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.


Add yours
  1. 1

    Thank you! I’m glad you wrote about brine thawing after your recent post repeated the often incorrect timing for defrosting a bird in the fridge. Always good things here on your blog, and your cookbooks, too. I love knowing WHY I’m doing something a certain way.

  2. 2

    I like to brine my turkey and about 1/2 hour before it goes in the oven, I’ll inject a fresh batch of brine into several spots on the bird. A good brine to inject uses apple juice, cinnamon and a few other spices.

  3. 3

    I really think its an acquired taste. I don’t care for the flavor of brined meat. I can do a light simple smoke or just a good oven cooking with some light canola rub and a seasoning in the cavity.

  4. 4
    Whitney McDonald

    This is my secret to excellent turkey. I’ve used this recipe since I was a teenager, cooking my first turkey. Even in my youth I realized that this recipe/technique was simply perfection. Thanks Alton!

  5. 5
    Lynn Gordon

    What’s your favorite style of probe thermometer for this? I’ve done this for years…thaw the bird in the brine- and my probe thermometers end up not liking the below 40 degrees temps for long periods of time. They somehow “freeze up” or break, never to be used again. It’s frustrating. Suggestions?

  6. 6

    Since I made a braned bird for thanksgiving 7 years ago I’ve been in charge of the family bird since. By the way smoking a brined bird is the best turkey I’ve ever had

  7. 9

    Help! It’s my 1st bird….ugh. planning to cook it 12/24. I was thinking to do water defrost to male sure it’s thawed and then brine for 6 hours. Too much ? If I brine and thaw, how long would it sit in cooler for a 20lb bird? Ty!

  8. 13
    Jo Ny

    I cheat. If u are desparate this works. Tuesday i put frozen turkey on counter. When softening and still mostly frozen, start covering with towel (s) to keep outside cold while inside is still frozen. Check w hand regularly, must stay cold on outside. Wednesday afternoon or night, put in brine; if it’s frozen inside then that keeps things cold, otherwise add ice to outside of bag in cooler. Thursday gotta get gizzard bag out, use running lukewarm water in cavity if you have to, if it’s still frozen. Done a version of this multiple times. P.s. ALWAYS COOK USING THERMOMETER, fyi dark meat takes longer than white, never overcook. Consider cooking upside down, works to baste white meat w fat from dark meat. I cut up before serving time so browned skin doesn’t matter, but if you care about browned skin then flip to upright for 1/2 to 1 hour before finished.

  9. 14

    Hi, I need some help! This is my 1st time making a turkey
    So I bought frozen turkey Monday noon
    Came home and didn’t place it in the fridge
    Thinking it was ok to thaw that way
    I later realized that’s the wrong way
    I prepared a brine at 9:30 pm Monday
    Placed the turkey in brine inside a plastic bag and placed it inside the refrigerator
    Is it safe to leave it there until Thursday morning?

    • 15
      LL of Darkwater

      Did you simply thaw the turkey on the countertop? If so, I would go get another turkey and start over. (This is just me, but the idea of causing the illness of family and friends is enough to send me back to the store and begin again – post haste. I’ve got a few folks joining us with compromised immune systems and spending Thanksgiving Night in an ER is too sad to ponder.)

      I would re-think brining time, too. (Are you dry or wet brining?) Submerged in a wet brine – I try to keep it under 8-12 hours. I’ve not tried dry brine myself, so I can’t comment on that one. 🙁 AB’s “Romancing the Bird” and other turkey episodes might better answer your questions a million times better than I ever could.

      • 16

        I did, I just left it on the counter without anything and still In its original wrapper
        I think it’s best not to cook it
        So upset at myself for ruining it
        I don’t like wasting food

        • 17
          LL of Darkwater

          I understand…. We live and learn. And while tossing out food seems wrong – being the person that caused every one toss up their food seems worse. Good luck on the restart!

  10. 19
    jim johnson

    I have been following Alton’s turkey brining method for about 10 years now and I will never do it any other way. The perfect bird! Thanks Alton!

  11. 21

    One tip I found out the hard way: check the weight of the bird on the packaging before discarding it. You need this to determine the cooking time, and it’s surprisingly hard to weigh a big bird with what I have in the kitchen.

    • 22

      Use a bathroom scale and weigh it brine and all. Then remover the bird and weigh the brine. This would be more accurate than the package since the bird will have absorbed some of the brine and should be heavier than it was.

  12. 23

    I used sous vide last year. Came out amazingly well. Very very moist and infused with great herby flavor. The trick is to do a pre and post sear.

  13. 25

    Once the turkey is brined and thawed I can then remove the giblets, pat dry and roast correct?
    Haven’t used the brine and thaw system at the same time before. Just checking I have all my ducks in a row.

  14. 28
    Jane H.

    I love Alton Brown’s turkey brine recipe. Been using his recipe for three years now and turkey turns out moist and juicy every time even over cooked it last year. This time I would like to use the same brine recipe but on cornish hens – approx. 6 to 8 for party of 12. Can someone tells me how long I should cook these little birds and for how long on bake or convention?

  15. 29

    Started frozen thaw with brine Tuesday 1:00am (my first time) bird is in my garage., that would mean I need to cook it , at 1:00am Thursday or can I wait until 7:00am.?

  16. 30

    Started frozen thaw with brine Tuesday 1:00am (my first time) bird is in my garage., that would mean I need to cook it , at 1:00am Thursday or can I wait until 7:00am.?

  17. 32

    I have always made your brine, but I am wanting to try your Honey Brined Turkey this year! However, I will be using an electric grill style smoker (Traeger to be exact). My question is, do I let it just smoke for a while, then turn up the temperature to the 350° or 400° F. and finish roasting to the right temp?? That honey brine sounds like it would make that turkey taste delicious! Oh! One other question, I love your original recipe, but would it be good to just substitute the brown sugar with honey instead? The honey brine just doesn’t sound like it has a whole lot to it, but I don’t want to go crazy and make it taste “off”. Thanks!!

    • 33
      Jason Capriotti

      I had similar questions and found this blog. I’m curious how your turkey turned out. I am going to try the Serious Eats method (butterfly, dry brine, smoke at 250), which seems like the way to go.

  18. 34
    Pamela Knowlton

    Gosh, I think I would just be estatic to have my husband offer to cook the Thanksgiving meal brine or no brine. If my husband ever offered to slave away over a hot stove in the kitchen on a holiday, I’d be in 7th heaven & you’d find me in the living room with my grown kids, having a blast!!! Don’t get me wrong, I love baking & cooking BUT I enjoy visiting with my family members even more & would much rather spend my holiday not missing a beat with my loved ones than being alienated in the kitchen while everyone else is having fun. Yes, we could cook in the kitchen as a family & make memories doing that activity together, however, I like to focus my attention on people when I’m with them. That being said, way to go that you take on & tackle the bird & the Thanksgiving meal!!!

    • 35

      Well, I am that kind of man. I cook pretty much the whole thing. I let my wife do the yams and I’ve taught my sons to do the pumpkin pie, but this year I’m cooking both turkeys and the Apple pies and all the trimmings. I am the benevolent thanksgiving despot of our home, and doing it myself means I can carry out my schemes.

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