How to brine a turkey or chicken? I’m covering this simple method in today’s post and giving you my favorite go-to brine ingredients for succulent poultry every time.
I first started brining my chicken back when I got my hands on Mel Joulwan’s ahhhhmazing book Well Fed. Since then, I’ve created lots of different brines, mostly for lean chicken (think white meat) and pork. Letting the meat soak in brine, a salted water sometimes infused with herbs and spices, is sort of like a marinade.
Instead of just imparting flavor though, the brine keeps the meat moist and juicy which is always a challenge with leaner cuts. How does it work? Basically the salt causes the muscle protein to soften and get less tough when cooked. More moisture is retained during the cooking process.
If a little brining time is good, more must be better…right? Actually no. Oversoaking the meat will eventually cause moisture to be drawn out of the meat. The following method works for any lean meat—chicken, turkey, and shellfish like shrimp are great—and you can scale up or down depending on the quantity of protein you’re dealing with.
How To Brine a Turkey or Chicken
- Prepare a container to hold the poultry. A stock pot will hold a smaller turkey while a very large bird will have to go in a clean, new bucket or other container lined with food-safe plastic.
- Remove any giblets and pat the bird dry with paper towel.
- Add the salt and spices to the container, then the appropriate amount of water. Stir well to dissolve the salt. (Recipe is below.)
- Carefully add the turkey or chicken to the brine. Place the container in the refrigerator for the correct amount of time. You can’t leave this on the counter.
- When the brining process is complete, remove the poultry and rinse off the excess salt and spices. Discard the brine. Pat the poultry dry with paper towels, then proceed with your preferred cooking method.
Basic Brine Recipe for Turkey (for a 10-pound bird)
- 2/3 cup kosher salt or coarse sea salt
- 2 tbsp dried orange peel
- 2 tbsp dried rosemary
- 2 tbsp whole peppercorns
- 2 tbsp dried sage
- 2 tbsp dried thyme
- 4 bay leaves
- 14 cups water
Follow the directions above, allowing the turkey to brine for about 10 to 12 hours. Tip: Mix your brine ingredients (except the water) in a Mason jar ahead of time and store for when you’re busy. Mark on the lid how much you’ve made…enough for a 5-pound or 10-pound bird, for example.
*For a 5-pound whole chicken, halve the quantities. Brine for 5 hours.
**For a 20-pound turkey, double the quantities. Brine for about 24 hours.