How To Make a Basic Brine Recipe for Game Birds

Brine ingredients, garlic, brown sugar, salt

Turkeys, pheasant and other uplands birds are delicious, but, because they're much leaner than store-bought or domestic poultry, these game birds require special handling. Whichever cooking method you choose to use, one of the easiest ways to ensure your wild bird stays moist is by soaking it in a solution of salt, sugar and water, better known as a brine.

What to do During the Brining Process

The brining process is typically overnight or longer, the saltwater is absorbed by the meat through osmosis. (Remember high-school science class?) This creates a moister, plumper and, in terms of the salt and sugar, more flavorful bird. (I should note, brining also works with pork and can be used with venison and other red meat.)

Brining is not the same as marinating, which uses an acid or enzyme to break down protein fibers and ostensibly tenderize a tough cut. Like a marinade, brines can be used as a flavoring agent however by adding garlic, onions, fruit or spices. It's fun to experiment with different flavors, but be sure to also keep the same ratio of 1 cup of kosher salt to gallon of water.

Basic Brine Recipe Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar

In a stockpot or other large container, combine water, salt and brown sugar. Whisk thoroughly until salt and sugar are completely dissolved.

(Salt and sugar will dissolved faster and easier in hot or warm water, but be sure let the water cool to 40° or less before adding meat.)

Submerge meat completely. If necessary, use a plate or other heavy object to keep meat under the surface of the brine. Place in refrigerator and let soak for the recommended amount of time.

Suggested Times Needed to Brine Meat

  • Chicken, pheasant, upland birds - 8-12 hours
  • Turkey, whole - 24-48 hours
  • Turkey, breast - 8-12 hours
  • Pork chops/tenderloin - 12-24 hours
  • Pork ham (uncured) - 24-48 hours

Optional Ingredients to Add to Your Brine:

  • Lemon, thinly sliced
  • Garlic cloves
  • Onions, sliced or chopped
  • Bay leaves
  • Fresh rosemary
  • Peppercorns, whole or freshly cracked