Roasting a turkey for Thanksgiving is done in almost every household in the United States. A big turkey makes an excellent centerpiece for your feast. But many of these turkeys end up overcooked and dry.
Trying to figure out when the bird is done is hard. When the temperature on the breast of the turkey reads good, the thigh area may not be fully cooked. Checking temp on the thighs for doneness often leads to dry white meat.
So how do you get a juicy turkey that is done well throughout? Follow this easy brined roast turkey recipe, and you may have your best Thanksgiving turkey yet.
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The Secret To A Good Brined Roast Turkey Is Advance Planning
You may wonder, “What’s the purpose of brining a turkey?” Well, brining is like giving the bird a spa treatment before it’s time in the sauna (oven). The brine also allows you to add flavor to the bird with herbs and spices.
The simple salt water solution of the brine helps the turkey retain moisture while it cooks and prevents the coveted breast meat from drying out.
But you have to give yourself time for this process. Brining a turkey will most likely take between 12 and 24 hours. The good news is you will only be actively working for about 30 minutes. The bird sits and soaks up goodness the rest of the time.
How I Make My Turkey Brine
A basic brine is a mixture of 4 quarts of water and 1 cup of kosher salt. Larger turkeys will take more brine than smaller ones. Here is a table for standard turkey brine based on the size of your bird.
|Turkey Size in Pounds||Water||Salt|
|8 – 12 Lbs (3.6 – 5.4 kg)||2 Gallons (7.6 liters)||2 1/2 Cups (450 grams)|
|13 – 17 Lbs (5.9 – 7.7 kg)||2 1/2 Gallons (9.5lites)||3 1/4 Cups (570 grams)|
|18 – 22 Lbs (8.2 – 10 kg)||3 Gallons (11.4 liters)||3 3/4 Cups (675 grams)|
Once you have the correct amount of water and salt for your turkey, you can add any fresh herbs, spices, or other seasonings you like. I like adding rosemary, sage, bay leaves, thyme, black pepper corns, juniper berries, and lots of garlic.
Citrus, like oranges, orange peel, or lemons, add a nice zest. You will even find recipes for brine that sound more like you are making a pumpkin spice turkey with ingredients like brown sugar and cinnamon sticks.
To meld the flavorings of the herbs and spices you choose with the salt water, I add all my brine ingredients and a large portion of water into a large stockpot. Bring this to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and let it simmer, occasionally stirring, for about 30 minutes. The salt will dissolve into the water, and the herbs and spices will release their flavors.
Finally, let the brine cool to room temperature. You do not want to pour hot water on your cold turkey, which will start the cooking process.
Set Up Your Turkey Brining Station
You will need a place to keep your turkey and brine solution cold, 40⁰ F or less. You are lucky if you have a huge refrigerator or an extra frig out in the garage. For me, keeping the bird cold usually means an ice chest and lots of ice.
In these pictures, you can see I was able to use my frig. However, this was only a 12-pound turkey. Usually, I have my big red ice chest sitting out on the deck off my kitchen full of ice and bird.
If you are using an ice chest and putting it outside, ensure it’s animal-proof, or you may have more Thanksgiving guests than you bargained for.
Brining Your Turkey!
Set up a clean area, get your fresh turkey (or defrosted whole turkey if you bought frozen) out of the refrigerator, and place it in your sink.
Remove all the outer wrapping(s) from the turkey. Usually, the turkey neck and giblets are stored in the cavity of the turkey, so reach inside and pull these out. Do not rinse your turkey. Rinsing the bird will just spread any yuckiness around your sink. You don’t want that.
Next, place the turkey into a brining bag. I find these large Ziploc bags work well and are food safe.
Next, place the turkey into a brining bag. I find these large Ziploc bags work well and are food safe.
Place the bag with the turkey in a large pot (if you have room in the frig) or the ice chest you have prepared.
Pour the room temperature brine solution over the turkey. You will need to add more cold water to the bag to reach the recommended gallons of water, and the turkey is completely submerged in the solution.
Seal the bag and a) put the turkey in the frig or b) cover the bag with more ice and seal the ice chest. That’s it! Your work is done for now.
For the next 24 hours or so, the turkey in the turkey brine will work its magic while you move on to other things. But here’s the key, you don’t want to leave the bird sitting for too long. Brining for too long can result in the meat being overly salty or with a spongy texture.
So what is the right amount of time for brining turkey? Between 45 & 60 minutes per pound. So for my 12-pound turkey, not more than 12 hours.
Finally, It’s Time To Roast Your Brined Turkey!
For this final stage of the game, you will need a few essential items:
Remove your turkey from the frig or ice chest, and discard the brine mixture and brine bag. Pat the turkey dry with some paper towels and place it on a platter, uncovered in the frig, for a few hours before you plan to roast it. You want the bird to be good and dry before it goes in the oven. A wet turkey will take longer to brown and crisp up than a dry one.
Prepare your oven. You may need to remove a shelf to accommodate the turkey in the roasting pan. I know I do. I recommend roasting the turkey at 325⁰ F, so pre-heat your oven temperature accordingly.
If you are stuffing your turkey, now is the time to do so. Spoon your favorite stuffing into the turkey cavity and tie up the legs. Next, place the turkey in a heavy roasting pan, cover the breast with aluminum foil (lightly sprayed with oil to prevent sticking), and get that bird in the oven!
About 30 minutes before the turkey should be done, you should remove the foil from the bird. This will allow time for the skin to brown and crisp up.
How Long Will It Take To Roast Brined Turkey?
A good rule of thumb is to roast your turkey for 13 minutes per pound of turkey (unstuffed) or 15 minutes per pound (stuffed). But these are just estimates. This is where the instant-read thermometer is needed.
USDA says to cook a turkey to a minimum internal temperature of 165⁰ F. Not just the meat but the stuffing as well.
You can check for doneness in these two ways with your thermometer.
- Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, close to but not touching the thigh bone.
- If you have stuffed your bird, insert the thermometer into the center of the stuffing.
Once your turkey has reached its perfect internal temperature, remove it from the oven and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. There you have it an easy brined roast turkey!
Hint: This is when you can heat up all those fantastic sides and dinner rolls!
This easy recipe for brined roast turkey helps you bring a perfectly done, juicy turkey to your holiday table.
- 12 Pound Turkey
- 450 grams (about 2 ½ cups) kosher salt plus more if needed
- 2 Gallons water
- 4 tablespoons rosemary (2 large sprigs)
- 2 tablespoons dried sage leaves (1/2 cup if using fresh)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon thyme
- 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon Juniper Berries
- 5 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- Place the salt, rosemary, sage, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, Juniper berries, and garlic into a large stock pot.
- Add cold water to the pot, about 3" inches shy of the top. My stock pot holds 8 quarts, so I filled the pot with 7 quarte of water.
- Slowly bring the brine to a boil while stirring to dissolve the salt.
- Reduce heat to low and allow the brine solution to simmer for about 30 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and bring the brine to room temperature.
- While the brine is cooling, remove your turkey from the refrigerator,
- Unwrap the turkey and remove the neck and giblets from the inner cavity of the turkey.
- Place the turkey into the brining bag and into the pot you will be storing it in while brining. (Alternately you can place the bagged turkey directly into your ice chest).
- Pour the room temperature brine over the turkey. Add cold water to the brining bag until the turkey is fully submerged.
- Seal the brining bag and place the pot in the refrigerator. Or if using an ice chest, cover the brining bag with more ice and seal the ice chest.
- After 12 hours remove the turkey from the brine. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels and place on a platter to dry in the refrigerator for 2 - 3 hours before roasting.
- Pre-heat your oven to 325 F.
- Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and place in the roasting pan.
- If you are stuffing the turkey now is the time to place the stuffing in the turkey's cavities.
- Cover the turkey with aluminum foil and Place the roasting pan holding the turkey in the middle of the oven
- Roast the turkey for 12 - 15 minutes per pound. In the final 30 minutes of cooking remove the foil to allow the skin to crisp up and fully brown.
- The turkey is done when the instant-read thermometer shows a minimum of 165 F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh without hitting the bone.
- Remove the turkey from the oven and allow it to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 433Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 247mgSodium: 193mgCarbohydrates: 1gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 65g
Nutritional Information is an estimate and will vary depending on the specific ingredients used
FAQs – For Brined Roast Turkey
How Long Does It Take To Defrost A Frozen Turkey?
According to our friends at the USDA, the safest way to defrost a frozen turkey is in your refrigerator. This way, the bird stays at a consistent, safe temperature.
Defrosting in the refrigerator will take about one day for every 4 pounds. So a 16-pound turkey will take about 4 full days to defrost. Yes, everything about roasting the perfect turkey takes time.
Are Frozen Turkeys Already Brined?
Frozen turkeys like Butterball or any other turkey that says on the packaging “self-basting” are usually already “brined” and contain up to 8% solution of water, salt, and spices. I would not recommend brining these birds.
Does Turkey Need To Be Thawed Before Brining?
No! This is where you can actually save some time in preparing your turkey. You can place the frozen turkey into the brine and let it thaw simultaneously.
Do You Have To Refrigerate While Brining A Turkey?
Yes, remember that until you put the turkey in the oven, you want to keep it at a constant cool temperature of less than 40⁰F
Should You Wash Or Rinse Off The Brine?
You will find this is an area of great controversy. Many chefs recommend you rinse off the brine; many say you don’t need to. I generally do not rinse. But if you are stuffing your bird and you choose not to rinse, do not add salt to your stuffing. Plenty will be absorbed from the juices in the turkey.
Is It Better To Cook A Turkey At 325⁰ or 350⁰?
The general theory of roasting is that “low and slow” is best. So I recommend 325⁰ F. But you can take the heat up a bit if you are worried about time. Just make sure to keep your thermometer handy.
Do You Need To Baste Turkey While It Roasts?
No, you don’t have to baste your turkey. And continuously opening the oven will cause the temperature to drop, and your cooking time may be longer. But if you want, you can baste the turkey. A simple basting solution of melted butter and turkey broth works well and will add to the pan drippings.