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{brine that turkey}


Pasture raised turkeys have some differences from the store-bought varieties.  I’m not going to delve into the passionate {and at times heated} discussion about how a label saying a turkey is “pasture raised” or “organic” or “free-range” or other such terms, doesn’t necessarily mean that the term is going to match what the definition is in your mind.  You can read all about this topic from Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin, or other such authors and visiting websites they reference.  But just keep in mind that if your turkey costs less than $4.00/lb then it wasn’t raised on a small-scale farm that uses true animal husbandry and ethical practices.

The main difference between the two options of Thanksgiving poultry, is that the conventional birds are injected with water; therefore they are somewhat “pre-brined”.  You are paying for unnecessary water.  This means that you are also ending up with less meat per pound and that the turkey will take longer to cook.

When you purchase a pasture-raised, water-injected-free turkey you will need to do remember a few things:

1) Every dollar you spend on the turkey is going to what the small scale farmer isn’t putting into the turkey, your money is staying locally in your community, and there are no hidden costs or subsidies in the price.

2) You will get more meat for your dollar, so you might be surprised at how many guests a smaller bird can satisfy.

3) The turkey will take less time to cook.

4) Though it is not necessary, you may want to brine your pasture raised turkey.  It helps to keep more moisture in the meat- which is very helpful if you accidentally cook it a little longer than intended.

I wanted to share with you two brine recipes.  One is a regular liquid brine and the one I used last year.  It is absolutely fantastic!  The other is a dry brine recipe that we are going to try this year.

Before I share the recipes, I wanted to list a few tips for success and basic information about brines.

  • Brining is when salt comes into contact with the turkey, osmosis allows the proteins of the turkey meat to relax enough to absorb liquid into the muscle fibers.  This means that the moisture is more readily held in the muscle fibers resulting in a moist {and seasoned} turkey.
  • There are many view points on brining.  You can do a search on the internet and find many different options for brining poultry; these aren’t the only two options.
  • You can reduce the salt & sugar in a brine, but remember that only a small percentage actually enters the meat.
  • Allow meat to rest in the refrigerator after it’s been brined to let salt disperse evenly.
  • Always chill the liquid brine thoroughly before adding the meat to it.
  • When doing the traditional liquid brine, choose a container that’s taller than it is wide. This will require less liquid to submerge the food.
  • Brined skin can crisp more quickly; if this happens, put foil loosely over the poultry.

Cooking instructions for either method:

  • Many recipes call for a 450 degree oven.  Some recipes suggest keeping the oven at that temperature and either flipping the bird onto its back or breast {depending on which you started it on} half way through the cooking process or covering the bird lightly with foil once the skin is a golden brown to prevent burning while the bird finishes to cook.
  • I have found the best method for me is to preheat the oven to 450 degrees then put the turkey in the oven and immediately turn the oven down to 325-350 degrees.  This method allows the bird to cook evenly without drying to meat out.  I do put foil loosely over the bird partway through cooking.
  • The internal temperature should be 160 degrees.  The cavity juices will be clear when done.  Use a meat thermometer to insure the meat is fully cooked; this is especially needed if you cook the stuffing in your turkey because the cavity juices will be absorbed by the stuffing.



from the book, Charcuterie.


double all amounts for a turkey 18 lbs or larger

1 gallon water

1 cup kosher salt

½ cup sugar

optional seasoning as desired; see below

1 bunch fresh tarragon (about 1 ounce)

1 bunch fresh parsley (about 1 ounce)

1 head garlic, halved horizontally

3 tbs. black peppercorns, lightly crushed

2 bay leaves

1 onion, sliced

2 lemons, halved

Brine cooking instructions

  • combine all ingredients
    • rinse herbs and put whole stems in.
    • squeeze lemon as you add.
  • place over high heat, simmer
    • stir to dissolve salt & sugar
    • for large quantities of brine:
      • heat all other ingredients in half the required amount of water. Once the salt & sugar are dissolved, add the remaining water, either cold or as ice water.
    • brine should be chilled before meat is placed in it.


Brine instructions

  • add poultry to brine
    • weight meat down so it is fully submerged.
    • keep brine in a cool or refrigerated place.
  • brine times:
    • 3-4 lb chicken: 8-12 hours.
    • 10-15 lb turkey: 24 hours.
    • if you don’t have enough time to do suggested time, brine the poultry for as close to the time as possible.
  • remove poultry from brine
    • rinse well and pat dry.
    • let rest uncovered in a refrigerator for 3-24 hours.


Dry-Brined Roast Turkey

based on Russ Parsons’s dry brined turkey in the Los Angeles Times, which is based on the Zuni Café roast chicken

taken directly from the blog,


1 turkey (ours was 13 pounds), giblets and neck removed, washed and very thoroughly patted dry
sprigs of fresh rosemary, sage, and thyme

Kosher salt


Three Days Before Roasting

Gently slip your fingers between the turkey skin and breast. Slide your fingers around to loosen the skin from the breast and down the sides to loosen the skin from the legs. Place sprigs of fresh herbs (rosemary, sage and thyme) between the skin and the meat. We used about 8 leaves of sage, 2 sprigs of rosemary, and 4 sprigs of thyme.

Sprinkle the turkey cavity with salt. Salt the entire outside body of the turkey. Be liberal, but not oversalted. We used about two tablespoons of Kosher salt.

**Afton Field Farm note: I am actually going to be changing this part.  I am going to combine salt, smokey paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, brown sugar, and orange zest.  The recipe calls for cumin as well, but I’m going to omit this.  You could add any herbs or spices that you wanted.  I will not be stuffing any herbs under the skin of our turkey.  Here is the link to the video I found as my inspiration:

Place the turkey on a large platter breast side up. Cover completely with plastic wrap. (Russ Parsons’s recipe calls for putting the turkey in 2½-gallon sealable plastic bag, but we didn’t have any and didn’t want to go out and buy a box of monster Ziplocs that we’ll never use).

** Afton Field Farm note: the bag your turkey comes in will work great for storing your turkey in the fridge.

Place the turkey in the refrigerator (lowest shelf, away from other stuff, etc.) for three days.

Eight (8) Hours Before Roasting

Remove the turkey from the refrigerator. Unwrap it, wipe it down with paper towels, and put it back in the refrigerator, uncovered.

Day of Roasting

Preheat oven to 425. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for one hour.

Place the turkey on a roasting rack in a roasting pan, and place in 425 degree oven.

After 30 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees, and roast until a thermometer inserted in the deepest part of the thigh, but not touching the bone, reads 165 degrees.

Our 13-pound turkey took about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Russ’s recipe says 2¾ hours, but every oven and every bird is different. Rely on your senses a little, rely on your thermometer a lot.

** Afton Field Farm note: A pasture raised turkey will cook faster!  Check the turkey at the half-way point of normal turkey cooking suggestions and plan the rest of your meal prep accordingly.

When the turkey is done, remove the roasting pan from the oven. If you can, remove the turkey from the roasting pan so you can make gravy with the “stuff” in the bottom of the roasting pan.

Place the turkey on platter/cutting board to rest, covered loosely with foil for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.


Bon Appetit! And have a very scrumptious and lovely Thanksgiving!


6 Comments leave one →
  1. Roberta Donaldson permalink
    11.14.12 3:43 PM

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful information. The recipes and tips will make Thanksgiving so tasty. Can’t wait to try out one of the brines.

  2. Carrie Fairchild permalink
    11.14.12 4:04 PM

    Yes! Love this! We love to brine and are always looking for more recipes. Thank you!

  3. Evan permalink
    11.15.12 7:38 AM

    Love pasture raised heritage birds! So much better in every way! Thanks for sharing as always, it is so much fun following your story!

  4. 11.15.12 8:37 AM

    I will be brining my 1st turkey this year – so your post is a wealth of information – thanks so much for sharing! Have a Great One:)

  5. 11.18.12 8:43 AM

    I always brine the turkey, usually in a buttermilk-herb brine … but I also love the Zuni Cafe roast chicken recipe. It is really the best, so I’m torn whether to do the wet or dry brine this year! I thought about doing both since we got two smaller turkeys from you this year — but they might cook a little differently which complicates the oven schedule ;)

    • 01.09.13 10:17 AM

      As I researched brine recipes, I found myself wishing I had 5 turkeys to experiment with :) I hope that the oven schedule and turkeys were a success :)

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