Still Brining After All These Years

Still Brining After All These Years


There are plenty of ways to prep a turkey, and even more wonderful ways to cook it. There’s nothing wrong with simply roasting the darned thing, given that take care with the cooking as nothing is worse than dry turkey except maybe … well, I can’t think of anything right now.

My personal favorite method of prep is to spatchcock the bird (cut out the backbone and flatten) and quickly cure by rubbing with kosher salt and spices and refrigerating for a day or two. The cure gives me flavor and the spatchcocking allows for fast cooking ergo reduced moisture loss. But this year, like so many years, I’m not only wet brining, I’m brine thawing.

Here’s the situation: Let’s say you wake up Monday or even Tuesday morning facing the reality of a frozen turkey, as in hard-as-Plymouth-rock. You need to have this critter on the table by noon Thursday. And even if you could somehow bend the rules of thermodynamics and thaw in the fridge in your less than ideal time frame, who wants to clear out room in there for a 20 pound hunk of ice. Not I! And even if I did, there would be no time remaining to augment the flavor other than to inject the bird with some kind of “self-basting” solution. (This is all assuming you haven’t purchased an augmented bird i.e. Butterball, which I hope you haven’t.)

The solution (see what I did there) is to thaw the bird by unwrapping it and submerging in a brine contained in a large bucket or cooler or other food safe vessel, covered and tucked away in a closet or garage or … wherever. I slap a probe thermometer in the brine with an alarm set to go off if the temperature of the solution rises above 40 degrees F. That said, I typically go with a 2 day soak and have never had an instance where that temperature has been reached. By the time the bird is thawed, the brine has done it’s job (two jobs actually) and I’m ready to roast.

Is the flavor as good as the dry cure method? It’s not quite as intense but on scale of 1-10 I’d still give it 8.7 and when it comes to leftovers (can you say “sandwich”) I don’t think a brined bird can be beat.

Happy Thanksgiving.

162 Comments

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  1. 2
    Alex Low

    Does a turkey with “8% basting solution” (e.g. Jennie-O Turkey) need brining? Will brining make the “bird” saltier than desired? HELP Thanksgiving dilemma!

  2. 5
    Paul D Hoskins

    My only question is could you do a couple of Good Eats – Reloaded about this?? That way more people can be reached and can get the “good stuff”!

    BTW…keep up the good work on the show! Love it!

  3. 8
    Rich

    I started my Turkey roasting lessons back in the day when my mom would put it in a couple of brown paper shopping bags. Unfortunately, that’s not safe anymore since most bags are recycled from who knows where, with who knows what. Now I use the store bought roasting bags, which actually work much better in keeping in the moisture. About 3 years ago I added your brining method to my family’s holiday tradition, and never looked back. The Meat is moist, tender, tasty. The skin is dark brown and crisp. I always get rave reviews just before everyone slips in to the post feast coma. With all the fancy turkey preparations and cooking methods out there, this is by far the simplest, quickest and easiest way to make the bird a hit, and always leads to….. Well you know 🙂

  4. 10
    Cathy Brusven

    Ever since I stumbled upon your brining and smoking methods for Thanksgiving turkey, I have never looked back! It not only makes the turkey taste SO MUCH BETTER (can I say amazing? 🙂 ….but having my oven free for everything else that I need to warm up is the “icing on the cake”…Been doing this for ten years, at least? Thanks for sharing this update for defrosting! 🙂

  5. 11
    Christina

    I have used your turkey brining and cooking instructions for years and the results are fantastic. Highly recommend! However everything has changed since my mom is on a 2000mg per day sodium diet. Love your recipe but I love her more… and the salt is too much. I don’t want to go to the hospital with her on the day after Thanksgiving this year. Wish you had a low/no sodium brine recipe – it would make things much easier!

  6. 12
    Lonnie watson

    I like to both brine then rub and smoke the turkey. Stuff the cavity with sage and rosemary and lemon. Then just before serving I broil the bird to crisp up the skin…. hours of prep decimated in 30 mins but ohhh so worth it ….

  7. 13
    Patricia Miller

    I’ve done this method for many years now and still have the best Turkey Day ever. Thanks Alton Brown for all your food knowledge

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