Since I became a chef, I’ve been responsible for the turkey at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner. For the last 15 years, I’ve made a brined turkey — there really is no other way to do it.
American turkeys are extremely breast-heavy, which possibly says something about American tastes. This creates a problem, however, since the breast meat quickly becomes dry and tasteless while cooking. Brining a bird will help this dramatically. (Another technique I’ll share with you: split the turkey in half before cooking. This lets you cook the light and dark meat to different temperatures — breast meat at 155ºF and dark meat to 180ºF.)
The following is a simple brine recipe. You can add all kinds of things into the brine to experiment with the flavor of the turkey, such as soy sauce, ginger, pepper, curry, or any other spice. Have fun with it! I’ve tried many different versions of turkey brine, but I always come back to the basics for Thanksgiving dinner.
Chef Josh Kroner’s Simple Turkey Brine Recipe
For the turkey:
- 1 12-14 lb fresh (or defrosted) turkey
- ½ lb butter, melted
For the brine:
- ½ gallon water, room temperature
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 cup maple syrup
- ¼ cup peppercorns, cracked
- 1½ gallons water with ice in clean 5-gallon bucket
- In a large bowl, mix the salt, maple, and peppercorns into the room temperature water until the salt is dissolved. Add to the ice water in the 5-gallon bucket and stir well.
- Prepare the turkey by removing the neck and innards from the cavity; carefully place the bird “head” first into the bucket. Make sure that the bird is completely submerged. If you need to, you can weigh it down with a plate.
- Place the bucket into a refrigerator (or outside if you’re sure that the temperature will remain between 30 and 40 degrees overnight). Let the turkey brine for 18-30 hours, flipping the bird once.
- Remove the turkey from the brine; rinse in cold water, dry with paper towels, and place on a cutting board. Using a sharp kitchen knife and one side at a time, pull the skin tight on a leg and carefully cut the skin between the leg and the breast. Follow the curve of the leg and cut all the way back to the back bone. You want to keep as much skin as possible on the breast, and less on the leg.
- After you complete both sides, stand the bird up, front end down, and bend the leg section back, using the back bone as the hinge. This will cause the back bone to break. Use your knife to complete the cut and remove the leg/thigh section from the breast. Now you should have two sections of turkey.
- Place each section onto a roasting pan, skin side up, and brush generously with melted butter. Preheat the oven to 500ºF. Place both sections in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven to 325ºF and continue cooking for approximately one hour, basting with butter occasionally. Use an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of each piece of turkey. The breast will be finished cooking at an internal temperature of 155ºF, the leg/thigh section at 180ºF.
- When each section is done, remove from oven, cover with foil, and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes. You can reassemble the turkey for presentation if you wish, simply by pushing the two sections together on a large serving dish. Enjoy!