It amazes me that there is actually a debate about whether or not to brine your Thanksgiving bird! Now, to each their own, but people, c’mon…have you ever TRIED it?!? Once you brine, you will never make a turkey the “old” way again! 

The science behind brining states the salt in the brine allows the solution (and the flavors) to permeate the flesh and meat of the turkey. The salt also helps to inhibit the shrinking of muscle tissue allowing it to preserve more moisture in the meat. Now I know, it seems like A LOT of salt, but trust me, if you follow the directions you will NOT have a salty bird. Keep these tips in mind when bringing your bird:

  • Use a FRESH turkey, NEVER FROZEN. Frozen turkeys are often injected with a salt-based solution to aid in the freezing process. You don’t want to brine a bird that already has salt injected into it.
  • You MUST thoroughly rinse your bird INSIDE AND OUT to remove the excess salt. I also highly recommend submerging your bird in a clean sink of cold water for 15 minutes to help remove any additional salt. 
  • I would recommend using aromatics inside the body cavity of your turkey instead of stuffing. Your stuffing may come out salty from absorbing the turkey’s juices. Plus, the aromatics add another layer of awesome flavor to your turkey.
Project Real Mom: Ingredients for THE BEST turkey brine EVER!

Project Real Mom: Ingredients for THE BEST turkey brine EVER!

Mmmm. Look at all those yummy ingredients! Trust me, this brine is going to make you the star of the Thanksgiving show! And you never have to tell your secret; it’s safe with me, I promise. 

Project Real Mom: You just can't go wrong with brown sugar in a turkey brine. And lots of it!

Project Real Mom: You just can’t go wrong with brown sugar in a turkey brine. And lots of it!

Just giving you all a few close-ups of the secret ingredients that are about to give you Thanksgiving fame and glory! Brown sugar, black peppercorns, allspice berries and bay leaves. 

Project Real Mom: More secret ingredients in the turkey brine.

Project Real Mom: More secret ingredients in the turkey brine.

And a few more…kosher salt, oranges, candied ginger, sage and rosemary.

Ok, on to making the brine! Put all ingredients, except cold water and ice, into a large stock pot.

Project Real Mom: Simply the best turkey brine EVER!

Project Real Mom: Simply the best turkey brine EVER!

Cook over medium heat, stirring to dissolve salt and sugar.

Project Real Mom: The turkey brine is starting to cook (and smell delicious)!

Project Real Mom: The turkey brine is starting to cook (and smell delicious)!

Can you smell it yet? It’s sooooo fragrant! 

Project Real Mom: The best turkey brine on the planet!

Project Real Mom: The best turkey brine on the planet!

Seriously, I WISH you could SMELL this!! It’s absolutely heavenly! It’s now ready to remove from heat, cover (so that precious solution doesn’t evaporate) and cool to room temperature.

I make this brine ahead of time and let it sit in the fridge (or outside, covered, in the garage if the temperature is cold enough…which in Minnesota, it usually is). 

When you’re ready to brine the turkey, place in a large pot, bag, or bucket (clean, of course!) and pour brine solution over turkey. Fill with cold water and ice until bird is completely covered. Make sure the inside cavity is also filled with brine. Keep submerged. Store in fridge (or outside if it’s cold enough). Add ice as necessary to maintain extremely cold temps. 

Project Real Mom: Aromatics for steeping in the turkey cavity during roasting.

Project Real Mom: Aromatics for steeping in the turkey cavity during roasting.

Here’s what I use for the aromatics when I actually roast the bird. Combine the apple, orange, onion and cinnamon stick in a microwave-safe bowl. Add the water. Cook on high in the microwave for 4-5 minutes. Place the steeped aromatics, sage and rosemary inside the turkey cavity (you can discard the excess liquid). Close it up and rub the outside of the turkey with canola oil to help with the browning process. 

I typically, as I think most people do, use the turkey drippings for making gravy. There are a few things to note when doing this:

  • Your drippings may be saltier from brining your bird. When adding broth (not stock) to the drippings to make your gravy, use a low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth. 
  • You can also add a peeled and quartered potato to the drippings while you simmer them down. The potato will help absorb some of the salt. Just be sure to remove and discard the potato before thickening and serving.

Happy Thanksgiving! Let me know how your bird turns out!

Turkey Brine & Aromatics

Serves 1
Prep time 25 minutes
Dietary Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Yeast Free
Misc Prep Ahead
Occasion Christmas, Thanksgiving
By author Project Real Mom

Ingredients

Brine

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 Gallon vegetable stock
  • 1/2 Gallon apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons allspice berries
  • 4 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 teaspoon candied ginger (chopped)
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh sage
  • 5 Whole bay leaves
  • 2 Whole oranges (just the peel)
  • cold water
  • ice

Aromatics

  • 1 red apple (quartered)
  • 1 orange (quartered)
  • 1/2 sweet yellow onion
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 sprigs fresh sage
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 1/2 cup water

Note

1. Salt allows the solution (and flavors) to permeate the flesh and meat of the turkey.

2. Make sure you thoroughly rinse your turkey inside and out after brining or you will end up with a salty bird!

Directions

Making the Brine
Step 1
Combine all ingredients, except cold water and ice, in a large stock pot. Stir to dissolve salt and sugar.
Step 2
Bring to a boil.
Step 3
Remove from heat. Cover. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Step 4
Refrigerate until ready to use.
Brining the Turkey
Step 5
Place thawed turkey (make sure the body cavity is empty) in a extra large stock pot or brining bag. (I use a large food-grade bag in a 5 gallon bucket to do mine.)
Step 6
Pour cold brine solution over turkey.
Step 7
Add cold water to cover turkey. Add ice to keep solution very cold. (You may need to continue to add ice throughout the bringing process.) Make sure that the brining solution fills the body cavity of the turkey too!
Step 8
Half way through brining, flip turkey over so that it brines evenly. A good MINIMUM rule of thumb is to brine one hour per pound of uncooked turkey. (I usually make a 16 pound bird and brine for a full 24 hours.)
After Brining
Step 9
When brining is complete, remove turkey from bag or pot and place in clean sink. Completely cover with cold water and let sit for 15 minutes to remove excess salt.
Step 10
Discard brining solution. Remove turkey from water and pat dry. Roast with your favorite recipe (tip: use the aromatics recipe below)!
Aromatics
Step 11
Add apple, orange, onion, cinnamon stick and water to a microwave-safe bowl. Heat on high for 4-5 minutes in microwave.
Step 12
Add steeped aromatics, sage and rosemary to inside cavity of turkey. Careful: they will be HOT!

 

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