The Secret to a Juicy Turkey

Brining . . . Professional chefs and food experts alike will recommend brining a turkey. Brining makes it moist. Why are brined turkeys so juicy? Salt causes the meat tissues to absorb water and flavorings. It also breaks down the proteins, resulting in a tender turkey. Despite the moisture loss during roasting and the long cooking time, you end up with a juicy bird.

Making the brine . . . The real trick with brining is finding a container that is large enough to submerge the turkey, yet small enough to fit in your refrigerator. Try a stock pot or a large roasting pan. If you use a shallow roasting pan, you need to turn the bird periodically so that each side rests in the brine. Place the container on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator so spills won’t reach foods below.

Alternatively, pick up a 5 gallon pail with lid from your local home improvement center. Put the brine and turkey in your basement or garage if your refrigerator is too small. A third idea would be to use a cooler.

Brine IngredientsThe basic ratio for turkey brine is one cup of kosher salt to two gallons of water. Some recipes include sweeteners (1/2 cup brown sugar) or acidic ingredients to balance the saltiness. For extra flavor add the following aromatics: 1 onion, 2 carrots and 2 stalks of celery, all rough chopped.

  • Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add salt, aromatics and brown sugar (if using). Let cool for about an hour. Add remaining water (1 gallon plus 5 cups) in the form of ice cubes. This will cool the brine quickly.
  • Remove giblets and neck from turkey.
  • Immerse turkey in brine and refrigerate for at least eight hours, but no longer than 24 hours. Add ice as needed to keep the temperature cool if you are not putting your turkey/brine in the refrigerator. Make sure you keep the brine temperature below 40° F.

Cooking the turkey

  • When you are ready to roast, pour off the brine. Rinse the turkey well with cool tap water, and pat dry with paper towels.
  • Tuck the wing tips behind the back and place the bird, breast side up, on a roasting rack.
  • Proceed with your preferred recipe, but remember that the turkey has already absorbed a certain amount of salt and any drippings that you use for gravy will already be salty, and no salt should be added to butter or spice rubs.
  • If you are stuffing your turkey, rinse the cavity well. Some pros recommend cooking the dressing or stuffing separately; others say, leave out the salt when preparing the dressing. I added cranberries to the dressing before stuffing the bird and it was fine.

The extra time and effort it takes to brine the bird is well-worth it . . . the result is a delicious, juicy bird.

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