How to Brine a Turkey
Turkey often gets a bad rap for being dry and tasteless, but that is usually because it hasn't been cooked correctly. Just because you can plate it pretty doesn't mean it is going to taste good. Since it is a relatively lean bird, turkey doesn't have a lot of fat to help keep the meat from becoming dry and tough, which is why your preparation method is so important. Brine your turkey in a saltwater mixture (you can use a plain salt and sugar mixture or add aromatics) and you will coax (and add) moisture and flavor from a reluctant turkey.
1. Use a Cooler
Unless your turkey is small enough to fit in a stockpot and you can put it in the refrigerator, you will need to use a cooler. Keep in mind that the turkey will need to stay at or below 40°F during the brining process, so you might need to tend the cooler from time to time.
2. Choose Brine Ingredients
Generally, you want one cup of kosher salt and one cup of sugar per gallon of water. An 8- to 12-pound turkey will likely require two gallons of water to fully submerge the bird. Aromatics such as peppercorns, bay leaves, garlic, whole allspice, hearty herbs (rosemary and thyme are good options), and citrus zest are commonly used in wet brines, as well.
3. Make Saltwater Brine
Combine all your brine ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil to dissolve the salt and sugar. Allow the solution to cool completely.
4. Submerge Turkey
Unwrap your turkey, remove the giblets and transfer it to your cooler. Pour the cooled brine mixture over the turkey.
5. Keep the Turkey Cold
Your turkey needs to stay submerged below the brine mixture. Cover the bird with bags of ice to keep it cold and weighted down. Since you will be brining for several hours, you may need to add additional ice from time to time to keep the cooler at a safe temperature.
6. Prepare to Roast
Remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Clean your sink thoroughly after doing this step to avoid cross-contamination. Roast as usual and be sure and use a roasting pan deep enough to catch all the flavorful juices.