How To Brine A Turkey In A Cooler Or Bucket, Brine Recipe

Turkey Brining In A Bucket

One essential question that is often forgotten when preparing for a Thanksgiving dinner is “What are you going to brine your Turkey in?”

Well, there are only two answers to this question:  A 5-gallon bucket or a 5-gallon pot.  In a previous year, a reader suggested a large cooler which can be done in the exact same way as a bucket. 

However, the plastic inside a cooler or ice chest tends to be made of a softer plastic which makes sanitizing before and after the turkey brining more difficult (not to mention cleaning the drain spout on some coolers.)

If you do not have either a pot or a bucket, another way to improvise is to use your vegetable crisper in your refrigerator (only when the crisper is located at the bottom of the fridge because you do not want turkey juice dripping down and contaminating other food).

DO NOT, as some people do, try to brine a turkey in a kitchen sink that will come in contact with other foods.  All that you will accomplish is contaminating your entire kitchen counter with watery raw turkey germs and bacteria –  a Thanksgiving recipe for disaster!

While it is widely-known that brining a turkey before Thanksgiving Day makes the meat more succulent by osmosis, what is lesser-known is that flavors and aroma can also be introduced into the turkey during the brining process. So here is a simple brine recipe that balances salty against sweet with a hint of Fall flavors and aromas.

Basic Turkey Brine Recipe for Thanksgiving:

First, the basics:
1 Cup of Salt (table, kosher, or sea – kosher is preferred)
1/2 Cup of Granulated Sugar

The extras, but not necessary:

1 Tablespoon of Allspice
1 Tablespoon of Thyme
1 Tablespoon of Rosemary
6 Bay Leaves
1 Tablespoon of minced or powder garlic
2 Cups of Apple Cider or Apple Juice
2 Apples sliced into quarters

How To Brine A Turkey In A Cooler Or Bucket

Pour the ingredients into a quart-sized pot
Add  two cups of water
Heat the brine on medium, stirring until the salt and sugar dissolve.
Let stand until room temperature.
Wash the 5-gallon bucket out thoroughly in your bathtub or on the lawn with dish soap and rinse well (the soap hates leaving the plastic).
Pour a gallon of water into the 5-gallon bucket.
Pour the brine into to water and stir.
Add a half-gallon (2 quarts) of ice and stir.
Place your thawed turkey neck down into the bucket (remove the turkey neck and giblets from inside the bird).
If the brine doesn’t completely submerge the turkey, add more ice.

Half-time turkey flip:

Half-way through the brine time, rotate the turkey in the brine neck up.
Allow the turkey to remain in the brine until 15 minutes before the turkey is ready for the oven.
Wash the brine off the turkey, pat dry with a paper towel.

When do you start to brine a turkey before Thanksgiving?

Brining can be done the day before, or the early morning of Thanksgiving. You can brine a turkey anywhere from 4 to 24 hours before the turkey goes in the oven.  The brine temperature must remain below 40 degrees at all times to prevent bacterial growth.   Never allow the ice in the brine to become fully melted.

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