How to Brine and Cook Your Turkey

For many tables, a great turkey makes for a great meal. But where do you start? Cooking a succulent bird to perfection may seem intimidating, but with the right game plan, it’s easier than you think. Here’s what every home cook should know about prepping, brining and cooking the turkey:

To Brine is Divine

Earn lots of wows with just a little work: Brining produces a tender, juicy bird with flavor infused throughout the meat.  

A wet brine uses salt and flavorings to soak your turkey for four to 24 hours. A big turkey in a big pot of water can get heavy and take up a lot of refrigerator space, so think about the logistics before brining a bird that’s 20 pounds or more. Get started with this simple, adaptable basic turkey brine.

We also love dry brining. It too yields a succulent bird, just without the water. Instead, the turkey is rubbed with a mixture of salt, sugar, spices and aromatics and then refrigerated for 24 hours. Watch this how-to-video or follow this easy recipe.

Brining Tips

Containers must be cleaned and sanitized both before and after brining. Brining will produce salty pan juices. If making gravy with them, be sure to use low-sodium broth and don’t add any additional salt until you taste the gravy.

Also, don’t stuff a brined bird; the stuffing will become too salty.

3 Ways to Give Your Turkey Extra Flavor

A sprinkle of sea salt and freshly ground pepper and a brush of butter are all you really need on a brined bird, but sometimes a celebration calls for something more.

  1. Fresh herbs are ideal for upping the flavor and creating irresistible aroma during roasting. Try any of these tips for a richer, fuller taste: Loosen the skin over the breast meat and thigh of the turkey with your fingers and stuff chopped herbs under the skin. Place whole herb sprigs in the cavity of the bird. Sprinkle chopped herbs over the exterior of the turkey.
  2. A citrus half like orange or lemon squeezed over the turkey and then placed in the cavity is also great for an infusion of flavor.
  3. And finally, you can blast flavorful liquids (melted butter, olive oil, wine, etc.) directly into the meat with a poultry injector — it looks like a really big syringe and is sold at most kitchenware stores.

How to Roast a Turkey

Place your bird on a rack in a roasting pan. The cooking times below are estimates based on an unstuffed bird. Remember that can vary due to the type of roasting pan used, how frequently you open the oven door (try not to peek too often!) and other factors, so start checking for doneness 30 minutes before the first suggested time.

TURKEY SIZE APPROXIMATE ROASTING TIME AT 350°F
8-12 pounds 2-3.5 hours
13-16 pounds 3-4 hours
16-20 pounds 4-5 hours
20-25 pounds 5-6 hours
25-30 pounds 6+ hours

Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh (don’t hit the bone). When it reads 165°F, take the turkey out of the oven. Or pierce the thigh at the thickest part and check that the juices run clear.

Let the bird rest 30 minutes before carving (see our easy carving tutorial), and you’ll be ready to deliver a masterpiece to the table. Enjoy!

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