My Misadventures in Brining a Turkey

The main dish at the Fortune family Christmas dinner has been roast beef since my sister and I were old enough to begin appreciating the beauty of sleeping in on Christmas Day. Before that, when we were kids, Mom made finger sandwiches and crudites, and we spent the day grazing in between napping (to make up for that 4am wake-up call) and playing with our new stuff. However, since turkey is a big Christmas meal for a lot of families, and I hadn’t made this year’s turkey until after Thanksgiving, I thought I’d post about my experiences with my first brined bird in time to (hopefully) ensure that your Christmas turkey is as moist and flavorful as mine was.

First of all, you will see brining bags on sale in grocery stores. Don’t buy one — they’re pretty useless. If you try to brine a bird in a bag instead of a pot or a bucket, part of your bird is going to stick out of the brine and end up dry.


Notice how much bird is not in the brine. This is several gallons of brine, and only an eleven pound turkey!

If you try to use your biggest pot to convince your bird and bag to cooperate, it will work, but it will look completely ridiculous. So, please, if you don’t have a massive stock pot (I have purchased one since this incident!) go to a grocery store and ask at the bakery if they have any five gallon buckets they’re willing to part with, or go to Home Depot and spend a few bucks on one. You can reuse it every time you want to brine a turkey — and believe me, once you’ve tried it, you won’t be able to imagine roasting one without brining it. And, added incentive, it won’t look like this:


Yes, I save the elastics from things like broccoli and lobsters for just these sorts of occasions.

Find a reliable source for a brine recipe, and then allow yourself to improvise. This is the best way to get a turkey that you and your family will enjoy. I used Alton Brown’s recipe as my starting point, but since I couldn’t find any allspice berries in my pantry, and I don’t like parting with my candied ginger unless it’s going into my mouth directly, I threw in a bunch of other tasty things, like garlic, onion, cinnamon sticks, star anise, and orange peel. Also, because I knew there wasn’t room for the turkey to brine in my fridge, I used ice instead of iced water, to make sure my thawed turkey stayed cold enough to inhibit bacteria growth until it was time to put it in the oven.

After brining overnight (and most of the day, while I was at work) I drained and patted dry my turkey, stuffed some butter under the skin over the breasts, rubbed the skin with canola oil and sprinkled it liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Instead of the aromatics Alton suggests, I put a few stems of thyme, sage and rosemary into the cavity of my turkey, after crumbling as many of the leaves as I could over the top.

When it's this pretty before it's even been cooked, you know you're in for a treat.

When it’s this pretty before it’s even been cooked, you know you’re in for a treat.

Then I roasted it, according to Alton’s directions, at 500°F for half an hour, turned it down to 350°F and finished it that way. I probably should have basted, just to keep the herbs on top from drying out and blackening, but since we don’t really eat the skin, I wasn’t too worried about it. I did put tin foil on after probably the first hour to keep them from burning further and imparting a charred taste to the meat.


Even with the charred herbs, this bird looks good enough to eat. And it was delicious.

The result? Only the most moist, flavorful turkey I’ve ever eaten in my life. And so tender that it carved like butter with a hot knife. Even after several days in the fridge, the leftovers weren’t showing any signs of that icky, mealy, dried out texture — not even the white meat. So in case you, like me, were wondering what the big deal was about brining, well… the big deal is that it works. And if, after Christmas, you find yourself with an abundance of leftover turkey, don’t forget to check out my recipes for making leftover turkey not only palatable, but interesting and tasty!

For more recipes from my kitchen to yours, please visit

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Fia Fortune

About Fia Fortune

Fia Fortune is a home cook who enjoys gardening, creating recipes for her two blogs, cooking for herself and her boyfriend, and trying to keep up with their blended family of four cats.