Thanksgiving turkey recipes have sure come a long way. Thanksgiving dinner, in general, has come a long way!
What's In This Article
What Does Brining Do?
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.
Is it worth it to brine a turkey? I think so! Many others would agree with me. While there lots of ways to keep your turkey moist and succulent, brining is probably the best way. It adds flavor from the skin to the bone- no rub or injection offers that.
Brine vs. Rub vs. Injection
Is it just me, or did brining a turkey not become a “thing” until a few years ago? The newest in turkey trends. What will be next?
- Turkey Rub– Great for seasoning right on the skin of the turkey, no marinating time needed. Just rub and go.
- Turkey Injection– Can be used in conjunction with the rub, but not brining. You literally inject liquid into the turkey. No need to let it sit. Create pockets of flavor and moisture.
- Brine– Bringing is the creme de la creme of turkey preparation, but also requires a bit of thinking ahead. It plumps every fiber of turkey with moisture and flavor, but also takes a good deal of space and at least 24 hours.
After any of these preparations, you can roast, fry or smoke the bird.
Best Turkey Brine Recipe
I set out to find a the best brine recipe ever for the juiciest turkey. The basics of a brine solution are using cold water and infusing it with salt, sugar and flavor.
What is the ratio of salt to water for turkey brine? The general rule is 1 cup of salt for every gallon of water. Yes, the type of salt does matter- use a large, coarse grain salt, either Kosher or sea salt. If you are using a small grain salt, cut the amount in half, here there such a thing as too much salt. Other ingredients include:
- Chili powder
- Garlic powder
- Fresh garlic
- Brown sugar
- Bay leaves
- Kosher salt (I like Diamond Crystal)
Here are a few variations to customize your flavorful turkey.
- Orange Zest or Orange Slices
- Lemon Zest or Lemon Slices
- Fresh Parsley
- Juniper berries
- Cinnamon Sticks
- Star Anise Pods
- Apple Juice or Apple Cider
- Fruit Juice
Through the process of osmosis, your bird will be infused with all the flavors added and give you succulent and juicy meat from the legs to the breast, bone to skin.
How to Brine a Turkey
- Prep the actual bird, removing all of the innards and any super loose skin that might be dangling off. Set aside until the brine is ready.
- Bring the water to a boil and then whisk in all of the seasonings and salt. Using hot water helps the salt dissolve and flavors to infuse the water. Allow to cool fully- putting the turkey in hot water will just cook it and we aren’t ready for that yet!
- When brine has reached room temperature carefully transfer the liquid and the turkey to wherever you plan to store it. Place in refrigerator for 24 hours. *
- Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse with cold water, this removed excess salt so it won’t be too salty. Pat dry and then prepare your turkey according to desired recipe.
How long do I brine turkey? The short answer is overnight up to 24 hours and this is dependant on how large your turkey is. A bigger bird needs more time to soak.
Can you brine a turkey too long? It is relatively hard to hurt the turkey, but yes, you can brine for too long. The result will be a tougher and salty bird. I recommend only 24 hours for a large turkey. For a super large bird you can push it a little longer. Brining a turkey for too long will make it too salty and the texture tough and spongy. You have to find the sweet spot.
How to Store a Brining Turkey
How much turkey brine do I need? You need about 1 gallon for every 10 pounds of turkey. This turkey brine is for a 12 pound bird, but then you also need to take into account the size of the vessel you’ll be using to let it sit- a large cooler needs a lot more space than a stock pot. Aim for the whole bird to be covered in the saltwater solution. Make sure you have enough brine, but if you have too much, just get rid of the rest of the water.
Where do I brine my turkey? You can most likely have some something to brine a turkey in at home. There are three main ways people use: a brining bag, a large pot or a cooler. You can also use a roasting bag as long as it isn’t permeable.
Tips for Brining Turkey
- Wet Brine. This technique is called wet brining. A wet turkey brine 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 we have a solution for that below. You can learn more about a dry brines too.
- Use Large Grain 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.
One 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 or 1 cup for every gallon of water.
- Add flavor. The types of flavor you can add to your easy 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. If you don’t have time, simple dab dry with paper towels.
- 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!
More questions you might have….
How to brine turkey parts or how to brine turkey breast? I bet you will guess this answer! The same way you brine a whole turkey! If you are only using a small amount, you can cut the recipe in half. You can also use this to brine a whole chicken, pork chops and get this- you can even brine shrimp!
Also check out my holiday turkey breast recipes:
What is a basic roasting recipe? Rub your brined turkey (after rinsing) with a compound butter or dry rub, stuff it with desired herbs and vegetables. Allow it to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before cooking.
Preheat oven to 325°F and follow the times below depending on whether it is stuffed and size. Place, breast side down in a roasting pan for the first half of cooking and up for the rest of the time.
Check with a meat thermometer to make sure it reaches an internal temperture of 175 degrees in the thickest part of the turkey. Then remove and allow to rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.
Can you reuse turkey brine? NO! This is raw meat and a marinade just like others. The brine can be easily contaminated and contaminate your food. Discard turkey brine after one use.
Can you brine a turkey when it is frozen? A thawed turkey is best, because if it is frozen, the brine doesn’t have a way to penetrate into the turkey. It is a little frozen, it is ok, but remember the ice left inside that still needs to thaw will dilute the brine, so compensate by adding a little more salt.
Do you have recipe for roast turkey? Here are my favorite turkey recipes:
- Orange, Anise and Thyme Turkey
- Juicy Roast Turkey
- Paleo Turkey with Herb Rub
- How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey
- Maple Glazed Turkey with Bacon and Sage Butter
- Leftover Turkey Recipes
- Butter Cheesecloth Turkey
Can I stuff a brined turkey? You can do whatever the recipe calls for after you remove it from the brining liquid. It that includes stuffing, then YES! Try one of our recipe for Rice Dressing, Sausage Stuffing, Herb Wreath Stuffing or Bacon Wrapped Stuffing Muffins!
What do I serve with Turkey? Here are our our favorite Thanksgiving side ideas .
Or a few fun new Thanksgiving desserts:
How to Brine a Turkey
- 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 dried bay leaves
- 3/4 cup coarse kosher salt
- 4 cups Ice
- Orange Zest or Orange Slices
- Lemon Zest or Lemon Slices
- Carrots , cut into slices
- Fresh Parsley
- Celery , cut into small pieces
- Cinnamon Sticks
- Star Anise Pods
- Apple Juice or Apple Cider
- Remove the plastic wrap, gizzard and neck. Rinse the turkey well with cold water and place into whatever vessel you are brining it in. Make sure you have enough space to place whatever you use into the refrigerator.
- Bring 16 cups of water to a rapid boil in a large stock pot. Whisk in the paprika, chile powder, garlic powder, onion, oregano, thyme, garlic cloves, brown sugar, bay leaves and kosher salt. Also add any optional add-ins you might want. Continue to boil for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly (approximately 10-15 minutes) then add 4 cups of ice.
- When the 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. The whole bird should be submerged in liquid. Place in refrigerator for 24 hours. *
- Remove from brine and rinse with cold water. Pat dry and then prepare your turkey according to desired recipe.
- If you've tried this recipe, come back and give it a rating and tell us how it was in the comments or ratings.
- 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.
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?
Hi Chris, yes, you can cook right after the 24 hour brining- it is just an option for crispier skin. Happy turkey day!
Oh ok thank you so much! ????
How many cloves orange zest nutmeg etc do I add??? It doesn’t say the measurements
What if I don’t have sprigs of Rosemary or thyme I already have them peeled how much of that do it put ??
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. , .
Sounds delicious! Thanks for sharing your expertise!
So this is all you use, salt and sugar?
Hi Randy! Thanks for sharing your expertise. I am curious why you say not to stuff the turkey? I did this brine last year and stuffed the turkey and it was perfect! Just curious for the reasoning. 🙂
I’ve been a chef with Italian cuisine but maybe two turkeys in my life. This recipe sounds perfect. Brown, not in juices and seasoned!! Thank you for your experience/ recipe.
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?
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!
Can you smoke this as well
You sure can! I’ve never smoked my own turkey, but that sounds super tasty with this brine.
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.
That sounds delicious! I like the addition of cider!
Does the recipe call for regular table salt or are we supposed to use kosher? Thanks!
Do I add all the dry ingredients to the boiling water? In the instructions it only say salt and paprika.
“Salt through paprika” so yes 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving !
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?
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.
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 🙂
No- not overwhelming by any means. It doesn’t taste like chili at all! Just a little smoky, if you will.
Hi I am going to use this Brine this year. Does the Chili powder make the turkey Spicy at all? I have someone that cannot handle any spiciness
No, it is pretty mild. But if you are concerned, you can omit it.
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
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!
Yes, as long as brine water remains cold. You may have to add more ice. If it’s in your fridge your good.
Trying this now!!! Pretty excited 🙂
Yippee! Let me know how you like it 🙂
If I don’t have dried onion can I just mince up a regular onion?
Could troubadour next steps? How do you cook the turkey? At what temp? How long? Covered or not? Thanks!
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!
what size turkey is this recipe for?
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.
when do u add the chili and garlic and other spices? does all that go in the water or is that a dry rub?
All into the brine.
This is my 3rd year to brine my turkey with your recipe. It’s my “go-to” for Thanksgiving as long as I am in charge of making the turkey!
Thank for stopping by to let me know Cynthia- you literally made my day! Have a happy Thanksgiving!
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.
Of course! I would just cut the recipe in half. You can brine nearly anything. Same recipe also works for chicken.
where do you get brine bags?
Hi Bonnie, the grocery store usually sells them. Or you can use a giant stock pot!
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?
PS. Happy Thanksgiving!
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.
And Happy Thanksgiving! Tell Mark we say HI!
Do you use a rub even after you brine the turkey?
Hi Inga! I do, but you don’t have to.
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.
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 email@example.com .
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.
When do you add the bay leaves?
When you boil the water. I’ll add that to make it more clear, Rosanna. Thanks for stopping by!
What was your portion (lbs) for one serving size???
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!
How many pounds is the turkey for this recipe?
Remove the turkey from the frying pot, discard water? Do you thaw your turkey out in your frying pot? Is this what this means?
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!
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?
No need to use a bag- use a stock pot!
And happy Thanksgiving to you as well, Babette!
If you want also want to inject to make sure the breaAt doesn’t get dry, can you use the brine to inject?
You can use brine as inject, but the not the used, brine- save some on the side and use it. But there is also an injection recipe in the recipe info.