HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Two Turkey Questions

We are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time in many years. I have a couple of questions concerning the turkey. First, I have never brined a turkey, but have read here that it definitely improves it. Can I brine a frozen turkey, say a Butterball? Do I thaw it first?

Also, do you have any tips or tricks for getting that nice even brown color on the turkey? TIA for any advice.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. to your first question, you must thaw first in order to brine, otherwise the turkey will not have any way to absorb the brine. But I don't see any reason why you couldn't brine a previously frozen turkey.

    1. There is no difference when brining a fresh than a frozen turkey, but it should be 85% or more thawed when you begin to brine it.
      I like to insert bits of compound butter under the skin and tightly tent the bird with heavy foil, but you must use a temperature probe to make sure you get both the color and the internal temps at the right time.
      Convection ovens are a great aid in getting crispy skin.

      1. Brining a turkey definitely improves the flavor and juiciness. You use a mixture of salt and sugar (can also add peppercorns and garlic for flavor). What happens is that osmosis will try to equalize the ion/water concentration between the brine and the turkey, resulting in the juice and flavor to stay inside the meat.

        You don't want to brine a butterball turkey. If you read the label, they are already brined. That's why they can claim that their turkeys always come out good and juicy. If you want to brine, you'll want to buy a different brand of turkey.

        1. Yep, as KingKong5 already remarked butterballs are already brined for you. I've brined my turkeys in the past, but have now realized it's not really worth the effort solely for retaining juiciness. (Brining for flavor is the only reason I would ever want to do that again, and then only if the flavoring will radically stand out.) What matters more is that you do not overcook your bird. I use a remotely monitored meat thermometer to "under-cook" the turkey until the dark meat reads abouts 150-155 degrees (depending on the bird). I then let it rest for 30 minutes and it goes up to a safer temperature, the juices get re-absorbed and the turkey doesn't dry out.

          1. You also shouldn't brine a Kosher turkey as this has already been soaked in salted water as part of the koshering process.


              Butterball sells a number of types of turkeys -- not all are "prebrined" by being injected with sodium soloution.

              I have brined many a "fresh" Butterball successfully.

              Go by what's on the label, not the brand name.

              1. I always brine my turkey and it turns out delicious. It's a little work beforehand, but worth it. Try Alton Brown's method. You can get it on the FoodTV website.

                1. Do you have Alton Brown's recipe? If it's the one with candied ginger, do you know where I can buy that...does Trader Joe's carry it?

                  1 Reply
                  1. Yeah! I'm with the others. Dump the Butterball and brine a *real* turkey.

                    I use an 18qt poly tub with a snap-on lid. It doesn't require a ton of brine to completely cover a large turkey and fits in most fridges. If you can't get that in the fridge make your brine with about 2/3 water and 1/3 ice cubes and put it and the turkey in a cooler in a cool garage.

                    1. Even without brining - forget about the Butterball.

                      Alton Brown's recipe is the way to go. To be honest with you, I cook several large turkeys a year, I've followed bits and pieces of this method depending how much time I have. Even if you don't brine, use the cooking method and it'll turn out great. If you do brine, but are just roasting for the meat and don't care about crispy skin, then it'll turn out great. Do both, and it'll be awesome. I think the key is to not over-cook. Get the bird outa there by 165.

                      1. We always brine first. We use Emeril's from Foodnetwork and tweak it to what we have on hand. Makes the most moist and wonderful turkey!

                        1. I LOVE Emeril's brine recipe. :)

                          1. I didn't brine, because mine was already "butter basted" (it was an Archer Farms from SuperTarget), but I used Alton's method of making a foil "armor breastplate" for the breast (BEFORE cooking, so you get the shape right w/o touching hot bird). I jacked the oven up to 500, roasted uncovered for half an hour, put the armor on and lowered to 350. Took it out when thermometer in breast read 161. SUPER juicy! Tried to cut dark meat and bone pulled right out. NOTE: the popup timer hadn't even popped yet. Don't ever trust those thingies!! (But DON'T take them out or all your juices will run out.)

                            1. Marian Burros had an article in last week's New York Times food column comparing different turkeys (heritage, organic, free-range and Butterball, fresh and frozen). Overall the most important factor was not overcooking it. Personally I take the turkey out at an internal temp of around 150 - 155 because I loathe dried out food. Butterball came out worst in Burros' tests as having the least flavor.

                              1 Reply
                              1. I say forget buying one of those Frankenstein birds altogether. Buy a heritage turkey! The flavor is excellent although the price is not... I think it's worth a try if you've never had one.


                                2 Replies
                                1. re: HaagenDazs

                                  I checked into Heritage Turkeys too late. SOLD OUT and really expensive (15 lbs. for $150).

                                  1. re: Slotkins

                                    We got a 20-lb. Mary's Turkeys heritage bird yesterday for $4 a pound, but only because our local supermarket offered them on a first-come, first-served basis instead of taking advance orders.

                                    The flavor really is superior.

                                2. The easiest roast turkey that takes 2 hours. No kidding... Really, it takes 2 hours!


                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: HaagenDazs

                                    I just looked at Alton's turkey recipe and that one only takes 2 - 2-1/2 hours. I'm one who really loves stuffing in the turkey, though. How much longer do you think it will take for a 16 lb bird? About 1/2 hr, 45 mins?

                                    1. re: puss58

                                      This is the newest (Nov. '06) recipe from Gourmet/Epicurious. This recipe calls for a 16 pounder.


                                      From the looks of it, they are saying add an extra 30 minutes for a larger bird. Buy a probe thermometer and you can be absolutely sure when the bird hits the correct temp.

                                      1. re: puss58

                                        I used to love the stuffing in the bird as well, but then I tried Alton's method and came up with a darn good out of the bird stuffing recipe. You will not be able to use some of these techniques with stuffing and get the same great results as far as how moist the turkey is. Sure, you could cook it longer to get it up to temperature, but the point to keeping it moist is to get it to that temp relatively quickly.

                                        I won't even get into the health issues, I'm sure you've heard all that. You can stuff a bird safely, but IMO you sacrifice flavor and moistness in the bird itself.

                                        Either way - good luck.

                                    2. I brine frozen birds regularly. The trick is to brine it for longer than you would normally with less salt. As i never have room in my fridge around the holidays to defrost a frozen bird, i'll defrost my turkey in a large cooler lined with a large garbage sack. I prepare my brine and basically defrost the turkey in the brine liquid. I'll allow 3 days- 2 to defrost/brine and 1 to air dry in the fridge after brining. The only drawback to this method is you must monitor the brine temp carefully. whe you put the frozen turkey in the temp will drop to around 25-30 depending on how cold your frozen turkey is. the salt in the brine keeps the water from freezing. over the course of the day the temp will gradually come up. If it begins to come up too rapidly you can slow it down by adding frozen water bottles between the side of the cooler and your brine bag. The garbage sack really helps avoid contamination of your brine. As long as you keep your brine in the safe zone (below 45) you'll have no safety issues.

                                      Using this brine/thaw method I've had great results, I'd love to hear what other people think

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: nothingman

                                        This seems like a great idea for people that dont have refrigerator room and/or don't live where you can put it outside to maintain a safe temp (e.g., I live in FL). My concerns would be 1) maintaining a consistently safe int/ext turkey temp, and 2) the difference in absorbtion of salt rates and defrost rates based on turkey size w/this method. But a very interesting and "out of the box" method. Would love to have Alton Brown takle this "easy brining method" !!!!

                                        1. re: CamaroSS

                                          The first time i tried it was born out of necessity. I had been given a frozen turkey as a supermarket giveaway or something so I was faced with the prospect of defrosting a frozen bird in 3 days. From experince I knew that i'd have no shot of bining it if i defrosted it in the fridge and while my mother always defrosted her turkey in the sink I was a bit worried about some bits warming up too quickly before the bird could thaw. As I tend not to use a full strength brine, usually bout 2/3 of the recomended salt i've never had a too salty bird. I also think that the salt probably penetrates the bird at a not too disimilar rate than it thaws. I've never had the luxury of testing this method on several birds at the same time for comparison.

                                        2. re: nothingman

                                          What are the benefits to air drying the turkey after brining? I've never heard of it and am curious :)

                                          1. re: MeowMixx

                                            dry skin will brown much better than damp skin. this is why, when making pekin duck, with the amazingly crackly skin, they not only dry the skin, they "inflate" it, by separating it from the meat and blowing air in between the meat and skin...it helps hot oven air to circulate and get that skin crackle-crisp.

                                        3. rookie to the board BTW

                                          1. I'm trying Alton's honey brine recipe (http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recip...)
                                            this year... but can't resist making a few changes.
                                            Will add a bunch of smoked sea salt to the liquid and am toying with the idea of adding a bottle of tequila for flavor. (Doing a Southwest themed dinner this year). Would the alcohol make the bird too mushy?

                                            1. I bought a 6.8 pound heritage turkey at Costco (of all places) yesterday in Santa Cruz and cooked it in my new convection oven. I brined it overnight, dried it, stuck a half lemon, half an onion, and some garlic cloves in the cavity, salted, buttered and peppered it and roasted it at 350° (that equals 375° non-convection) for about an hour. It is delicious and moist.

                                              The texture of the meat is nice...not mushy like some commerical birds.