Brined Turkey Breast

Chef's notes:

The turkey breast is just about every kid’s favorite part of the turkey. That is until we get a little older and we realize that dark meat is actually better. That is until we started brining our turkeys. Now brining is so popular that the big turkey companies are getting into the spirit. I’m just guessing, but I think their motives are a bit different than ours. Something to do with adding weight to a product sold by the pound. But, then again, what else is new? Their motto may well as be “charge as much as you can for the smallest quantity possible.” Hell, it probably is.

Anyway, the reason why we brine, we the people here in the really real world, is to add flavor and moisture, especially with white/dry meat like the turkey breast. A lot of people maintain that we have just been overcooking the breast all these years, which in part is true, but white meat is also just leaner than the rest. So we add a brine, which adds moisture.


  • 2 turkey breasts
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup cane sugar
  • 4 cups warm water
  • 1½ trays ice cubes
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 Tbsp pickling spice

Turkey Breast Brined with Kosher Salt, Cane Sugar, Garlic, and Pickling Spices

  1. Get the ingredients for the turkey brine together. For these turkey breasts, we will use a basic recipe for brine in conjunction with some very common brine spices. The full recipe is just to the right. The spices are: cinnamon, whole allspice, mustard seed, coriander seed, crumbled bay leaves, ginger, whole cloves, whole black pepper, mace, cardamom pods, red chillies, and garlic.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients for the turkey brine in a large bowl. Make sure you peel the garlic and smash it to release flavor. You can buy the spices separately and mix them yourself or you can pick up a bottle of “pickling spice” at the grocery store. Read the label before you buy. Since the quantities of spices are so low in my recipe, it may be easier to just buy the premixed bottle.
  3. Add the hot water to the bowl and stir the brine ingredients. Use a whisk and stir the brine until the mixture is thoroughly combined. It is not necessary to use boiling water; hot tap water is more than hot enough to dissolve the salt and sugar. The heat should also help to release some of the essential oils in the herbs and spices.
  4. Cool the hot brine down with ice cubes. If you add 1½ trays of ice cubes, you will end up with about 8 cups of brine, which will be more than enough to brine a couple of boneless, skinless turkey breasts. But it will be just about the right amount if you buy a whole bone-in breast. Stir the mixture until the ice cubes stop melting. Then lay the breasts in, cover the bowl and put it in the fridge. For boneless, skinless turkey breasts, let them be for 8‒10 hours; for bone-in turkey breasts, 14‒16 hours should be good.

Tips & Tricks

  • If you use boneless, skinless turkey breasts as I have here, you really only need to brine them for a few hours, like 8‒10 at the most.
  • If, for some reason, you need more brine, add vegetable stock. That way, the mixture won’t become diluted.
  • Do not attempt to reuse your brine. It is now contaminated with poultry juice, so just throw it away.
  • Be careful of brining your meat in plastic containers; it might permanently stain the plastic. I like to stick to non-reactive metal containers.
  • Use kosher salt because it’s iodine free and because it is cheap. Sea salt is also iodine free, but it ain’t cheap, baby.
  • We all know that things made with real sugar are better tasting. But we also know we shouldn’t eat that much real sugar. But don’t worry—using real sugar in this brine is not going to rot your teeth. Only a very small amount actually makes it into the meat. Besides, beet sugar is gross. And Splenda is so strange that it has to be bad for you.