Thanksgiving turkey recipes have sure come a long way. Thanksgiving dinner, in general, has come a long way!
What's In This Article
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.
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.
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 Brine 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.
Turkey Brine Tips
- 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!
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.
Brine For Turkey FAQs
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
What to serve with Brine Turkey
What do I serve with Turkey? Here are our our favorite Thanksgiving side ideas .
Or a few fun new Thanksgiving desserts:
More Favorites from Savory Experiments
- 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.
Do you have to cook the turkey right after you take it out of the brine? Are can you rinse it then add your rub and put it back in the fridge until you are ready to cook it?
Excellent!! We had our Thanksgiving on Saturday because mom and dad (us ) are going to be out of town for Thanksgiving my family thought this recipe was excellent excellent excellent the daughter-in-law even asked for the recipe ~ daughter just called for the recipe that’s what I call excellent!!
Family tradition from now on !!!
Yay!!!! That is what I LOVE to hear! So happy you had a fabulous holiday.
Hi and thank you so much for the very detailed recipe! I’d like to wet brine our turkey with your recipe for 24 hrs then keep it dry for 24 hrs to get crispy skin. Do I have to rinse the turkey then keep it for 24 hrs to dry or rinse it when it’s ready to get cooked?
Hi Azar- rinse, then dry. You want the skin to be super dry when you cook it.
Hello, if I am prepping for a 24lb turkey, do I just double the brining recipe including the salt? Thank you I’m advance for your response.
Also, I just read that the recipe is for a turkey anywhere from 12-22lbs, so I’m concern on doubling the recipe now. You mentioned for a smaller turkey, brining time is minimum 24 hours. How long do you suggest for a 24lb turkey? Thank you so much! I am excited to try this recipe. If successful, we will continue it for Christmas as well 🙂
Hi Martha- you’ll still be okay at 24 hours, but you can go a little longer if you want.
Yep- you might not need all of the liquid, but you are better off making more than not having enough. It will be dependent on the size of your turkey and the size of the vessel you are going to brine it in.
I have used this recipe in years past with great success. Everyone loves my turkey and how juicy is ends up. I want to use this recipe again but this year I am doing a bigger turkey 21#, should I double the brine recipe?
You can certianly double the brine and then just as much as you need when you submerge the larger bird! And we are so glad you love this recipe 🙂
Great guide! Everything you could ever want to know. Bookmarking for Thanksgiving!
We have a big family when it comes to Thanksgiving – if everyone shows up it’s 40+ people. So when they all loved my turkey last year, you know it was great. I used this brining method, and it was nice and juicy. I’ll be doing it again this year and just wanted to thank you for the recipe & the happy family!
Love the flavors of this brine! I really like it made with the Orange and lemon. Great flavor addition.
Hello! I am in charge of the turkey this year for Thanksgiving and want to give this brine a try! I was planning on making it the night before, carving, and reheating in a Nesco the day of. Will the turkey dry out if done this way? Any suggestions on how to keep in moist?
Any time you reheat a turkey, it will get a bit drier, however if you brine it, it will be LESS dry than if you didn’t. I’d add some liquid (just a small amount of white wine, turkey broth or just water) while reheating to add more moisture back into the bird.
Thanksgiving 2018…This is the best recipe to brine or season or add an awesome flavor to your turkey. The first time my family could not stop talking about “THE TURKEY” . PEOPLE U MUST TRY THIS. Lots of Ingredients but well worth it.. THANKS this is the one!
Thank YOU for coming back to let us know. Comments like this make us smile and keep us making fabulous recipes! Happy holidays!
I’d like to ask a question, if I may? I’d l8keto know if the Reynolds Turkry cooking bags are the same thing as brining bags? It just seems to me that they should be. I have used a cooking bag every year for my a Turkey and it has been just delicious every time. Juicy, very well cooked, brown. It’s so easy, I can’t imagine any other way! But please I would like to know if they are the same.
Hi Carol- excellent question! Although I have never compared the two, I would think they would be very similar. Although brining bags aren’t oven safe and would most likely melt if put in the oven. Using a turkey cooking bag is also an excellent choice for a succulent bird! I think some people feel they might sacrifice crispy skin with a bag since it essentially steams the turkey. In a pinch, you could totally brine with a cooking bag, but I wouldn’t recommend cooking in a brining bag.
This is the BEST brine recipe I have ever used! The turkey was so moist and juicy
Thanks for coming by to let us know, Jackie!!!
I used this recipe when hosting my first Thanksgiving last year. It has so many tip and tricks and the recipe is perfect. The turkey came out so well I’m on hosting duty again this year. Excellent recipe!!
Noelle, Thank you for stopping by to let us know! Comments like these are what fuels us to keep making more. Have a happy Thanksgiving!
Jessica, my Turkey is still somewhat frozen would it be okay if I cold water thawed it for a little and then put it in the brine….its 14.4 pounds. Thank you
Hi Tabetha! You certianly can. While it is ideal for the turkey to be 100% defrosted, it isn’t going to harm it to put it in while still a little frozen. It will just add a little water to the brine, so maybe add a tiny bit more salt to compensate. Happy Thanksgiving!
I’m giving this a try this year. I will let you know how it turns out!
Hello, Do you cook in a cooking bag?
Do you mean how to brine in a brining bag or how do you cook in a cooking bag? If you use a brining bag you just put the turkey and the cooled brine in the bag and it is just the vessel to hold it all. If you are cooking in an oven bag, it really depends on the recipe and size of your turkey and I can’t give you exact instructions unless I know those factors.
Question, does your turkey need to be fully thawed before brining? And If so, how long do you have till it should be cooked? I don’t want to wait 4 days to fully thaw and brine for another 24 hours, just worried that the meat will go bad even though it’s kept in fridge. I’m basing this off a 20lb turkey. Thanks! ????
I April. I would recommend your turkey being nearly thawed or thawed. The whole concept of brining is that the liquid absorbed into the turkey and it is frozen, it can’t do that. The national agriculture associate reports that you can keep your turkey in the fridge for up to 2 days after it being fully thawed and before cooking.
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?
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.
I have been brining Turkeys for years, a recipe given to me by a chef in Chicago, and have never done it any other way, why would you, if it’s Good leave it alone! Just remember, after Brining, you Must rinse off as much of That saltybrine as possible, I place under the faucet and wash in and out throughly, pat dry, if you don’t, you can expect to have a Salty Bird. I like to dry out a day as well, to get that skin has crispy as possible ! If you do this correctly you will never need or want to try anything else, because it will be as juscy and tasty as any Bird you will ever try, ALL THE BEST !
Thank you, Chef Jose! Cheers!
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.
Hi, did you use apple cider vinegar or just apple cider juice? Thanks!
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!
I’m so glad you enjoyed it!!!