11/04/2011 12:18 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

How To Brine A Thanksgiving Turkey

Wondering whether turkey brining is a necessary preparation step when making your Thanksgiving meal? Yes, basting helps, but if you really want a juicy, moist turkey, there's nothing better than a brine, says chef Robert Mullooly of The Culinary Institute of America. What exactly is a brine? It's a flavored salt solution that works its way into the meat of the bird, dispersing flavor and sealing in moisture. And even better, it's simple to do.

How to Brine a Turkey

To begin, chef Mullooly roughly chops an onion, a carrot, and a celery stalk, then adds them to a pot filled with 3 gallons of water. He halves a lemon, then adds it to the pot along with some thyme and parsley stems. Next up, the 2 ounces of salt. (The basic brine ratio is 3 gallons of water for every 2 ounces of salt.) Then he brings the mixture up to a boil, but quickly turns off the heat -- you don't want to simmer this mixture. In fact, the next step is to cool down this liquid completely. You don't want to submerge your turkey in warm liquid or it would start the cooking process.

Once the liquid is cool (this may take several hours), transfer the liquid and vegetables to a large container. (Chef Mullooly uses a plastic 5-gallon bin.) Then submerge the turkey in the liquid and keep covered and chilled for 12-15 hours. (Don't be tempted to go longer than that -- the brine will change the texture of the meat and get too salty.) Remove the turkey from the brine, pat dry, and you're ready to roast.

Video Transcript

I'm Chef Rob Mullooly, from the Culinary Institute of America, and today I'm going to show you this kitchen basic: how to brine a turkey.

I have a twelve-pound turkey here, a nice-sized bird. We're going to make a brine - a seasoned, aromatic liquid - that we're going to submerge this turkey into for about twelve or fifteen hours. What I'm looking to do is to add my vegetables to cold water, and then what we're basically looking to do is just bring this solution up to a boil. You don't want to simmer it for any amount of time at all - as soon as it comes up to a boil, as soon as you add all the vegetables to it, we're going to cool it down right away. The important thing is that you don't want to add this hot brine to your turkey, because you don't want to start cooking the turkey. So you want to let it cool down first. The purpose of the brine is just to add moisture, to add flavor, and if we added it hot, we'd start the cooking process way too early.

I have a nice onion here, and your knife cuts don't have to be beautiful. They can just be pretty rustic, because this is only for flavor. We move on to the carrot - again, it doesn't have to be beautiful, they don't have to be great-looking cuts - and then right into your celery. We've got a little lemon here; I'll roll it to loosen the pulp, so you get as much liquid out of the lemon as possible, then I'll cut the lemon right in half.

My next move is to add all these vegetables to the pot. Right now, inside this pot I have two gallons of water, and I'm gong to add another gallon of water. I squeeze my lemon into the pot, and I'm actually going to put the entire lemon in the pot as well. Now my aromatics: I've got about a quarter bunch of thyme here, and I've got some whole parsley stems here that I'll go ahead and break up. I'll add my bay leaves, and salt. Your basic ratio on your brine is three gallons of water to two ounces of salt.

Now we're going to turn this pot on and turn it up to a boil - and as soon as it comes to a boil we're going to shut it down. Now that most important thing: we'll let it cool down completely, 100%. You could submerge this pot in an ice water bath, or you could just let it cool down naturally, but it'll take several hours, so the ice water bath would be a lot faster.

What I've got here is a big five-gallon bucket, and I want to take most of the vegetables out, pour the brine in here, and then submerge the turkey. I'm just using a spider here, a tool we can use to prevent any type of spillage or splashing. Then we'll take this pot of brine liquid, which is completely cool at this point, and pour it in: nice. Then take this big old bird, and it's as simple as just submerging it so it's completely covered by the brine. Now wrap it with plastic, put it in your refrigerator, and you'll take it out after twelve to fifteen hours, pat it dry, and then you'll roast it the way you would normally roast a turkey. This is going to make your turkey moister, it's going to take it to a higher flavor level. I would 100% always brine a turkey. I wouldn't even think twice about it.