected or pre-treated with salt (i.e. self-brining turkeys and kosher turkeys are typically a poor choice for additional brining). If you start with a pre-brined turkey, the brining will result in a very salty turkey.

2) Prepare the brine recipe above by combining all ingredients in a large pot. Let the brine stand for at least one hour before brining to ensure the ingredients mix properly.

3) Ensure that the turkey is cleaned out and completely thawed so that the liquids can travel freely through the meat.

4) Place the completely clean, thawed turkey into the brining container and pour the brine over the turkey. You will want to submerge the turkey in brine so that there is an inch or two of liquid above the bird.

5) Keep it cool! Place the brining container – full of brine and turkey – into the refrigerator or cooler as described above.

6) Over brining is far worse than not brining long enough, so watch the time or set a timer. For a 12-14 pound turkey, you will want to brine it for about 12 hours. Estimate an hour per pound if your turkey varies in size. If you’re worried about sodium or salty juices, try brining for a shorter period of time so that less salt has a chance to absorb into the meat.

7) Once the turkey has soaked in the brine long enough, remove it from the brining container and discard the used brine. Make sure to rinse the bird thoroughly to remove excess salt water from the inside and the skin.

8) Allow turkey to air dry completely, or gently pat dry with a clean towel before cooking.

9) Season as desired before placing the turkey in the oven. If you would like the skin to brown while cooking, try spreading a thin layer of oil or baking spray over the top of the bird.


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