How to Brine a Turkey

Simple brine for turkey can be as easy as dissolving salt in water or as complicated as a two-day process of an herb infused brine and then allowing for an air dry for the perfect, crispy turkey skin.

This article will give you the basic tools on how to brine a turkey, the best turkey brine recipe ever and tips for brining a turkey regardless of what turkey brine recipe you use.

This step-by-step guide will show you how to brine a turkey, tips for a juicy turkey, how to brown turkey skin, also the best turkey brine recipe!

How to Brine a Turkey- a step-by-step guide for brining turkey, tips for a better turkey, how to brown turkey skin and a recipe for juicy turkey. #turkeybrinerecipe #thanksgivingturkeyrecipe www.savoryexperiments.com

Is it just me, or did brining a turkey not become a “thing” until a few years ago?  As far as I can remember, turkey rubs were fairly basic, you may or may not stuff the cavity and then in went the bird to soak up all its own juices. Nothing fancy.

Then came the famous Cajun injection to really get those flavors down in the skin using surgical precision. Not gonna lie, I still inject my bird on occasion when I am running short on time and can’t brine, but make my own turkey injection recipe.

Growing up we even had a giant turkey roaster to provide more space in the kitchen oven on turkey day. This giant contraption was only lugged out once a year and made its home on top of the washer in the basement. Oh, family holiday memories. Smells came wafting up the stairs.

Things have changed and so have turkey fads. Now days you are expected to spice, rub, inject and brine before you slow roast, spatchcock or fry your turkey.

I am no exception to the rule and have fallen victim to experimenting with the next great thing. Mainly for one reason: I don’t really care for turkey. *GASP* I know, I know.

However, I am adventurous and determined to find a turkey preparation that I DO enjoy.

How to Brine a Turkey- a step-by-step guide for brining turkey, tips for a better turkey, how to brown turkey skin and a recipe for juicy turkey. #turkeybrinerecipe #thanksgivingturkeyrecipe www.savoryexperiments.com

One of my reasons for not like the gobble gobble is that it all too frequently ends up dry. Solution: brining your turkey.

I set out to find a the best brine recipe ever for the juiciest turkey. Do you know how challenging it is to find whole turkey at the grocery store at any time during the year except Thanksgiving? Surprisingly hard!

Here it is, I am teaching YOU how to brine a turkey with these easy brining tips and tricks. Make sure to scroll down to get the full recipe. You can use this simple brine recipe for turkey, chicken or pork and can be used before any other full recipe to add moisture.

How to Brine a Turkey- a step-by-step guide for brining turkey, tips for a better turkey, how to brown turkey skin and a recipe for juicy turkey. #turkeybrinerecipe #thanksgivingturkeyrecipe www.savoryexperiments.com

Tips for Brining Turkey:

  • Wet Brine– This technique is called wet brining. If you’ve ever wondered how to keep a turkey from drying out, wet brining is the answer and will result in the juiciest turkey ever! Wet brining adds moisture to your turkey- nearly an entire pound of it for a 12 pound bird. The only downfall to wet brining a is not getting crispy turkey skin. But don’t worry, I have a solution so you can have a juicy turkey and browned, crispy turkey skin.
  • Use Kosher Salt- Not all salt is created equal. Salts have different flavor profiles, chemical structures, shapes, ability to dissolve (although they all will eventually) and sizes, resulting in varying density. On tablespoon of Kosher salt is not the same as one tablespoon of table salt. Make sure to use Kosher salt with larger crystals to get the correct salt to water ratio for brine, which is 1 heaping tablespoon of kosher salt for every cup of water.
  • Add flavor- The types of flavor you can add to your brine are endless. For a simple brine recipe using just salt and water, there is no need to boil because the salt will dissolve regardless, but for more flavor, boiling is ideal to infuse water.
  • How Make the Crispiest Turkey Skin– Because brining adds to much moisture and flavor, it also makes the skin super wet and prevents browned, crispy skin. To get the best of both worlds, brine your turkey for 24 hours, then remove from brine and allow to dry out, uncovered, in the refrigerator for an additional 24 hours. Then rub with compound butter. Do not baste during the cooking process.
  • How to make turkey stock– And after you are all finished, save the bones to make Turkey Stock and Turkey Noodle Soup, the quickest and tastiest way to use up leftovers!

How to Brine a Turkey- a step-by-step guide for brining turkey, tips for a better turkey, how to brown turkey skin and a recipe for juicy turkey. #turkeybrinerecipe #thanksgivingturkeyrecipe www.savoryexperiments.com

Tools for making a juicy turkey:

Brining Bags– These are helpful to save space or if you have a huge turkey!

Large Stock Pot– A large stock pot is a kitchen essential not only for making stock, but also for brining and make large batches of sauces and steaming thing like whole lobster or crab.

Roasting Pan– A large roasting pan is perfect for roasting turkey, but also chicken and one pot meals for large parties.

Injector– Sometimes brining or marinating doesn’t really get flavor to all the meat (although a full brine should), have an injector on hand just in case!

Cooking Twine– Keep those birds and roasts held tight with cooking twine. This ensures even cooking!

Q & A from readers about how to brine a turkey:

Curious how to brine a turkey for smoking? The same way to brine a turkey for roasting! Use this same recipe and then follow your smoked turkey recipe.

What is a basic roasting recipe? Rub your turkey with a compound butter or dry rub, stuff it with desired herbs and vegetables. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and follow the times below depending on whether it is stuffed and size. Check with a thermometer to make sure it reaches an internal temperture of 175 degrees. Then remove and allow to rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.

How to Roast a Turkey

Do you cook a turkey breast up or down? This is debatable! If you want super crispy turkey skin, roast with the breast up so the skin has time to dry out. I would suggest injecting the breast with liquid to prevent the meat from drying out too. If the breasts start to brown too quickly, loosely tent with aluminum foil.

But if you are going for super moist and aren’t too picky about browned skin, cook breast side down, allowing gravity to flow the juices downward. You can also fill the bottom of the pan with water, wine or chicken stock and baste the turkey with it’s own drippings through the cooking process.

Can you brine for turkey breast? You can brine any meat! In fact, use this same brine recipe for turkey breast, chicken and even pork. Cut the recipe into a quarter and there you go!

Do you have recipe for roast turkey? Here are my favorites

Orange, Anise and Thyme Roasted Turkey Recipe- Step-by-Step Guide to The Best Roast Turkey without hours of prep work. A moist and flavorful Thanksgiving turkey recipe that will leave your guests wanting more!

Here are my favorite holiday recipes to serve with turkey!

Red Wine Gravy | Easy Dinner Rolls | Fried Turkey | Pumpkin Cheesecake | The BEST Apple Pie | Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecans

Cast Iron Sweet Potatoes with Honey and Cinnamon | Mascarpone Mashed Potatoes | How to (Safely) Fry a Turkey  | Cranberry Relish

Green Beans with Mascarpone Cream Sauce | Cheese Chile Cornbread Casserole | Pumpkin Cheesecake | Chinese Sausage Stuffing  | Garlic Butter Brussels Sprouts

How to Brine a Turkey- a step-by-step guide for brining turkey, tips for a better turkey, how to brown turkey skin and a recipe for juicy turkey. #turkeybrinerecipe #thanksgivingturkeyrecipe www.savoryexperiments.com

3.89 from 106 votes
How to Brine a Turkey- a step-by-step guide for brining turkey, tips for a better turkey, how to brown turkey skin and a recipe for juicy turkey. #turkeybrinerecipe #thanksgivingturkeyrecipe www.savoryexperiments.com
How to Brine a Turkey
Prep Time
2 hrs
Brining Time
1 d 9 hrs 20 mins
 
How to Brine a Turkey- a step-by-step guide for brining turkey, tips for a better turkey, how to brown turkey skin and a recipe for juicy turkey.
Course: Main Course, Main Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: brined turkey, how to brine a turkey, turkey brine recipe
Servings: 10 people
Calories: 579 kcal
Author: Jessica at Savory Experiments
Ingredients
  • 12 pound turkey
  • 16 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 yellow onion cut into quarters
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 5 garlic cloves , lightly smashed
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 3/4 cup kosher salt
  • 4 cups Ice
Optional Add-Ins
  • Orange Zest or Orange Slices
  • Lemon Zest or Lemon Slices
  • Carrots , cut into slices
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Celery , cut into small pieces
  • Cinnamon Sticks
  • Cloves
  • Anise Pods
  • Nutmeg
Instructions
  1. Remove plastic wrap, gizzard and neck. Rinse well with cold water. Place into brining bag placed, large baking dish or large stock pot. Make sure you have enough space to place whatever you use into the refrigerator. 

  2. Bring 16 cups of water to a rapid boil in a large stock pot. Whisk in paprika, chile powder, garlic powder, onion, oregano, thyme, garlic cloves, brown sugar, bay leaves and kosher salt. Also add any additional, optional add-ins. Continue to boil for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly (approximately 10-15 minutes) then add 4 cups of ice.

  3. When brine has reached room temperature carefully pour into brining bag (or whatever you are using to place it into the fridge) with turkey (this is a two person job.) Tightly pull bag up around the turkey, forcing the brine to fully encase the bird. Twist the top around a few times and then tie tightly with twine. Place in refrigerator for 24 hours. *

  4. Remove from brine and rinse with cold water. Pat dry and then prepare your turkey according to desired recipe. 

Recipe Notes
  • If the brine will not completely embrace the turkey you can rig it with other items. I used a small cup, shot glass and cheese grater to make sure the brine fully encompassed the turkey.
Nutrition Facts
How to Brine a Turkey
Amount Per Serving
Calories 579 Calories from Fat 198
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 22g 34%
Saturated Fat 5g 25%
Cholesterol 278mg 93%
Sodium 8957mg 373%
Potassium 936mg 27%
Total Carbohydrates 8g 3%
Sugars 6g
Protein 84g 168%
Vitamin A 16.2%
Vitamin C 1.9%
Calcium 7.4%
Iron 21.4%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

How to Brine a Turkey- a step-by-step guide for brining turkey, tips for a better turkey, how to brown turkey skin and a recipe for juicy turkey. #turkeybrinerecipe #thanksgivingturkeyrecipe www.savoryexperiments.com

Comments

Karen OShaughnessy

I am confused by various recipes, should the bird be washed after leaving the brine before roasting? I brined a chicken with lemon, tangerine, bay leaves, garlic, salt, sugar and water and following the recipe I did not rinse the chicken, it was so tender and juicy but salty. So should the brine always be washed off?

    Jessica at Savory Experiments

    Hi Karen, There are so many ways to brine! I always rinse the items I’m brining to get the salt residue off. The meat should have absorbed enough flavor and salt to be flavorful and moist.

Stephanie

The only adjustment I made to the recipe was adding a half gallon of apple cider.
I made a 13 lb turkey for my thanksgiving dinner at work using this recipe and it was a huge hit! It will be my forever recipe! Hopefully one day I’ll have it memorized.

    Angelica

    Hi, did you use apple cider vinegar or just apple cider juice? Thanks!

S

Omg! This was the best turkey I have ever had! This will be a life time favorite! Typically, I only like dark meat, but with this recipe, the breast soaked up all the flavor and is the best part!

    Jessica at Savory Experiments

    I’m so glad you enjoyed it!!!

Chris S.

Hi there! You said that you brine for 24 hours, pat dry and in refrigerator for another 24 hours before cooking? In the recipe it says brine for 24 hours then cook after? Would it be ok to brine for the 24 hours then cook immediately after?

    Jessica at Savory Experiments

    Hi Chris, yes, you can cook right after the 24 hour brining- it is just an option for crispier skin. Happy turkey day!

      Chris S.

      Oh ok thank you so much! 😊

      Yessica

      How many cloves orange zest nutmeg etc do I add??? It doesn’t say the measurements

      Yessica

      What if I don’t have sprigs of Rosemary or thyme I already have them peeled how much of that do it put ??

Randy

I have been brineing for over ten years, it is the only way to do a turkey. I found the concept on the Food TV channel. They suggested 1 cup of salt and one cup of sugar to a large pot of water, put on the stove, heat a stir until salt and sugar have disolved. I then added some ice to cool it down and them put the mixture in a 5 gallon bucket you can get from Home Depot. I rinsed the turkey, removed the giblets, and put the turkey in the bucket and added more cold water to cover and then covered it with ice to keep it cold for about 24 hours. I live in a northern state so could leave it in the garage and it was kept cold. I will try the Kosher salt this year.

I use a roaster with a rack to keep the turkey out of it’s juices when it cooks. I remove the turkey from the brine, dry the out side with paper towel, rub olive oil on the exterior skin and put on the rack with the breast side UP. I also tie the legs and wings to the side of the bird.

I put the turkey in a 500 degree oven for the first 30 minutes and then turn down the oven temperature to 325 and leave in the oven for the balance of the time necessary for the size of turkey. You DO NOT need to baste, DO NOT turn over the turkey, DO NOT stuff the turkey, Do the dressing separately. The reason for the first 30 minutes at 500 degrees is to brown the skin and then it will hod the moisture in the bird for the most juicy white meat you have ever had and of course more favor, because the salt has soaked into the meat during the brine. FYI: Most of the salt will gown the drain when you take the turkey out of the brine. The first 30 minutes at 500 degrees makes a world of difference.

Remove the turkey from the oven, and let rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. In the mean time I take the juices and fat from cooking, separate the turkey fat from the juice, put the fat back in the bottom of the roadster with an equal amount of flour and cook the roux for a couple of minutes and then whisk in the juices and more water if necessary to make the gravy. I also pre cook the giblets, cut them up into small pieces and add them to the gravy. Season if necessary.

Many years ago I stopped carving a turkey at the table. I now do in in the kitchen. I use a boneing knife to cut the breasts from the bird, the slice the breasts, against the grain, and place it on a serving platter along with the dark meat and wings. If someone wants a leg they can ask for it. The person who usually carves the turkey at the table usually does this once a year and has no idea how to do it. Save the poor man the embarrassment.

I have always liked to cook, was an Army trained cook, cooked more meals than most house wives ever will in their life time and have cooked more turkeys than I care to remember. I have tried all the different methods and have found that brine is only and simple way to cook a turkey perfectly, moist and flavorful and looks like on of those turkey in the magazines. , .

    Jessica at Savory Experiments

    Sounds delicious! Thanks for sharing your expertise!

Damaris

Good morning jessica,
Thanks for your time and the recipe, greatly needed and appreciated. I always gets hard time cooking the turkey. I stay away from it. However, after seeing your recipe I would like to give a one more try this year! To cook the turkey, you need to covered all, all cook uncover, for how long would you covered, if you do?

    Jessica at Savory Experiments

    Hi Damatis! You can do this! Turkey isn’t nearly as intimidating as people make it out to be. You can cook it covered or uncovered, that is really dependant on the recipe you pick. I typically leave mine uncovered because I love a good crispy skin! If you scroll all the way down in on this page, there is a basic turkey recipe with a way to figure out how long to cook your bird! Good luck!

Patricia

Can you smoke this as well

    Jessica at Savory Experiments

    You sure can! I’ve never smoked my own turkey, but that sounds super tasty with this brine.

      Debbie

      I have been brineing and smoking my Thanksgiving turkey for years. The best brine that I have found is using kosher salt with a mulling spice mix with water and applejuice or cider. The best wood chips is Applewood. During the last 30 mins for roasting I baste with either pure maple syrup or honey.

        Jessica at Savory Experiments

        That sounds delicious! I like the addition of cider!

Yvonne

Does the recipe call for regular table salt or are we supposed to use kosher? Thanks!

    Jessica at Savory Experiments

    Kosher!

Karen

Do I add all the dry ingredients to the boiling water? In the instructions it only say salt and paprika.

    Savory Experiments

    “Salt through paprika” so yes 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving !

    Nichole

    Do you add ALL ingredients… or just paprika and salt while brining? Is the rest of the ingredients for something else? Like preparing turkey AFTER brined?

      Savory Experiments

      Add all the ingredients to the brine. If you want to rub the turkey with herbs and spices, do it after brining and that is another recipe.

Kayla

Hi!! 🙂 Does the chili powder and cayenne pepper leave a profound taste once the turkey is done? I dont want it to have a “chili” flavor. Thank you 🙂

    Savory Experiments

    No- not overwhelming by any means. It doesn’t taste like chili at all! Just a little smoky, if you will.

Jan

Thanks for this. I bought a bring kit for 8.99 at the store. So I am using their spices, bag etc. I read you can brine the turkey for two days. I put it in to brine last night should it be OK until tomorrow morning? Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving. Jan

    Savory Experiments

    Oh yes! Especially when you have a large bird- the more time the better! I would say 24 hours is a minimum for a 14 pounders- anything larger, the more time, the better!

    Sunshine

    Yes, as long as brine water remains cold. You may have to add more ice. If it’s in your fridge your good.

Lisa

Trying this now!!! Pretty excited 🙂

    Savory Experiments

    Yippee! Let me know how you like it 🙂

Sara

If I don’t have dried onion can I just mince up a regular onion?

    Savory Experiments

    Sure can!

Angela

Could troubadour next steps? How do you cook the turkey? At what temp? How long? Covered or not? Thanks!

    Savory Experiments

    Hi Angela, I just added a quick guide and blurb on how to do a basic roast turkey. Let me know if you have any questions!

caroline

what size turkey is this recipe for?

    Savory Experiments

    Hi Caroline, I used an 18 lb turkey for this one, but it can accommodate any where from 12-22 pounds. If you find that the liquid doesn’t cover it when you place it in your bag/pot, just add additional cold water. There will be more than enough salt and spices to make it work.

      caroline

      thank you
      when do u add the chili and garlic and other spices? does all that go in the water or is that a dry rub?

        Jessica at Savory Experiments

        All into the brine.

Debbie Kusmierz

Hi Jessica I was just wondering if I could use this same exact recipe if I’m using a bone in Turkey breast and not a whole Turkey.

    Savory Experiments

    Of course! I would just cut the recipe in half. You can brine nearly anything. Same recipe also works for chicken.

Bonnie

where do you get brine bags?

    Savory Experiments

    Hi Bonnie, the grocery store usually sells them. Or you can use a giant stock pot!

Marilyn Clossey

Hi Jessica,
Does brining increase the sodium levels of the turkey? Member of family is on low sodium diet. After brining can you cook in a cooking bag?
Thanks,
Marilyn
PS. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Savory Experiments

    Hi Marilyn! It does raise the sodium, nature of the beast. However, you can still brine and reduce the amount of salt, rinse well to get excess off the skin and then cut the salt in whatever rub you use. You can certianly still cook in a bag!
    If you don’t want to brine, you can always try injecting using a salt-free mix.

    Savory Experiments

    And Happy Thanksgiving! Tell Mark we say HI!

Inga

Do you use a rub even after you brine the turkey?

    Savory Experiments

    Hi Inga! I do, but you don’t have to.

      Sam

      Hello, this is my first time brining a turkey and I am extremely nervous as I am hosting thanksgiving dinner. I have read the turkey can end up being very salty and additional seasoning should not be added once the brining process is over , is this true? I wanted to add a lemon pepper seasoning and butter rub once the brining was over do you think this will be okay? I also read the turkey should not be rinsed after brining so I am really confused and I am not sure if I should rinse it or not. Thank you for your help.

        Savory Experiments

        Hi Sam. First of all, it will all be okay and you are going to make the BEST Thanksgiving turkey ever! Brining, by definition, is salt. However, salt is the only ingredient that really brings out the flavor in any food. Salt also plumps thing up. Brining can end up salty for people who don’t eat a lot of salt. I DO rinse mine before I season it and I DO use a rub that has salt. BUT you can use a rub and cut out the salt, or a portion of the salt. The good news is that if you cut out salt, you can always add seasoning at the table. You can also use a less saltier salt, like Maldon Sea Salt. I’m heading out for the day, but if you have any last minute “emergency” turkey questions, e-mail me at savoryexperiments@gmail.com .

        Savory Experiments

        I’ve never heard of a pre-injected turkey! If the injection has presumably been injected for a while, then there is no need to brine. I would still rub it with herbs, etc, but cut the salt in half. You can always add more at the table, but you can’t take it away.

Rosanna

When do you add the bay leaves?

    Savory Experiments

    When you boil the water. I’ll add that to make it more clear, Rosanna. Thanks for stopping by!

Chasm

What was your portion (lbs) for one serving size???

    Savory Experiments

    I use 1.5 pounds per person. That doesn’t mean you’ll eat 1 1/2 pounds of meat, just estimate that for the size turkey you buy. Remember, it has bones, so you’ll toss most of it. Or make it into delicious stock!

Carla

How many pounds is the turkey for this recipe?

Patricia

Remove the turkey from the frying pot, discard water? Do you thaw your turkey out in your frying pot? Is this what this means?

    Savory Experiments

    Hi Patricia! It was a mistake on my part- thank you for catching it! The recipe has been updated and is correct now. Happy turkey day!

      Babette Taylor

      Hi,
      Happy Thanksgiving, thanks for the recipe.
      I was wondering do you have to use a bag, or can you just put the turkey in a huge pot?

        Savory Experiments

        No need to use a bag- use a stock pot!

        Savory Experiments

        And happy Thanksgiving to you as well, Babette!

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