Grilled, Brined Turkey Breast with Allioli; brining

It's summer, time for cooking on the barbecue grill.

Time for juicy steaks, succulent chicken and tender, moist pork….

We hope.

One key to good grilling is to not over-cook. Pork should be slightly pink, chicken should be cooked through but removed immediately or just before it reaches that point. Anything more will dry the meat.

One tool to help maintain moist, juice meat is to brine first.

Here's the technical stuff on how brining works – from Cooks Illustrated:

Brining works in accordance with two principles, called diffusion and osmosis, that like things to be kept in equilibrium. When brining a turkey, there is a greater concentration of salt and sugar outside of the turkey (in the brine) than inside the turkey (in the cells that make up its flesh). The law of diffusion states that the salt and sugar will naturally flow from the area of greater concentration (the brine) to lesser concentration (the cells). There is also a greater concentration of water, so to speak, outside of the turkey than inside. Here, too, the water will naturally flow from the area of greater concentration (the brine) to lesser concentration (the cells). When water moves in this fashion, the process is called osmosis. Once inside the cells, the salt and, to a lesser extent, the sugar cause the cell proteins to unravel, or denature. As the individual proteins unravel, they become more likely to interact with one another. This interaction results in the formation of a sticky matrix that captures and holds moisture. Once exposed to heat, the matrix gels and forms a barrier that keeps much of the water from leaking out as the meat cooks. Thus you have a turkey that is both better seasoned and much more moist than when you started. 

Brining beef or lamb is a bit of a waste…. They have more fat to help keep them moist and are normally not cooked until well done, keeping them tender.  Marinate them if you like, to add flavor, but don't bother with a brine.  The same is true of fatty fish, like salmon, just remove before well done.

Turkey, chicken and pork, on the other hand, are perfect for brining, regardless of the size.  

A simple brine can be made with salt, sugar and water.  I prefer to add more flavors.

Any salt can be used, but be mindful that table salt is finer than course salt, so less (volume) is needed.  I use coarse or kosher salt.

Timing will very with the size of the meat, anywhere from six hours to two days.  It does have to be kept refrigerated (or cold, below 40F, 4C).

I used a boneless, skinless turkey breast for this recipe, that was, of course, (this being France) tied into a perfect roll. It doesn't need to be boneless, but do take the skin off if yours comes with it on; it lets the brine permeate better. You can tie it into a round shape or leave it as is. You could also use turkey tenderloins. Cooking times will vary according to the weight and thickness. An instant read meat thermometer is great!

Grilled, Brined Turkey Breast with Allioli

Preparation and cooking time: 5 minutes earlier, 35 – 60 grilling

3 – 4 cups cold water
1 cup ice cubes
1/4 cup sea, kosher or other coarse salt
1/4 cup honey
2 tbs brown sugar
2 tbs white wine tarragon vinegar
1 tbs juniper berries
1 tbs dried thyme leaves
1 tbs mustard seed
1 tbs black peppercorns
1 turkey breast, (or half or tenderloin) 24 – 32oz (750 – 1000gr)
Allioli Mayonnaise


At least 6 hours and up to 24 hours before cooking, mix 3 cups water, salt, honey, sugar and vinegar in large, deep bowl. Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Add herbs and spices, stir. Add ice, turkey and enough water to cover turkey. Cover and refrigerate, turning occasionally, until ready to cook. You could also use a large, zip-lock food bag.
When ready to cook, remove turkey and let air dry 10 minutes. Discard brine. Cook turkey on barbecue grill for 35 – 60 minutes, turning to brown all sides. Cook until 165F (75C) in the center. If you don't have a thermometer, remove after 35 minutes and cut a small slit in the center to check. A 32oz (1000gr) turkey tenderloin should take 35 – 45 minutes. Remove and let rest a few minutes. Slice and serve with Allioli Mayonnaise.

Note: You could add a few wood chips, that have been soaked in water for 15 minutes, if you like a smoky flavor. You could also bake it in a 400F (200C) oven for about the same amount of time.

Allioli Mayonnaise

1 tbs allioli
1 tbs mayonnaise

Mix well, taste, add more mayonnaise if desired.


This is the Spanish/Catalan method, without egg yolks. It's heavy on the garlic, and very hot! Yes, garlic packs a lot of heat when fixed this way!  This makes about 4 tbs of allioli. It can't be made ahead as it tends to 'break' upon sitting – still good, but it has to be pounded back together.

4 large cloves of garlic
1/4 tsp sea, kosher or other coarse salt
2 – 3 tbs olive oil, the good stuff

Info: You have to do this with a mortar and pestle. (see below for substitutes) The garlic has to be mashed. A blender or food processor will not work – you'll get a bland garlic mayonnaise. The pounding pulverizes the cells, releasing allicin which gives it the sharp, hot flavor.
Method: Smack the garlic once with side of a knife to start breaking it down then put it in the mortar along with the salt. The texture of the salt is needed to help break down the garlic. Pound with the pestle until you get a paste. Yes, this will take awhile. (It took 10 – 15 total minutes for me to make this.) When you have a thick paste add the olive oil a few drops at a time and work into the garlic. Once the drops are incorporated, add a few more. Continue adding oil until it becomes difficult to incorporate then stop. If you add too much the sauce will break – the oil will separate from the garlic. This should look like a very thick mayonnaise.

Note: If you don't have a mortar and pestle you can use a small, deep bowl (ceramic if possible) and the round handle of something – table knife, spatula, rolling pin, something fairly large. You could also mash the garlic and salt into a paste on a plastic cutting board (or in a heavy food bag) with a meat pounder, first, then put it into a bowl and incorporate the oil using a fork or whisk. Just remember that the garlic needs to be really mashed or it won't accept the oil. And if nothing seems to work, just add the mashed garlic and oil to some mayo…..

From the Recipe Index:


Brined and Grilled Cornish Game Hens

7 thoughts on “Grilled, Brined Turkey Breast with Allioli; brining”

  1. Gorgeous! I’m definitely going to try this. I hope I can find a beautifully tied turkey breast like the ones they sell in France.

  2. Hmmmmm, now you’ve got me thinking, which could be dangerous.
    Right now the garlic is growing lots of delicious, garlicky scapes. Wonder if I could use garlic scapes to make garlicky aioli? Well, as they used to say in Liberia, “you never try, you never know.”

  3. Lydia, I think it’s an art form…
    Kate, I haven’t been doing it long, but I love it.
    Val, it was tender and moist….
    Tina, we eat a lot of cutlets and breasts, but never whole birds.
    Peggy, thanks!
    brassfrog, I don’t think the scapes would be hot enough – it would still be really good, though….

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