Battle of the Brines

After using Alton Brown's and Pioneer Woman's recipes for how to brine a turkey, there is a clear winner.

Last year, I for the first time and loved it. What was once a process shrouded in mystery quickly revealed itself to be worth the extra planning and effort. Brining had won over my taste buds and worked its way into my Thanksgiving tradition.

Always on the lookout for flavor, I wondered if there were a better brine out there than Alton Brown's Good Eats Turkey recipe that I used last year. So I turned to one of the most famous bloggers in the cooking world, Pioneer Woman. This brine caught my eye because it uses apple cider as a base.

Pioneer Woman's turkey brine recipe and roasting method are significantly different that Alton Brown's, so I set about the preparations to determine which would be the keeper recipe.


Both recipes, and probably most others, have similar prep work. Find a large pot or clean five-gallon bucket (we used a lobster pot), fill it with the simmered and cooled brine, then submerge and refrigerate the turkey overnight.

If using frozen turkey, be sure to thaw it in your refrigerator for a couple of days before using. I used the same brand of fresh turkey each year, so no thawing is necessary. Also, be sure to remove the innards, which can be saved to make extra broth for the gravy.


This is where the two cooking personalities differ in their methods. , roasting the turkey was low maintenance. I didn't even open the oven except to use a little foil to prevent the breast meat from drying out.

Pioneer Woman's instructions call for an initial foil-covered roasting at a low temperature. Then, the bird is uncovered, a thermometer inserted and the butter basting begins. Let me confess that I almost parted ways with the recipe right there. I'm not a fan of basting, but I stuck with it.

The Results

The resulting Pioneer Woman bird was nicely browned and smelled incredible. Even before I tasted to turkey meat, I sampled the gravy made from the drippings. After simmering the drippings with chicken broth and Wondra flour, the gravy was perfectly seasoned without adding a speck of salt or pepper.

But when I sliced into the meat, I was disappointed to see that it was a bit dry and crumbly. Although the recipe called for an internal temperature of 170 degrees, I felt that was too high and pulled the turkey out at 165 degrees. Still, after sitting for 30 minutes, the breast meat was overcooked.

The flavor was a disappointment as well. The intensity of the brine was lost in the roasting, although the gravy added some flavors back. The meat was tasty, but it didn't have the wow factor that Alton Brown's recipe yielded last year. This turkey tasted as if it were roasted traditionally without the brine.

So the lesson here? Go with your gut, or in this case, your taste buds. I'm already looking forward to my date with Alton Brown's bird next Thanksgiving.

vScottv November 22, 2011 at 11:37 AM
I do a cider and orange juice brine (also add cloves nutmeg and cinnemon). The 18 lb bird gets roasted in a tin roasting pan on the gas grill. I add a couple cups of water, carrots, celery, onions, fresh thyme, and rosemary to the pan that makes the gravy(mmmmm). I also throw a couple chunks of cider soaked hickory on the grill for the first hour or so of the roasting.
Tim Quinn November 22, 2011 at 03:13 PM
Basting does nothing. At those temperatures the skin is water proof. All you're doing is reducing heat every hour or so
Alex Tytler November 22, 2011 at 05:58 PM
Anybody try breast down roasting in a rack? It isn't as asthetic but produces a jucier breast. The white meat is lower fat and tends to dry out first. The dark meat has more fat and can tollerate higher heat. Great with chickens too.
Jay November 23, 2011 at 01:24 AM
Yes, I start with the bird breast side down and turn it halfway through cooking. I also stuff the cavity with whole and quartered oranges. It always comes out extremely juicy. I use this method with chicken as well, except I stuff the cavity with rolled fork-pricked lemons. Last year was the first year I used a brine (bought it at Stop & Shop) and we all loved it, so I'm using it again this year.
Hoa Nguyen November 23, 2011 at 04:46 AM
Trussing the bird also plays a big part in keeping the meat juicy. That's part of what makes rotisserie chicken taste so good.


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