How to Brine a Turkey and Other Meats

Tired of dry, tasteless turkey? Add flavor and moisture with this simple solution.

What does brining a turkey mean?

Brining is a way of marinating and adding moisture to lean meat. The turkey or other meat is soaked in a mixture of salt and water for a few hours or days before cooking. Some recipes call for adding other flavoring ingredients to the brine, such as sugar, herbs, and spices, but they aren’t necessary. In the days before refrigeration, brining was used as a way to preserve meat (think ham and pastrami), but now it’s a popular way to add flavor and moisture to lean meats.

Why should I brine my meat?

Brining makes meat juicier and more flavorful and improves its texture. “Salt adds tremendous flavor,” says scientist Greg Blonder, Ph.D. “And brining, if you do it right, will get the salt deep into the meat, so every bite has a nice, salty taste.” Brining is also a cook’s insurance policy against accidentally overcooked meat, because brining helps to lock in moisture. In other words: no more dry turkey.

But won’t brining make the meat too salty?

Brine recipes are carefully crafted so they contain only 5 to 8 percent salt. Blonder explains that even though the brine would be too salty to drink, it takes a long time for the solution to penetrate the meat fully. If you follow the recipe directions on how long to brine the meat, you shouldn’t have a problem with oversalted food, since typically only a few teaspoons of the salt solution will penetrate.