Trust us: This technique will elevate your Thanksgiving meal.
Turkey in brine bag
Credit: John Kernick

Allowing your Thanksgiving sides to overshadow your turkey is a holiday tradition no home cook wants to start—and if you haven't yet found a foolproof method for turning out a juicy, flavorful showpiece bird, adding a brine bag and brining to your prep work may be the answer.

Using a brine to marinate a turkey is a simple technique—it relies on submerging a turkey in a seasoned liquid for about 18 hours in a brine bag, which improves the finished product in several key ways. "Brining a turkey infuses flavor and moisture into the meat and also tenderizes [it]," says Chef Garnett Livingston, owner of La Maison Dining.

Though brine recipes vary from chef to chef, they include sweeteners—like sugar, honey, or maple syrup—water, salt, and aromatic herbs and spices such as ginger, thyme, or parsley.

The Benefits of a Brine Bag

Using a large stockpot covered with plastic wrap is a common method for brining a turkey, but using a bag offers at least one improvement: "Brining in a bag ensures the turkey is fully submerged and that the brine reaches every part of the turkey," says chef Waldy Malouf, senior director of food and beverage operations at The Culinary Institute of America.

Covering the Turkey

A bag also makes it easier to keep your turkey fully covered in brine during its soaking time. "Halfway through the brining process, roll the turkey over in the bag to mix up the liquid a bit and make sure it's fully submerged," Malouf says.

Choosing a Brine Bag

Opt for a bag that's specifically designed for brining. "Most stores carry brine bags during the holiday season, and depending on the size of your turkey, they should work fine," says Livingston.

Check the Size

Check the size of your turkey before you buy, though, to guarantee your bird will fit. "It's important to ensure that the brine bag or [oven roasting bag] is large and strong enough to fully submerge the turkey," says Malouf, who recommends using the latter if you can't find the former. "Remember to leave yourself enough slack for squeezing out any air and cinching the bag with kitchen twine or string."

Avoid Using Non-Food Grade Bags

Though some home cooks suggest that a garbage bag could work in a pinch, chefs warn against choosing any bag that's not food-grade, since those could be lined with unsafe dyes, scents, or chemicals.

Tips for Using a Brine Bag

  • Livingston recommends layering two bags in a large stockpot or bowl.
  • Malouf reminds first-timers to place the bag in a bowl or pot before adding the bird and the brine. Keep the whole solution in the container while brining to avoid unwelcome spills.
  • When you're through brining, don't pick up the bag for transfer. "Don't carry the bag on its own, as it can split and spill the turkey-laced brine everywhere," says Malouf.


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