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 canโ€™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 havenโ€™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.

142 Comments

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  1. 1
    Marti

    I am just doing a turkey breast… so I know that the amount of liquid will be less. How long can I leave the turkey in the brine. This is Monday..and I just took the turkey breast out of the freezer and put it in the frig. Can I put it in the brine and leave it till I cook it on Friday? Or… should I wait to brine it until Wednesday?

    • 4
      Laura Lea

      Geneva, I’ve over-brined once…. that’s all it took to learn my lesson… my limit is like a 10 hour soak – thawed or frozen. I went over that by quite a bit one year, followed all other directions and kept the bird cold and everything – but the meat turned out a little mushy/mealy. Just in my experience, though, not sure what the ‘rules’ are.

    • 7
      Laura Lea

      Gina, I started brining years ago with a pre-thawed bird, but for the past 5 or 6 years, I’ve gone with the frozen bird brine. I really didn’t alter the brine recipe at all – adding aromatics to both brines. Either method – brining thawed or brining frozen – gives one a very tasty bird indeed. Hope this helps!

  2. 8
    Elsie Chinea

    Good Morning. Your recipe sounds fantastic but I already have a nearly defrosted bird. I plan on a Apple Cider brine and then rubbing the bird with an herbed butter before roasting. My questions is after the turkey is removed from the brine, and rinsed should I re-salt or has the salt in the brine already done it’s job. Thanks.

    • 9
      Martha

      No need to salt the bird after brining, the brine does all the work. I have followed this recipe for years and it has ALWAYS been moist and flavorful!

  3. 10
    Butch

    Here’s a tip I got from a cookbook published in 1832. To keep a turkey breast moist, cut all fat (with skin attached) from neck cavity and bottom cavity. Place this skin and fat over breast of turkey and roast as usual. The fat and skin self-baste the turkey while cooking. Remove what’s left of fat and skin 30 minutes before turkey is fully cooked. Since I started using this tip, I’ve never had a dry turkey breast.

  4. 11
    Tiffany Osborne

    I’d love to try your brine this year. My question is more about the brown sugar….does the turkey end up being sweet? My husband hates sweet meat !

    • 15
      Laura Lea

      Kateri… I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now, but that neck and all other things found inside are for stocks, gravy, broths… soup… see ‘Remains of the Bird’ Good Eats episode… also a good recipe by Mr. Brown on Food Network page for giblet gravy. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. 18
    Doug

    Could this method work for thawing and brining pork butts? I liked the way it worked on my turkeys this year, I wonder if it would work on the butts?

  6. 19
    Ryan

    I record Good Eats regularly (as I’m a late comer to the scene) and for the first time saw “Romancing the Bird”. I went with the brined bird this year and never have we enjoyed such a juicy bird and the leftovers were tremendous. Best sandwiches ever! I’m now a briner for life at this household. Thanks AB!

  7. 20
    Rob

    I just purchased a 22 pound frozen turkey. Followed these directions and my water is 59 degrees after 20 hours?! Not exactly sure what went wrong, but my trash is going to be 22 pounds heavier this week.

  8. 21
    Lance

    I used Alton Brown’s technique (from the YouTube with the foil triangle breast plate) last year and it was great, so I’m not questioning the method, but something in my execution this year lead to a disappointing result! Hoping to get some feedback on what might have gone wrong.

    (Long Story Short: Turkey was undercooked when probe read 161, cooking further led to less moist breast)

    The 16 lb turkey was in the fridge since Sunday before Thanksgiving. I brinded it in the fridge for about 24 hours (a World Market mix from Bed Bath). Preheated oven to 500, rinsed and patted the bird dry, put some apples and leaks in the cavity after microwaving them and started cooking. At 30 minutes, the skin looked great, I placed the foil breast plate on, inserted a Polder oven probe into the meaty part of the breast and lowered the oven to 350. I returned the turkey to the oven. With the Polder set at 161 it took about 2.5 hours (not sure) for the 16 lb turkey to reach temp. I took the bird out of the oven with great confidence.

    A red flag should have been raised when I notice that the cavity was pooled with liquid which had the tell-tale red undercooked color in it. I tilted the bird to the sink to drain off this liquid. But I didn’t examine the meat in anyway, preferring to follow a tried and true method to the letter. If I made a rookey mistake, it was at this point, not checking the meat visually, or at least moving the probe to a new area to check for doneness.

    So I covered the whole bird loosely in foil to allow it to rest (and continue cooking out of the oven). After about 45 minutes I thought I was ready to carve.

    As soon as I began to separate the first leg, it became apparent that the bird was not nearly cooked. The dark meat had a blood red color. I checked the breast – pink. Way pink. Now I had a bird 45 minutes out of the oven, no longer oven hot, not nearly done and I just didn’t know what to do!

    I moved the probe to a dark meat area, replaced the breast foil, and put it back into the 350 degree oven to continue cooking. The probe in the now cooling bird was showing 141 in the dark meat. After 30 minutes it was up to 170 and I took it out of the oven. I know 170 is not 180, but I was concerned about overcooking, and at this point, I was just shooting in the dark!

    After a short rest, I started carving and this time everything looked about right, but I could tell, the breast was a little dry. OH NO!

    Everyone was happy with the turkey except me. It wasn’t horribly dried out, but it wasn’t remarkably juicy either, not like what I remember from last year. For all the work and planning, for me it was a disappointment.

    Any thoughts anyone have on what might have gone awry? Why was it so under-done when I’d hit the target temperature of 161? Do I do anything different next year? Has this ever happened to you?

    Thanks
    Lance, only my second turkey
    NYC

    • 22
      Krista

      It’s possible the thermometer was placed at an improper place (perhaps against a bone?). It’s really important to make sure it’s in a thick part of the breast meat. Hope your next one comes out better ๐Ÿ™‚

    • 23
      Hau

      Hi Lance! Hopefully this doesn’t come to you too late. I have been brining my turkey with Alton’s method (exact same way as in his episode, tin triangle and all) for about 6 years now. I do not plan to switch anytime soon, it’s just too consistent/good every time.
      I’m thinking there are two possibilities to what happened with your turkey: 1) The probe was not in the thickest part of the turkey (even though you might have thought it was–this has happened to me before, and it took another 1.5 hrs to actually reach the ideal temperature), or 2) your oven’s thermostat is inaccurate. In the future, if it seems like it’s too good to be true, I would probe multiple spots of the turkey to make sure the temperature is 161 all around. Hope this helps! And good luck on your next turkey ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. 24
    Ellie

    So? How did yours turn out Mr. Brown? Been staying tuned for updates (per FB video) & haven’t seen any. (Or perhaps I missed it? ๐Ÿ™ ) Inquiring minds want to know!

  10. 26
    Eric

    I always fallow Alton’s recipe from, like 10 years ago. The one with the strange aunt. Watch it every thanksgiving am. F U Arock. Alton Brown +87!

  11. 27
    Susan

    I followed the instructions for doing a thaw/brine and after 12 hours my turkey is thawed. Guess it wasn’t frozen as solid as I thought. I’ve rinsed it and dried it and it’s in the refrigerator waiting for me to decide what to do next. I’m not cooking it until tomorrow (Friday) so should I do a dry brine as well? Would that be too much brining? Help!

  12. 28
    Kristin

    Many, many years ago I prepared an entire Alton Brown Thanksgiving dinner as per his recipes. I have continued every year since. People who have come to my home for Thanksgiving dinners have called the following year to ask if they could come back. Thank your for helping to build my family’s tradition. Your herbed citrus-brined turkey, in a cooler in my bathtub, has been a hit ever since. Your saged, white-cheddar mashed potatoes and orange, apple, pear , cranberry sauce are a must have, too. You’re a genius Thank you!

  13. 29
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  14. 30
    Sarah

    Lisa – do NOT do 6 hours you will destroy that bird – fresh never frozen do not cool like frozen ones. Google times and you’ll find its in the 3.5 (ifconvesction oven) to 4.5 maybe 5 hours. You can buy a meat thermometer for $5. Also, you’ll want to be basting at a certain point anyway so you will be opening the door ๐Ÿ™‚

    Happy thanksgiving!!

  15. 31
    Jennifer

    help. Do I need to take the turkey out of the brine to rest for a certain amount of time before I cook it? That way the skin is crispy? Please help tonight thank you. then brining more than 24 hours so far on a thawed turkey fresh turkey

    • 32
      Julie

      Hey Jennifer! I take my turkey out of the brine and rinse it well inside and out. Dry it well inside and out. I then let it sit out to come to room temp while I make the stuffing. I season the inside cavity and then rub the skin with a mixture of butter, salt, pepper, sage, garlic and onion powder.

  16. 34
    Lisa

    hi can someone give me a guess on how long to cook a fresh never frozen 25 lb turkey. i don’t want to open and close the door but I don’t have a fancy thermometer either……please oh please

  17. 36
    Lisa

    I love Alton! They say we’re young and we don’t know, won’t find out until we grow….(a little sony & cher moment). Quick question so I have is gigantic 25lb fresh never been frozen turkey. I watched your videos and have that baby in the brine of all brine’s right now. I know the white meat should be 161 degrees and the dark 165 after the high temp original brown at 500 degrees. Trouble is I do not have the fancy smancy thermometer you have, just the old round metal meat probe. I don’t want to open and close the open door. Can you give me an idea of how long this bird needs so I can kinda keep a closer eye?? It’s my first bird. Lot’s of people counting on you Alton ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. 37
    Kathy Jo Miller Taylor

    Thank you so much for your tips on thawing and brining at the same time. I apologize if you have answered this before
    but brand of thermometer are using? By the way I love how you bring science in your cooking.

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