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How to thaw and brine a turkey for your holiday dinner

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Christmas dinner needs to be perfect and there is nothing worse than being ready to dress the turkey and it's frozen solid, or you cook it and its so dry people need to drown it in gravy. We are here to help.

Butterball is always a go-to source for all things turkey related. You might even want to download their "Turkey App" to have tips and tricks in your back pocket.

How do you brine a turkey?

Learning to brine a turkey will make you a hero to your family, especially those that love white meat but want it to be moist. That is exactly what brining a turkey does. The process is fairly easy, the biggest dilemma is finding a large enough container to submerge your turkey into the brine mixture.

  1. Buy a fresh turkey to eliminate the need to thaw, or completely thaw a frozen turkey.
  2. Remove the giblets and turkey neck.
  3. Rinse the turkey inside and out.
  4. Prepare your brine. Be sure to mix ingredients until all of the salt is dissolved.
  5. Place your turkey, breast down, in a large container made of food-grade plastic, stainless steel, glass, or a brining bag. Be sure the container will fit in your fridge or if it's cold enough your garage or protected back patio.
  6. Add brine, covering the entire turkey.
  7. Place in the refrigerator for 8-16 hours.
  8. Remove turkey, rinse and pat dry with paper towels, discard the brine.
  9. Add aromatics
  10. Cook turkey as desired.

There are dozens of brine recipes but our favorite is Food Networks, Alton Brown's turkey brine recipe.

For the brine:

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 gallon vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger
  • 1 gallon heavily iced water

For the aromatics:

  • 1 red apple, sliced
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 6 leaves sage
  • Canola oil

Combine these ingredients, place your turkey in a 5 gallon container and pour the brine mixture on top. You then refrigerate or place in a cool area for 8-12 hours. The group of aromatics are added to the turkey after you drain and rinse the brine off of and out of the turkey. Note: Do not cook the turkey with the brine, discard the brine immediately after you remove the turkey. Please see Alton Brown's complete instructions for this delightful brine recipe here.

Butterball Turkey Q & A's

Q: How long does it take to thaw a turkey?

A: You have a few options when it comes to thawing a turkey. The Butterball site gives you a calculator to give you your options depending on how much time you have left.

12 pound turkey takes 3 day to thaw in the refrigerator but only 6 hours if you thaw it in cold water

Q: How do you thaw a turkey in the refrigerator?

A: Thaw breast side up, in an unopened wrapper on a tray in the fridge. Allow at least 1 day of thawing for every 4 lbs.

Q: How do you thaw it in cold water?

A: Thaw breast side down, in an unopened wrapper, with enough cold water to cover your turkey completely.
Change water every 30 minutes to keep the turkey chilled.
Estimate a minimum thawing time of 30 minutes per lb.

Turkey Thawing Time

  • 12 lb turkey 3 days refrigerator 6 hours cold water method
  • 16 lb turkey 4 days, 8 hours cold water method
  • 20 lb turkey 5 days, 10 hours cold water method
  • 25 lb turkey 6 days plus 6 hours, 12 hours cold water method

Q: What can I make with all of the turkey leftovers?

A: Most recipes that call for chicken can usually use turkey as a substitute. Turkey Sandwiches, Turkey Noodle Soup and Turkey Pot Pie are the most popular options. We created a mexican appetizer you can take to the New Years Eve Potluck dinner, Black Bean Turkey Empanadas or these Touchdown Turkey Bites.

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