If you’ve decided to brine your turkey, you might be wondering if you need to pull the neck and giblets out of the cavity first. Can you brine a turkey with the giblets inside or not? Let’s take a closer look at how this might affect your results.
Can You Brine a Turkey With The Giblets Inside?
Brining a turkey with the giblets still inside won’t do the turkey any harm, but it could render the giblets inedible. It’s better to remove the giblets if you want to use them to make gravy or to enrich your stuffing. If the giblets are stored in a pouch, you’ll need to remove them before you cook the turkey.
What’s That Stuff in the Turkey Cavity?
When you buy a turkey, you’ll usually encounter a few parts that have been stuffed inside the bird’s cavity. These consist of the neck, giblets, and sometimes a portion of the tail or the kidneys.
Giblets are the organs that took up residence in that cavity before the bird was slaughtered and processed for sale. The heart, gizzard, and liver are usually included.
With frozen turkeys, the giblets are often sealed inside a small pouch so that they’re not rattling around inside the cavity. You’ll need to remove this from the turkey before you add it to the oven or smoker.
Interestingly enough, the giblets that you find inside your turkey may or may not have been taken from that particular bird. If you bought the poultry directly from a reputable farmer, they’re probably the same, but this isn’t true of most factory-farmed birds.
Some producers don’t even include the packet of giblets, as many home chefs prefer not to deal with them. Chickens are more likely than turkeys to be missing the giblets. Whenever you’re preparing raw poultry, make sure to check the cavity before you start to cook.
What To Do With Giblets
In the olden days, chefs would cut up the giblets and simmer them with aromatic vegetables until they were flavorful and tender. You can also dredge giblets in flour and brown them in butter before using them to flavor gravy and other sauces.
Today, giblets aren’t as popular, but some intrepid home chefs will still use them to enrich their gravy or stuffing. If you’d like to try this (see How To Make Giblet Gravy, below), it’s essential to store the giblets properly beforehand.
Keep the giblets refrigerated until you’re ready to use them. The fridge temp should be set below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure any dish containing the giblets has cooked to at least 165 degrees, as this is considered the minimum safe temperature for poultry.
When kept in the fridge in airtight packaging, giblets should keep for up to 2 days. You can also freeze them at or below 0 degrees for up to 3 months.
Be forewarned that turkey liver has a strong flavor that can overpower some dishes. To prevent this, set it aside and add it to the gravy or sauce after the other giblets have had a chance to cook for a while.
How Brining Works
Turkey is naturally lean, which means it’s prone to drying out—especially when overcooked. Brining can help you avoid this fate.
When you submerge the turkey in a saltwater solution for up to 24 hours before cooking, the salt will loosen the meat’s muscle fibers, allowing them to retain more moisture. That way, the turkey will be nice and juicy when you slice into it.
A simple brine consists of 1 cup of kosher or another coarse salt for every gallon of water. You can boost the flavor profile by adding herbs, spices, or aromatic vegetables to the mixture.
You can dissolve the salt and other spices by bringing the brine solution to a boil, then allowing it to cool. Never attempt to submerge the turkey in the brine until the mixture has had a chance to cool to 39 degrees or below.
Don’t be tempted to leave the turkey in the brine for longer than 24 hours. If you do, the salt will break down the protein fibers to the point of mushiness. In addition, the turkey will probably taste too salty as a result.
Can You Brine a Turkey With The Giblets Inside?
If you want to get technical, brining the turkey with the giblets inside won’t do any harm to the brine or the turkey itself. The salt solution will still be able to penetrate the meat, which is the main purpose of brining.
On the other hand, if you were hoping to use your giblets to make stuffing or gravy, you should be sure to remove them before adding the bird to the brine. Otherwise, they’ll be overly salty—enough so to be rendered inedible.
How To Remove the Giblets
If you’ve purchased a fresh turkey from a farmer, it should be easy enough to locate and remove the giblets. Just rummage around in the cavity and extract the pieces until there’s nothing left inside.
With frozen birds, you’ll need to thaw the meat before you can attempt to take out the giblets. Otherwise, the components will be too rock-solid for you to reach inside the bird, much less remove anything.
Set the turkey on the lowest shelf of the fridge, inside a roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet. The meat should thaw at a rate of 1 day for every 4 to 5 pounds. That means a 12-pound turkey should be fully thawed in 3 days.
Alternatively, you can thaw the turkey in a cold water bath. Fill the sink or another container with enough cold water to hold the turkey, then submerge the bird. Swap out the cold water every 30 minutes. The turkey should thaw at a rate of 30 minutes per pound.
Pro Tip: It’s fine to refreeze thawed turkey as long as you used the refrigerator for defrosting. If you thawed the bird in cold water, you need to cook it right away.
Once the turkey is defrosted, remove the packaging. If there’s a metal or plastic holder keeping the legs in place, now is the time to remove it with a pair of kitchen shears.
Reach inside the turkey cavity and feel around for a long strip of bone and muscle. This is the neck. If the meat is completely thawed, the neck should come out easily, but you might have to run the turkey under cold water in order to loosen it.
Pro Tip: Any time you run raw poultry under water, make sure to disinfect the sink and surrounding area afterward. Also, always use cold water—never warm or hot.
Set the neck aside. If you’d like, you can refrigerate it and use it later to make turkey stock. Otherwise, feel free to discard it.
Once you’ve removed the neck, it should be easy to find the packet containing the giblets. If it isn’t in the main cavity, search the neck cavity—some processors will put it in this section instead.
At this point, you can brine the turkey, if you’d like, or pat the meat dry with paper towels and prepare as desired.
How To Make Giblet Gravy
- Giblets from a whole turkey
- 4 cups water
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups turkey drippings, stock, or broth
- 1/4 cup dry sherry
- 1/2 cup half-and-half
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Remove the liver from the giblets and put it in the refrigerator.
2. Add the remaining giblets to a saucepan, along with 4 cups of cold water. Bring the mixture to a boil.
3. Reduce heat and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, then add the liver. Simmer for another 30 minutes.
4. Set a mesh strainer or colander lined with cheesecloth over a heatproof container. Drain the giblets and set the liquid aside. Let the giblets cool, then chop into small pieces.
5. Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook for about 3 minutes, until the mixture begins to smell nutty and turn slightly golden in color.
6. Carefully whisk in the sherry. The mixture may have a paste-like consistency, but don’t worry—it will smooth out as you add the rest of the liquid.
7. Slowly whisk in the drippings. If you don’t have quite enough, add in as much of the reserved giblet broth as you need to make 2 cups.
8. Simmer the mixture until thickened, then add the half-and-half. Continue to simmer until the gravy has reached the desired consistency.
9. Season the gravy with salt and pepper and serve alongside roasted or smoked turkey.
The Bottom Line
You’ll need to remove the giblets from the turkey at some point before you cook it, especially if they’re in a sealed pouch. It’s better to do this before adding the turkey to the brine, if only because the process could get messy otherwise.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!