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Thanksgiving 2017: Brine the Turkey

This is sort of a repost from an article featured here back in 2012 that revealed the outstanding benefits of brining a turkey. It turns out so tasty, succulent, tender ‘n juicy…  da’ kine unrealz ‘kine! For those of you who have never bothered with doing this, I can’t say how much better your bird will turn out by following this such simple first step. Probably the only difficult thing you’ll encounter is finding a pot or bucket clean enough and/or large (but not too large) enough to fit the turkey, as well as making the extra space needed in your refrigerator for it.  I’ve seen some folks do it in a Zip-Loc® roasting bag, or even a clean new trash bag if you can’t find a (clean) pot or bucket for it. Then of course there’s brining bags you can buy.

Speaking of time, that’s also the reason I’m featuring this again, as you still have time either tonight or tomorrow to brine your turkey. So if you’re going to be cooking one (or more) yourself this Thursday, get crackin’ ASAP and start doing it!  

While our ohana alternates year to year between ready-to-heat ‘n eat store-bought Turkey-to-Go and cooking at home, this year I decided to be the Thanksgiving Day cook, or ehem, shall I call myself “Chef” once again.

This time my turkey brine is made of 3/4 cup of Hawaiian salt, 3/4 cup of light brown cane sugar, and interestingly, 1 whole 12 oz. bottle of Original Molokai Roadside Stake Marinade. If not for the somewhat salty store-bought liquid marinade, I would have used an entire cup of salt. That marinade is made of Tangerine juice concentrate, Shoyu, wine, garlic and Hawaiian Chili peppers. A product I don’t think is available anymore.

The salt, sugar and store-bought meat marinade were heated up in a pot with about a quart of water to dissolve and combine it. I then cooled it in the refrigerator. Next step, I placed my almost completely thawed out 12 lb. Norbest turkey in a 3 gallon (not 5 gallon) bucket, poured in the concentrated chilled brine solution, then topped it with approximately 1½ gallons of cold water. The force of the plain water being poured into the bucket adequately mixed with the concentrated quart of brine solution at the bottom, however I did stir it around a bit for good measure. 

So above is our 12 lb. Norbest Turkey, thawed out, submerged and and chillin’ in the bucket of brine, ready to hit the refrigerator on the bottom shelf. Note, I had to move one of the shelves above up a few notches to make room in the fridge for the height of the bucket. 

And there it is, in the brine in the fridge where I made space, in there right now as I’m writing this. I’m really curious how that Molokai Roadside Steak Marinade is going to influence the flavor of this turkey. Upon tasting it right after heating the mixture more concentrated in the pot, I’m VERY optimistic this is so gonna’ ROCK! 

The reason I decided to try using this marinade is not only because I had it sitting in my pantry for honestly way too long now (like years), but I read a couple brine recipes online that incorporated Orange juice  and the rind. So I looked a the ingredients of the Molokai Roadside Steak Marinade, where its dominant ingredient was Tangerine juice concentrate and thought, “Sounds like a plan!”. That, and the second dominant ingredient being shoyu should be AWESOME for enhancing this turkey brine! 

When I tasted the concentrated brine in the pot right after heating it, it has just right balance of saltiness, with a very slight “heat” from the chili peppers in the marinade, and just a tad of sweetness. That shoyu in the marinade also brought “umami” in the brine, and surely will do that to the turkey itself! And of course there’s that Tangerine juice in the marinade that added this subtle citrus accent to the flavor profile, so I’m  most excited about that part! 

A final note on the marinade element, is that’s my third “aromatic” part of the otherwise basic salt and sugar brine equation; something you don’t really need, but most brine recipes will suggest. Aromatics in brine recipes are usually seasoning and herbs such as bay leaf, peppercorn, sage, rosemary and/or thyme, to name a few. I’m going with Tangerine Juice, Shoyu, Wine, garlic and Hawaiian Chili Peppahz, baby! 

And not to worry if you think the concentrated brine thinned down with over a gallon of water is going to lose its effectiveness, because it doesn’t. Believe me, I’ve done this for several years now, and every time it turns out AWESOME! 

From my 2012 Turkey, a Butterball soaking in brine solution of 1 cup Hawaiian Salt, 1/2 cup brown cane sugar, 4 bay leaves and 1/8 of a cup of black peppercorns in approximately (more likely a little more than) 1 gallon of filtered tap water

What happens when you brine a turkey? 

When the turkey is brined, what happens is the salt solution unwinds the meat proteins to form a hollow tube. The water-based salt and sugar brine solution then travels into the protein, becoming trapped inside during the roasting process. The results being flavor-packed, super tender ‘n juicy turkey meat, arriving at the table practically with a SATISFACTION GUARANTEED seal of approval stamped on each slice.

While you’ll find a gazillion recipes online for turkey brine, the basics of it are again a simple combination of salt, sugar and your choice of aromatics (the latter two optional) in a water solution, to which you soak your bird for 30 seconds, to several hours, to overnight, to 10 years, depending on who’s teaching you how to do it. lol

No, but seriously, regarding how long to brine, in my experience, overnight and up to 24 hours is perfect, as in one of my attempts letting it brine 48 hours, while it turned out awesome, it was a little TOO awesome, depending what your idea of “turkey awesomeness” is. I mean, it was so soft, tender and juicy, the meat was almost like Pâté in some parts. I mean where I could practically spread the center part of the breast on a piece of toast like butter. Like BUTTAH’! While some in our ohana liked that almost buttery texture, others preferred a bit more “chew” to it.

One other note to make, is the Norbest Turkey I’m brining this year, as all the ones I’ve done in the past, is the frozen type with “up to 9.5% Turkey Broth and seasonings” injected into it. Ideally you’d want a fresh (never frozen), unprocessed turkey for brining, which here in Hawaii are very rare to find in the stores (I don’t ever recall seeing it). While some will say not to brine the common frozen and injected turkeys because it’s already seasoned and will turn out too salty if you brine it, don’t believe that. As long as you add enough water to the brine in the bucket, it won’t.

Also again, don’t brine it too long for the reason mentioned in the previous paragraph. While 24 is perfect and 48 too long, I’m going to let the turkey brine for about 30 hours this year and see how that turns out. After removing it from the brine, I’ll rinse it thoroughly to remove excess salt.

For good measure, to give the turkey a nice golden brown finish to the skin, I rub it with cooking oil just before popping it in the oven. I’m estimating about 2 hours roasting time in my new convection oven for this 12 lb. turkey. I’ll use a meat thermometer to get that magical 165ºF internal temperature to make sure I get it right. 

That said, from one our Thanksgiving day feast in the past, here’s 14.6 oz. Turkey I brined for 24 hours, done roasting…

And here’s a Butterball turkey I brined for 48 hours done, all carved-up (no bones) and ready to dig in…

Brined Butterball turkey breast with an almost Pâté-like center…

You can visibly see how soft and juicy this breast meat is. Unrealz cuz! 

Above you can visibly see the difference between the turkey breast that was brined to one that wasn’t. 


Brined ‘n Roasted Butterball Turkey, Stuffing, Keanu’s Ham with a Li Hing Pineapple Glaze, Cranberry Relish, Mash Purtaters, Baked Marshmallow Yams, Mom’s “Kitchen Sink” Potato Salad, Keanu’s “Fully Loaded” Baked Potato Salad, Dinner Roll (carbo load!) and the All-American classic Green Bean Casserole with French Fried Onions. “Kanak Attack” soon to follow.

Speaking of side dishes, this year I plan on making Caramelized Brussel Sprouts with Yams, Pineapple, Cranberries and Macadamia Nuts, a recipe I found at Foodland.com. That’s gonna’ so rock with the Turkey! 

Once again, if you plan on roasting a turkey this Thursday, whether it’s fresh or frozen with a factory solution, BRINE IT! It’s such an easy step to do, and I can almost guarantee, as long as you don’t BURN IT, you and your ohana will be very pleased with the results!

P.S. Don’t forget, after turkey, there’s Jook!…

Turkey Jook
Turkey Jook garnished with Chinese Parsley


4 thoughts on “Thanksgiving 2017: Brine the Turkey

  • November 22, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    I know I told you before, after your first post about brined turkey, I was inspired to do it. But when I went to brine it, I realized I only had about 1/8 cup of salt left. Maybe less than that. It was sea salt in a huge shaker and I hardly use salt, I took for granted it would be a never-ending source. So I used anything in the house that might add sodium. A packet of onion soup mix, half a (smallish) bottle of soy-with-ponzu, then going with that theme, I squeezed several clementines and left them in the pot (and added the brown sugar, etc.). My mom said it was delicious and the best turkey she had, so I try to replicate kitchen sink brine for her every year. (I cooked the rest of the meal with salt from a stash of fast food salt packets, but really only the mashed potatoes needed them).

    I don’t use cooking oil, I use melted butter (sometimes I also put softened butter w seasoning under the skin too if I’m feeling fancy). Then season with s, p, paprika, garlic powder and LOTS of ginger powder. I add a few blobs of concentrated (frozen stuff) OJ to the pan as well to baste. The ginger powder and OJ was my grandmother’s thing, and turkey is just not right to my mom w/o it.

    Since you’re a mayo eater, you might consider rubbing the turkey w mayo instead of cooking oil. Seasonings will adhere better and it’s supposed to be a great way to cooking it. Slathering anything with mayo and getting it between my fingers is nightmare material, personally.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    • November 24, 2017 at 2:20 pm


      I like your “kitchen sink brine” concept. That’s basically what I did by using the bottled marinade stuff. Interesting using Orange juice in the pan to use as a basting liquid while roasting the turkey. Only thing, doesn’t that affect the precious drippings from the turkey for making a gravy afterwards?

      I seen someone rub mayo on a turkey before (Food Network?), but can’t remember where. I believe it was under the skin though, not over it. I would think mayo’ would burn quickly otherwise.

      That said, my “kitchen sink” brined turkey roasted yesterday turned out AWESOME! Tasty, juicy, succulent and tender as it gets! OMG, the inside part of the breast was like biting into a “meat water balloon”, it had that much moisture trapped in it. The only thing was, I couldn’t taste any of that concentrated tangerine juice, chili pepper or shoyu flavors from that marinade in it. Which perhaps is a good thing, as I wouldn’t want my turkey tasting like, well, not like turkey. Surprisingly, it took longer than I estimated for a convection oven especially, clocking in at three hours vs. the two I estimated .

      I’ll do a full follow-up post here later with pictures and all.

      • November 24, 2017 at 8:48 pm

        The OJ is blobs of the frozen concentrate (no more than half the can), so between that and the butter and pan juices as basting liquid, the whole pan is pan juices. All you need to do is heat it up to boiling (something my mom and grandmother never did, but I insist on because bacteria). My family was never a “thick gravy” family, but while doing the just-to-be-safe boiling, you can add gravy flour and whisk if you like thick gravy. The pan juices and browned bits are all part of the gravy. Considering it’s been 28 or more years since I’ve had turkey and gravy, my memory is a little hazy, but when I was young, I could not stand sweet and savory together, so I wouldn’t have enjoyed the gravy if it was sweet and orange juice like. You can’t really pick out the specific flavor. Most people love it and asked my mom for the recipe, and reported back to her that they passed the recipe to friends, so I’m guessing that a LOT of Miamians now make my grandmother’s ginger and oj turkey.

        The mayo recipes call for rubbing it over and inside. I think it just melts and adheres, rather than burns. All the pics I’ve seen are normal rockwellish, so it must not burn. At the end of the day, it’s just oil and egg, so it’s like rubbing it w cooking oil that takes longer to drip down. Probably still smells mayoish, so gag.

        I don’t think my mom can specifically taste the citrus fruit in the brine, I think it’s just another layer of acid to break down the protein. And I guess the same for the soy. I mean, she says it’s juicy and flavorful, but not to the extent that she can pick out specific flavors. I think it’s just multiple roads to making the meat tender. Speaking of which, she only likes a 12 hour or so brine. We tried 24 hours the first year, and while it was juicy and tender, she said she prefers to have something to chew, as opposed to the pate-ish parts. I am surprised you couldn’t taste the chili peppers though.

        There are so many ways to make a turkey. I have a friend who stuffs herb butter under the skin, and then weaves bacon around it before roasting. Another who soaks the largest onion he can find in wine and herbs for a day and sicks that inside the cavity to permeate the turkey.

        This year, I didn’t make anything, went to a cousin’s. Well, I did make a magic cake for dessert. I miss not having stuffing, string beans and mashed potatoes for leftovers. I’ll make that and turkey or roast beef for my mom for Christmas. My cousin’s turkey looked moist, I forgot to ask my mom how it was. I can’t tell you much about the sides, other than they were just different varieties of salt licks, and I know it may seem like one dish too many, but what do people have against serving salad or greens with such a rich dinner? I know I’m conservative when it comes to salt, but I do eat prepared foods and at restaurants, I have never had salt overload like this. But my cousin was a gracious host to 25 and a good time was had by all. Blah, blah, blah. :)

        I love the idea of convection oven cooking, but I’d probably end up burning everything, underestimating the time it takes to cook things. Hope you and your family enjoyed the day.

        • November 28, 2017 at 11:40 am


          Ah, just “blobs” of OJ. So I guess the heat and meaty flavors of the turkey drippings overtake the citrus flavor of it after a period of time in the oven. If you brine the turkey, basting isn’t even necessary. It’s RIDICULOUSLY juicy and tender, no additional work needed. Just let it roast.

          I like my gravy just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, yet still have some “run” to it. For me, the Thanksgiving feast is ALL ABOUT THE GRAVY! I pour it on just about everything on my plate! Or as we say here in plate lunch parlance: “Gravy all ovah!”

          As for the mayo’ rub, again, the brine takes care of everything, so need that. Only adds extra unnecessary calories and fat.

          I had a feeling that bottled marinade I used with the tangerine juice, shoyu and chili pepper wasn’t going to add any significant flavor to the turkey, being it’s so watered down in the overall brine solution. I’m sure it did do “something” to help though, as the turkey turned out seriously DELICIOUS!

          True, there’s tons of different ways everyone does turkey, however sounding like a broken record, once again, I’ll stick with brine flavored with aromatics, pre-roast phase. It’s the way to go.

          Never heard of a “Magic Cake” before. First one to pop up on Google was this one:

          I was really surprised how long my 12 lb. turkey (small by most standards) took in my convection oven, being about 3 hours. I was estimating it would only take 2.


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