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Talk Turkey to Me

Christine Brown | September 19, 2023


The holidays are on the horizon, and so are expectations for the perfect turkey.

Whether you’re a seasoned turkey-cooking veteran, or a first timer this year, Chef Barry Greenberg, Hormel Foods culinary team lead, has some sage advice: “Don’t wing it.”

We’re probably all familiar with the scene in the classic holiday movie where the beautiful, oven-roasted turkey is set on the table in front of the expectant eyes of extended family, only to give way to a dry shell of a disaster once the first carve is made. The anticipation of a tender, juicy, flavorful turkey shattered, right before the eyes of an entire family. What can you do to avoid having your own personal re-enactment of this hilarious, yet unfortunate scene? According to Chef Barry, the secret is in the brine.

Why Brine?

Why use a brine, and what exactly is it? Brines are salt solutions that are either soaked into or rubbed onto a protein source; in this case, turkey. Brine works to infuse the meat with salt, which breaks down muscle protien, allowing the meat to absorb more water. Put simply, brining your turkey is an important step in ensuring that moist and juicy texture that everyone desires.

Brines add both moisture and flavor elements.

Chef Barry Greenberg

“Some people like to season with just salt and pepper, and that’s fine,” Chef Barry says, “but brining kind of gives you a safety net to make sure your turkey comes out delicious. Brines add both moisture and flavor elements.” Chef Barry continues to explain, “Turkey is very unforgiving because it’s so lean. You have a narrow margin for getting it right. Brining definitely swings the odds in your favor.”

Dry and Wet Brines

There are many different types and flavors of brines, but perhaps the most befuddling issue for first-time turkey briners is, “What do I chose, wet or dry? Which is best?” The answer is, that’s entirely up to you. Whether you go with a wet or dry technique, when it comes to brining, one ingredient is essential. “The salt is the key to either brine,” Chef Barry says. “Dry brining actually does add moisture back to your turkey, despite what the name implies. The difference between and dry brining is really just how the salt works in both solutions.”

With a wet brine, the salt water solution saturates the meat and helps plump it and hold the juices during cooking. A dry brine draws the natural moisture out of the meat initially, mixes it with the salt solution and then is reabsorbed back into the meat. In either brine, it’s the salt that is the key ingredient.

Follow the recipe. Don’t just wing it.

Chef Barry Greenberg

So, what’s the secret to a successfully brined turkey? We asked Chef Barry to share his No.1 piece of advice. “Follow the recipe. Don’t just wing it,” says Chef Barry, chuckling at his pun. “Pay attention to the recipe and your measurements. If you think your handful is equal to a quarter of a cup, just do a double check and make sure. Don’t risk it. And follow the timeline too. If it says to brine 18 to 24 hours, they mean it. Anything more than that will give you bad results, and you don’t want that.”

Chef Barry’s Signature Brines

When we asked Chef Barry to develop some new and delicious brines for this year’s upcoming holiday season, he did not disappoint.

Char Siu Wet Brine

Chef Barry’s wet brine is comprised of some familiar flavors. “Char siu is a traditional Cantonese flavor and it’s everywhere right now. It’s a familiar flavor but still a little different,” he says. “Char siu is a traditional Cantonese flavor and it’s everywhere right now. It’s a familiar flavor but still a little different for turkey,” he says.

Not quite ready to make the jump to a barbeque turkey flavor? No problem. Chef has some tips for the turkey traditionalists. “When trying new flavors and cooking for my family, I often have two whole turkeys, or a whole turkey and an additional turkey breast. One traditional and one with a new, unique flavor. My suggestion, if you’re having a crowd, would be to try two different flavors. Why not branch out and offer something a little different than the traditional? How often do we really get to make turkeys? Take advantage of it!”

Rosemary, Garlic and Citrus Dry Brine

Chef Barry’s second brine brings a hint of the Mediterranean. With fried rosemary, garlic and subtle hints of citrus, this brine puts a spin on a traditional turkey flavor profile.

With the rosemary, garlic and citrus brine, you don’t really count on the citrus to carry sweetness,” Chef Barry says.“It carries a fruitiness and subtle floral notes- not a sweet sugariness on your palate. When you roast garlic or fry rosemary, they’re really powerful and strong flavors, but they can also be flat. The citrus element in this brine really brightens it up.” Chef Barry continues, “This is just a really nice, more traditional brine that also has kind of a Mediterranean feel with the citrus, garlic and black pepper. They work really well together for a nice Mediterranean profile.”

The holidays are on the horizon and expectations of the perfect savory, juicy turkey are no doubt weighing on us. But, with Chef Barry’s advice on recipes and these delectable, flavorful recipes, you’re just a brine away from a showstopping holiday turkey.

Char Siu Brined Turkey Breast

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2 tablespoons five-spice powder
1 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper
¼ cup toasted sesame oil
¼ cup rice wine
¼ cup hoisin sauce
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons beet powder
1 Jennie-O® Tender & Juicy Young Turkey bone-in whole turkey breast (4½ to 5 pounds), thawed if frozen


  1. In bowl, whisk together brine ingredients. Reserve 1 cup of brine to baste turkey breast.

  2. Wearing gloves, rub turkey breast with remaining brine. Place breast in large zip top bag and expel any air before sealing. Allow to brine refrigerated 8 to 24 hours.

  3. Heat oven to 325°F. Place turkey breast on a rack in shallow pan. Roast 2 ¼ to 2 ¾ hours, basting frequently with reserved brine mixture, or until meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 165°F.

Rosemary Garlic and Citrus Brined Whole Turkey

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2 garlic bulbs
½ cup oil, divided
3 sprigs rosemary
2 lemons, zested and juiced
2 oranges, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 (12 to 14-pound) Jennie-O® Fresh All Natural* Young Turkey *Minimally processed. No artificial ingredients.
1½ cup chicken broth


  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Cut ½ -inch from top of each garlic bulb to expose cloves. Place cut side up on 12-inch square of aluminum foil.

  2. Drizzle each bulb with 2 teaspoons oil. Wrap securely in foil. Place in shallow baking pan.

  3. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until garlic is tender when pierced with toothpick or fork. Cool slightly. To use, gently squeeze soft garlic out of bulbs.

  4. In small saucepan over medium heat, warm remaining oil. Add rosemary sprigs to hot oil. Cook 45 to 60 seconds, or until rosemary stops sizzling and leaves turn light brown on the tips. Let cool. Remove rosemary from oil. Remove leaves from sprigs. Chop.

  5. In bowl, combine roasted garlic, rosemary, zest and juice of lemons and oranges, salt, sugar and pepper.

  6. Wearing gloves, season cavity of turkey with some of the brine mixture. Rub the outside of the turkey with the remaining brine mixture.

  7. Place turkey in extra-large zip-top bag, and expel any air before sealing. Allow to brine refrigerated 8 to 24 hours.

  8. Roast bird at 325°F, basting frequently with chicken broth 4¼ to 4¾ hours or until turkey is fully- cooked, 180°F as measured by a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. ALWAYS confirm doneness with a meat thermometer. Juices should run clear. Let turkey stand 20 minutes before carving.