Best Turkey Brine Recipe

Thanksgiving turkey recipes have sure come a long way. Thanksgiving dinner, in general, has come a long way!

how to brine a turkey hero images


 

Why Brine 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.

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.

Benefits of Brine For Turkey

There are so many benefits to brining turkey, but two biggest are flavor and texture. Because turkeys are generally a larger bird, they need to slow roast and it can be challenging to keep the meat moist during the process. Brining infuses cells with moisture, helping it to stay buttery and juicy.
Those same liquids will bring flavor to the meat.

Turkey 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.

angled shot of whole roasted turkey

Turkey Brine Recipe Simple Ingredients

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.

turkey brine recipe with step-by-step instructions

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:

  • Paprika
  • Chili powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • 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
  • Carrots
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Celery
  • Juniper berries
  • Cinnamon Sticks
  • Cloves
  • Star Anise Pods
  • Nutmeg
  • 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.

ingredients for a turkey brine

How to make this Turkey Brine Recipe

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  1. 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. *
  2. 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.

turkey in a brine with aromatics

How to store Turkey Brine

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.

Close up of sliced turkey for dinner on a white plate

Turkey Brine Recipe Simple tips

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
turkey brine recipe with step-by-step instructions
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

What is the best salt to water ratio for brine?

The typical ratio for brine is 1/4 cup of coarse kosher salt to every 4 cups of water. However, this doesn’t have to be exact. I also strongly recommend using only coarse kosher salt, which is less salty and has less sodium If using table salt, the volume needs to be reduced by at least half and could still be a little too salty. Make sure to rinse the bird with cold water after brining.

Have you ever wondered how to fry a turkey? Here are easy step-by-step instructions that can be used with any fried turkey recipe. #howtofryaturkey #friedturkeyrecipe www.savoryexperiments.com
Fried Turkey Recipe

Brine For Turkey FAQs

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:
Stuffed Turkey Breast
Herbed Mayonnaise Turkey Breast
Orange Sage Roast Turkey Breast

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 temperature 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. 

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!

Can you over brine turkey?

Yes, turkey can be over brined which results in tough and rubbery meat. While you’d think more is better, there is a tipping point at which the meat starts to preserve and tense instead of tenderize. The exact number of hours depends on the size of the turkey, but we do not recommend brining for longer than 24-36 hours for a bird larger than 15 pounds. For birds less than 15 pounds, 18-24 hours.

 

close up of herbs in a turkey brine

What to serve with Brine Turkey

What do I serve with Turkey? Here are our our favorite Thanksgiving side ideas .

Rosemary Sweet Potato Stacks are a simple and visually appealing side dish or appetizer fit for any occasion. #sweetpotatostacks #sweetpotatoes www.savoryexperiments.com

Rosemary Parmesan Sweet Potato Stacks

3.88 from 16 votes
Rosemary Sweet Potato Stacks are a simple and visually appealing side dish or appetizer fit for any occasion.
See The Recipe!
overhead shot of creamed corn casserole on spatula

Cream Corn Casserole Recipe

4.59 from 24 votes
Rich, creamy, and full of cornbread, this Creamed Corn Casserole recipe is amazing as a side or spruced up to be a whole meal!
See The Recipe!
overhead of herbed potato galette in a round serving dish

Potato Galette

4.47 from 13 votes
A stunning Potato galette makes the perfect side dish made with layers of thinly cut potatoes, Swiss cheese, shallots, herbs and cream sauce.
See The Recipe!

Or a few fun new Thanksgiving desserts:

overhead slice of pumpkin cheesecake with caramel and whipped cream

Pumpkin Cheesecake Recipe

4.91 from 66 votes
Traditional pumpkin cheesecake topped with salty pumpkin seeds and pumpkin spiced whipped cream.
See The Recipe!
overhead shot of slice of apple pie

The Best Apple Pie

4.72 from 14 votes
The Best Apple Pie Recipe is an all-American dessert recipe that pairs tart apples with the perfect amount of sugar and spice. 
See The Recipe!
layers of chocolate cream pie

Chocolate Cream Pie Recipe

4.73 from 18 votes
Mocha Cream Pie Recipe is three layers of delicious pie: brownie base, chocolate pudding, and whipped cream top all laced with coffee.
See The Recipe!
turkey brine recipe collage

More Favorites from Savory Experiments

turkey in a brine with aromatics

Turkey Brine Recipe Simple

4.35 from 513 votes
The best turkey brine recipe and step-by-step instructions for how to brine a turkey for roasting, smoking or frying.
Prep Time: 2 hours
Brining Time: 1 day 9 hours 20 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
Servings: 10 people

Ingredients

Optional Add-Ins

Instructions

  • 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.

Video

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

Calories: 579 kcal, Carbohydrates: 8 g, Protein: 84 g, Fat: 22 g, Saturated Fat: 5 g, Cholesterol: 278 mg, Sodium: 8957 mg, Potassium: 936 mg, Sugar: 6 g, Vitamin A: 810 IU, Vitamin C: 1.6 mg, Calcium: 74 mg, Iron: 3.9 mg
Calories: 579
Course: Main Course, Main Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: brined turkey, how to brine a turkey, turkey brine recipe
Did you make this recipe?I’d love to see your recipes – snap a picture and mention @savoryexperiments or tag #savoryexperiments!
turkey in a brine with oranges with text overlay
Jessica Formicola in her ktichen

About the Author

Jessica Formicola

Jessica the mom, wife and food lover behind Savory Experiments. She is obsessed with butter, salt and bacon and spends all her time in the kitchen and behind a camera. Jessica is a contributor to PopKitchen by Parade, Better Homes & Gardens, The Daily Meal Food + Travel and more!

Read More About Jessica

Join The Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




Questions and Reviews

  1. 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?

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

  2. 4 stars
    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. , .

    1. 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. 🙂

    2. 5 stars
      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.

  3. 5 stars
    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?

    1. 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!

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

      1. 5 stars
        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.

    1. 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?

      1. 5 stars
        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.

  4. 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 🙂

      1. 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

  5. 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

    1. 5 stars
      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!

    1. 5 stars
      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!

    1. 5 stars
      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.

          1. 5 stars
            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!

          2. Thank for stopping by to let me know Cynthia- you literally made my day! Have a happy Thanksgiving!

  6. 5 stars
    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.

    1. 5 stars
      Of course! I would just cut the recipe in half. You can brine nearly anything. Same recipe also works for chicken.

  7. 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!

    1. 5 stars
      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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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 .

        2. 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.

    1. 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!

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

    1. 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!

      1. 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?

          1. If you want also want to inject to make sure the breaAt doesn’t get dry, can you use the brine to inject?

          2. 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.