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Can I brine an already basted turkey?

Brining is a popular technique for keeping turkey moist and adding flavor. Many turkeys sold in grocery stores are already injected or basted with a saline solution or broth. So can you still brine a pre-basted turkey? The short answer is yes, you can brine an already basted turkey, but with some modifications to the brining time.

What is brining?

Brining refers to soaking meat or poultry in a saltwater solution, also called a brine, before cooking. The brine is typically a mixture of water, salt, sugar, and aromatics like herbs, spices, or citrus. As the turkey soaks, the brine seasons the meat and helps it retain moisture during roasting.

There are two main benefits to brining a turkey:

  • It seasons the meat throughout: The salt in the brine penetrates deep into the muscle fibers, seasoning the meat thoroughly.
  • It keeps the turkey juicy: The salt allows the turkey to hold on to more moisture as it cooks, resulting in a juicier end product.

What is a pre-basted turkey?

Many whole turkeys sold at grocery stores are pre-basted or pre-injected with a salt solution. This is often noted on the label as something like “Kosher, self-basting, enhanced, flavor added, injected with up to 15% of a solution.”

This solution usually contains:

  • Water
  • Salt
  • Natural flavors
  • Phosphates
  • Vegetable stock or broth

Injecting or basting the turkey with this solution serves a similar purpose to brining – it seasons the meat and helps it retain moisture during cooking. The main difference is that brining allows the seasoning and moisture to distribute evenly, while injections target specific areas.

Can you brine an already basted turkey?

Yes, you can brine an already basted turkey, but you’ll need to adjust a few things:

  • Reduce the brining time: Since the turkey already has salt and flavor injected, you don’t need to brine it as long to achieve the benefits. Cut the brining time in half, from the usual 12-24 hours to 6-12 hours.
  • Reduce the salt: Pre-basted turkeys already contain salt, so you can reduce the salt in the brine. Cut it by about half compared to a regular brine recipe.
  • Skip additional flavorings: The turkey already has natural flavors added, so you can make a plain salt-sugar brine without any other seasonings. The goal is just to enhance moisture retention.

Here is an adjusted brine recipe for a pre-basted turkey:

Brine for Pre-Basted Turkey

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Combine the water, salt, and sugar in a pot and heat gently to dissolve. Cool completely before adding turkey. Soak turkey 6-12 hours, flipping occasionally. Rinse and pat dry before roasting.

Should you rinse a turkey after brining?

Yes, you should always rinse and pat dry a turkey after brining, whether it’s pre-basted or not. Here’s why:

  • Removes excess salt: Rinsing removes any concentrated pockets of salt on the surface that could make the meat overly salty.
  • Improves browning: Patting the skin dry allows it to brown and crisp up better in the oven.
  • Reduces sogginess: Draining off excess brine prevents the skin from becoming soggy as the turkey cooks.

Make sure to rinse the turkey inside and out with cool water. Pat the outside very dry with paper towels. Let it air dry in the fridge for 30-60 minutes before roasting for best results.

Tips for brining a pre-basted turkey

Here are some additional tips for successfully brining an already basted turkey:

  • Make sure it’s fully thawed: Brining works best when the turkey is completely thawed so the brine can fully penetrate.
  • Use a cooler or bucket: Submerge the wrapped turkey in a large cooler, clean bucket, or stockpot filled with brine.
  • Keep it cold: The brine needs to stay chilled at 40°F or below. Use ice packs or bottles of frozen water to keep cool.
  • Flip occasionally: Flip the turkey every few hours so the brine distributes evenly.
  • Watch the flavor: Go easy on strong aromatics, as the natural flavors in the turkey can clash.
  • Discard used brine: Don’t reuse brine after brining for food safety reasons.

Frequently asked questions

Does brining make turkey too salty?

Brining does increase the overall sodium level of the turkey. However, properly rinsing and patting dry the turkey after brining removes excess surface salt. As long as you don’t overdo the salt in the brine and brine for a reasonable time, the end result should not taste overly salty.

Can you brine too long?

Yes, brining too long can make the turkey too salty. That’s why it’s important to reduce brining time for a pre-basted turkey. Stick within the recommended 6-12 hours for a pre-basted bird. For an unbrined turkey, aim for 12-24 hours.

What happens if you don’t rinse a brined turkey?

Neglecting to rinse a brined turkey can lead to a very salty end product. The skin is also likely to be damp and soggy instead of crispy. Make sure to always rinse and pat turkeys dry after brining.

Can you brine a frozen turkey?

It’s best to thaw the turkey completely before brining. A frozen turkey won’t allow the brine to penetrate evenly. For food safety, you also don’t want the turkey sitting in the brine for the multiple days it would take to thaw.

Is it necessary to brine a pre-basted turkey?

While brining does offer benefits like added moisture and flavor penetration, it’s not strictly necessary for a pre-basted turkey. Pre-basting achieves similar results, just to a lesser degree. Brining can still improve the flavor and texture if you have the time.

The bottom line

Pre-basted turkeys already have salt and flavor solutions injected, so you can still brine them, but should reduce the brining time and salt used. Make sure to thoroughly rinse and dry the turkey after brining to get rid of excess surface salt. With a few adjustments, brining can further improve the moisture, flavor, and texture of an already basted turkey.

Table Comparing Brining Times for Pre-Basted vs Unbrined Turkeys

Turkey Type Recommended Brining Time
Pre-Basted 6-12 hours
Unbrined 12-24 hours

Table of Brine Ingredients for Pre-Basted Turkey

Ingredient Amount
Water 1 gallon
Kosher salt 1/2 cup
Sugar 1/2 cup