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.
I can’t wait to try this tomorrow. I butchered 3 turkeys a couple days ago. I plan on parting out and brining 4 breasts then freeze for future dinners. The other 2 and the leg meat I’ll put through my meat grinder
Nice! I love that you processed it all yourself!
Turkey is sitting in the brine as we speak 🙂 which is more important sitting in the brine or sitting to air dry if I want crispy skin??
Air dry- but honestly, it is going to be good either way. Just make sure to pat it dry really well.
Hi! Made this brine over Thanksgiving! It was GREAT. Thanks Katie
You are so welcome! Happy holidays!
I made this brine for my 20 lb turkey. I brined it for a day and a half. I came out super moist and delicious. This was my second time making a turkey. The last time was a failure 15 years ago…lol. This recipe has been bookmarked! Thank you 😊
So glad you loved it! Happy holidays!
This is my first time preparing a Turkey, it turned out so moist & delicious, I prepared the brine Gave it the time to cool, then put it in the refrigerator and used it the next day, I will definitely do it again .
This turned out amazing! You could taste the flavors in the meat and the drippings used for gravy. We did all the optional ingredients and brined for a day and a half.
I have used this recipe for years. It creates the best ever Turkey! I’ve let it brown for 24 hours and then dry for 24 hrs. This by far was the best. Other times I’ve not had time to dry it but it still turned out good. After it brines I do a dry rub and cook it in a nesco. I also carve it before serving and let it sit in its juices so it doesn’t go dry.
Woohoo! So glad you love it and happy holidays!
Hi! I’m looking to add the apple cider vinegar. Any suggested amount?
I’d add 1 cup! But after I heated it… when it was cooled.
I’m going to attempt this recipe for my Turkey this year. I have never personally done a brine but a chef at a restaurant I used to bartend at for 12 years always brined them (50 each year)! It was so moist and delicious best turkey ever. I always wanted to try it but didn’t know where to begin. Thankfully I came across your site and I think I can tackle this because the recipe is very well written with great explanations. THANKS 😊
So glad we could help! Good luck and know that it is really hard to mess up a brined turkey. In fact, the worst thing you can do is not brine it long enough, but it sounds like you are a pro- 50 a year is NO joke! Happy holidays!
Does this brine make gravy too salty??
Nope- you’ll rinse the turkey before cooking it so any residual salt will come off. I’d be more concerned with a rub adding too much salt. But make sure you TASTE the gravy before you season it any more (regardless of the recipe you use!) We have several articles on gravy and how to season, what to do if it is too salty and how to make it gourmet, restaurant quality whether you are making it with drippings or without!
If I use a frozen turkey do I need to brine ? I read that they already have a lot of salt in them 🤷♀️
Frozen turkey shouldn’t have any salt in it- but the seasoning bag DOES. So as long as you don’t use the seasoning bag, yes, brine it 🙂
I didn’t know that you couldn’t reuse turkey brine. I need to get some seasoning for my chicken. I’ll have to consider getting something that works for salmon as well. https:
I followed this brining recipe exactly and it was the best Turkey that I have ever made. I put it in a garbage bag since I didn’t have a brine bag. This is note my Turkey recipe. Thank you so much.
And thank you for coming back to let us know. Happy holidays!
I’ve made this recipe the last two years for thanksgiving and my friends and family are obsessed and now I’m always in charge of the turkey. It’s soooo good, the meat falls off the bone and is so moist and delicious. I barely use any seasoning and the brine is enough.
Yay! We love to hear that and thank you for coming back to let us know.