I grew up loving Thanksgiving but with a lack of enthusiasm about the star of the show, the turkey. The meat was usually dry and lacked flavor, so I didn’t get the hype. When I met my husband, he nixed my plan to omit turkey entirely from the Thanksgiving menu because he loves turkey. So I had to find a way to make it better, and I did. My secret to a juicy Thanksgiving turkey is pickle brine.
I’ve been a devout pickle person my whole life. After school, I’d rush home to watch reruns of 90210 while eating a bowl of Mt. Olive dill pickles and pickled banana peppers. These days, my pickle-obsessed kids are following in my footsteps, packing pickles in their lunchboxes and drinking the brine right out of the jar.
That brine, a mixture of vinegar, salt, sugar, and spices, is just as valuable as the spears floating in it, if not more so. It has so much flavor! Even Chick-fil-A brines their chicken in pickle brine before frying. So I started soaking my homemade chicken nuggets and schnitzel in pickle brine before cooking them—they were instantly beloved by the whole family.
If it works for one bird, why not another? Turns out the payoff is big. Pickle brine always amps up the flavor of my holiday turkey by leaps and bounds.
Why You Should Brine Your Turkey
Brining is a clever way to build flavor and improve the texture of meat, especially poultry. There are two types of brine. A dry brine is a combination of salt and spices, which you rub on the surface of the turkey. A wet brine adds liquid to the mix and you soak the turkey in it.
I like a wet brine because the liquid plumps up the turkey with flavor while the salt helps the meat retain moisture as it cooks. It also takes a little less time than a dry brine, typically about 12 to 24 hours compared to 24 to 72 hours for a dry brine.
How To Wet Brine a Turkey With Pickle Brine
I remove the turkey from the packaging and pat it dry with paper towels. Then I place it in my biggest stock pot and add eight cups of pickle brine and enough water to fully cover the turkey. You can use any kind of pickle brine—I like Mt. Olive dill pickles so that’s what I use.
I suspect you likely don’t always keep eight cups of pickle brine in your fridge. A 24-ounce jar of pickles will leave you with a little more than a cup of brine, so start stashing the liquid as you go through the pickles. (Note: Mt. Olive sells large jugs of pickle juice if you can’t get through that many jars of pickles before Thanksgiving.) Since we’re a pickle family, I always keep the leftover brine in a deli container in the fridge. And if space is tight, I freeze it.
To the liquid, I add a cup of salt, 1/4 cup of sugar, and sometimes fresh garlic and more spices.
The trickiest part of wet brining a turkey for me is finding space for it to hang out for 12 to 24 hours. If you have a garage fridge, that’s a great option. You can also use a large cooler loaded with ice.
I remove the brined turkey from the liquid, pat it dry, and let it sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Then I slather it all over, including under the skin, with seasoned butter. Now the turkey is ready to roast! This method will give you a moist and flavorful turkey that’s worthy of being called the star of the show.