This super-easy way to brine turkey gets you all the juicy tender turkey meat that you expect from brining, but it uses a much easier method, and, bonus, it takes up less space too!
You know how much I love brining, and I especially love brining poultry. I even did a whole series of tests on chicken breasts to perfect it while making it as simple as possible for home cooks.
Since then I’ve been working on perfecting turkey-brining as well. It has always seemed so cumbersome to brine turkey since turkeys are big and take up a lot of space. It can be challenging to deal with that big bird, and all that liquid, while keeping it all safely cold. You know, you see images of people with the turkeys in big coolers full of brine, adding ice to it regularly. That whole ordeal.
If you’ve ever thought about brining a turkey, seen all of that, and then thought, “Nah, no crazy brining for me,” then I think you’ll be really excited about this method. What I’ve discovered is that brining turkey pieces instead of a whole turkey makes everything easier. And guess what, there are more perks to using turkey pieces than just brining them! First, let’s talk about what brining is, and then I’ll get into the pros of pieces and how to brine them.
Methods Of Brining Turkey
The two most popular brining methods are wet brining and dry brining. Both methods help infuse seasoning into the meat while also helping to retain moisture during cooking.
A wet brine is a mixture of water, salt, and sometimes aromatics like garlic, onion, and or herbs. The turkey, is submerged in the wet brine for 4 or more hours, depending on the concentration of salt in the brine.
A dry brine is a mixture of salt and aromatics (often dry spices, garlic powder, and/or onion powder), without water. The mixture is rubbed onto the turkey, inside the cavity, and sometimes under the skin as well. The turkey is then left to dry brine in the refrigerator, uncovered, for one to three days, which dries the skin and infuses salt and moisture into the meat.
Both types of brining use the properties of salt to draw moisture out of the meat, and then reabsorb it back in, but with flavor. For the wet brine, it reabsorbs with more water as well. Both methods season the meat on the inside, and add moisture and juiciness too. Learn more about how brining works over here.
Note, whether wet-brining or dry-brining, the turkey can’t be frozen when you start. So if you’re thinking about brining and you have a frozen turkey, remember that you need to thaw it first.
Disadvantages of Traditional Turkey-Brining
While both kinds of brining add moisture and flavor, they aren’t without their drawbacks. Wet brining a whole turkey, especially a larger turkey, can be messy and an overall pain because it’s not always easy to transfer a large, slippery bird into liquid without splashing, spilling, or dropping something. Dry brining a whole turkey has its disadvantages, too. Because it can take one to three days for the dry brining process, you lose a lot of valuable real estate in your refrigerator during that time.
The Easier Way To Brine Turkey: Turkey Pieces
The easiest way to implement either of these brining methods is to use turkey pieces instead of a whole turkey. You can either buy a whole turkey and break it down yourself, or you can just buy the pieces that you like. My grocery store had plenty of options available.
Although you won’t have the dramatic moment of carving a turkey at the table, cooking turkey pieces instead of a whole turkey offers several more advantages in addition to just being easier to handle.
Pros Of Using Turkey Pieces
Turkey pieces take up less space. From freezer to refrigerator to brining to roasting, turkey pieces take up a lot less space than an entire 12+ pound turkey. That means you’ll have plenty of room in your freezer, refrigerator, and oven for other things.
Turkey pieces thaw more quickly. If you buy frozen pieces, fresh pieces and then thaw them, or if you buy a whole turkey and then break it down before freezing, it will take less time to defrost than a whole turkey. Depending on how you thaw your turkey, it can be really inconvenient, so cutting that thawing time down helps a lot.
Turkey pieces have more surface area. With turkey pieces, you’ll get better-seasoned meat and crispier skin because each piece has more surface area (and more exposed skin!) than when it is all connected. More surface area means more places for the brine to penetrate, and more delicious crispy skin.
Turkey pieces are easier to cook properly. The reason many people complain about turkey being dry is that the breast meat is often overcooked. That’s because the breast is exposed to heat for the entire time it’s in the oven, and it finishes cooking before the dark meat pieces below are done. If you cook the turkey in pieces, you can take the breast out when it’s at the correct temperature, and then take the dark meat drumsticks, thighs, and wings out a bit later when they’re ready. The instructions with times and temperatures for roasting turkey pieces are over here.
Cons Of Using Turkey Pieces
There’s more than one item to buy. It may take a little more effort at the store because you need to locate and pick out multiple packages with the pieces you’d like instead of just grabbing one turkey.
There’s no whole turkey to display on the Thanksgiving table. This will be disappointing to some, but it can turn into a positive when you realize that it means you don’t have to mess with carving the turkey at the table.
How To Brine Turkey Pieces
The first thing you should do is get out a container or roasting pan that you think will fit all of the turkey pieces such that they can be fully submerged by the brine liquid. Put your turkey pieces into that container and make sure that none of them will be sticking out above the top rim, and that they’re actually a good inch or so below the rim. You can use more than one container if needed.
Then you mix up your brine. Note that if it’s going to take more than 30 minutes to make your brine (mine won’t take that long but others will), put the turkey pieces back into the fridge. Now, I’m going to tell you below why the turkey brine recipe below is the easiest and best one out there, but really, you can use any brine recipe you’d like.
Once you’ve mixed up the brine, pour it over the turkey pieces in the container(s) you’ve chosen. Make sure they’re all submerged. If they’re not, you can rearrange them, or you can make more brine. Then, put the container of brining pieces into the fridge and leave it there for 4 hours. You don’t need more than 4 hours for sure if you’re using my brine recipe, because it has a high concentration of salt, and since we’re using pieces, the brine penetrates really quickly.
Then you’re going to take the brined turkey pieces out of the brine. Discard the brine. You can then roast the turkey in parts as instructed here, or using any recipe for cooking turkey pieces. Note that because the turkey was brined, it’s possible that the drippings will be a bit on the salty side. Don’t worry! I have a method over here for making a gravy that allows you to use those overly salty drippings to still get delicious gravy.
The Easiest Brine For Turkey
I figure I can’t tell you the easiest way to brine a turkey without also giving you the easiest (and best!) turkey brine recipe to go with it. So, what makes this brine so good? It’s actually kind of revolutionary. You see, most turkey brines that use ingredients like onion, garlic, and fresh herbs, have you boil water with those ingredients so that the flavors can infuse. But think about what’s actually involved with that for a moment. You need a lot of brine liquid to submerge a whole turkey. That liquid needs to be in a big pot that has to come all the way up to a boil, which takes a long time. Then you dissolve salt into it, and then you have to cool it completely, and I mean until it’s cold, before you put your turkey in it. Anything else isn’t safe. Whoa, right?
What I’ve figured out to do instead is to make a brine slurry. What you’ll be doing is putting whole onion, garlic, and fresh herbs into a food processor with salt and some of the water. Pulverize it! The flavor is going to be completely released from the ingredients and mixed well with that salty water. Then you add the rest of the water, stir, and pour that over your turkey. Done! And you won’t believe how much flavor from those ingredients end up in the turkey. I was expecting it to work, but it took me by surprise how good it was.
I’ve given the brine recipe to you below as part of the brining turkey pieces recipe. But, if you want to learn more about why this is the best and easiest turkey brine recipe around, head over here. I can’t wait for you to try brining turkey pieces, or to try this super-easy brine. It’s all such a game-changer. Enjoy! -Christine xoPrint
The Easiest Way to Brine Turkey Recipe
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Brine: 4 hours
- Cook Time: 0 minutes
- Total Time: 4 hours 15 minutes
- Category: Brine
- Method: Mix
- Cuisine: American
You get all the juicy tender turkey meat that you expect from brining, but this uses a much easier method that takes up less space too. The key is to use turkey pieces instead of a whole turkey. It’s game-changing!
- 2 large onions, peeled, roughly chopped
- 2 large heads garlic, cloves smashed, peeled
- 1 cup tightly packed parsley leaves and stems (about 1 oz.)
- ½ cup tightly packed sage leaves (about 1.5 oz.)
- ½ cup fresh rosemary leaves (about 1 oz.)
- ¼ cup dried thyme
- 6 dried bay leaves
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 gallon water
- 10–12 lbs. of turkey pieces
- In the bowl of a food processor or blender pitcher add onion, garlic, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, salt, and 2 cups of the water.
- Cover and blend on high until smooth. Transfer mixture to a large roasting pan, add remaining water.
- Add your turkey pieces and put container in the fridge for 4 hours to brine.
- Use your favorite recipe to cook the turkey pieces.
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