How to Brine A Turkey
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A great turkey brine is the first step to getting a perfectly tender and juicy bird, whether you’re roasting or smoking. Learn how to brine a turkey with this quick and easy recipe made with salt, water, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, citrus, and aromatics. No more dried-out turkey!
Best turkey brine recipe ever and why you should try it
Turkey has a reputation for being difficult to cook. And yet, we all crave moist meat and crispy skin for our Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner! Brining is a traditional technique that ensures the meat stays tender while adding delicious flavors.
This simple recipe is my favorite and takes just a few minutes to put together. It helps to tenderize the bird and prevent it from drying out during cooking, so try brining your turkey with this easy recipe this holiday season. Say goodbye to tough and dry turkey FOREVER!
Why does brining work? The turkey already contains salty water. When immersed in a liquid with a higher concentration of salt, the turkey absorbs additional liquid with the flavorings infusing into the meat. The brine also helps to break down proteins, keeping the meat tender and juicy when it’s cooked.
How to brine a turkey
- Add salt and other ingredients to 4 cups of water in a small pot.
- Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes or until salt and sugar have completely dissolved.
- Add the mixture to a large pot along with the remaining cold water. Mix well making sure the pot can hold enough water to submerge the turkey completely.
- Place the turkey in the brine solution so it’s fully submerged.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let it brine for 8 – 18 hours in the refrigerator.
How much salt do I use to brine a turkey?
The base for brine is simply SALT and WATER. Other ingredients are optional (including sugar, acidic ingredients, and aromatics). You’ll need 1 cup of kosher salt for every gallon of water. Although it seems like a lot of salt, most of it will get rinsed off before cooking.
Kosher salt is ideal for brining as the flaky crystals dissolve readily in water to create a clearer brine. If using regular salt, cut the salt amount into half.
Prepare the brine solution faster
Traditional recipes call for boiling the entire brine first and letting it cool down before adding the meat. This makes for a long cooling period for several gallons of liquid! To save time, we’ve found a shortcut to get it ready faster:
Just add salt and other ingredients to only 4 cups of water and bring to boil. Let the salt and sugar dissolve completely, and then add the mixture to a big pot with the rest of the cold water. The temperature comes down immediately so you can put the turkey in right away, saving hours of time!
How long to brine a turkey
The ideal brine time for fresh or thawed turkey is 8 to 18 hours.
Place the turkey in the brine solution and let it sit in the refrigerator for 8-18 hours. DO NOT go past 18 hours or your bird could become overly salty.
Brining and thawing a frozen turkey at the same time
If your turkey is frozen, the good news is that you can brine and thaw the turkey at the same time. A frozen turkey also thaws faster in brine. According to USDA, a 15-pound frozen turkey can take 4 days to thaw in the fridge. But if you thaw it in the brine solution, it can take as little as 2 days.
Use 1 cup of kosher salt for 2 gallons of water, and place the frozen turkey in the brine solution. Cover the pot with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for about 2 days. Set the fridge at 40°F or below.
How to cook a brined turkey
Discard the brine and rinse the turkey thoroughly with cold water before cooking. Pat dry with paper towels and then rub with seasonings such as butter and garlic. Don’t use more salt!
Place the turkey in a roasting pan and bake in the oven following this turkey cooking time guide. Cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).
Tips for brining a whole turkey
- Make sure your pot can hold enough water to completely submerge the turkey.
- You can use salt and water only if you want to keep it simple.
- Make sure to use kosher salt when possible.
- Rinse your turkey thoroughly before cooking, otherwise, it’ll be too salty.
- Pat dry the turkey before cooking.
- Brined turkey drippings sometimes can be too salty to make gravy. Taste before using them.
Best Turkey Brine Recipe
- 1 whole turkey, fresh or thawed (See notes for frozen turkey)
- 2 gallons cold water
- 2 cups kosher salt**
- 1 1/2 cups apple cider
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 6 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon juniper berries
- 1 orange, sliced
- 1 lemon, sliced
- 4-6 rosemary sprigs
- 2-4 bay leaves
- Prepare the pot: Set aside a large pot that can hold enough water to submerge the turkey completely.
- Make the brine solution: Add salt and other ingredients into 4 cups of water in a medium pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for 2 minutes or until salt and sugar have completely dissolved. Add the mixture to the large pot, and add the rest of the cold water to the pot. Mix well.
- Prepare the turkey: Remove the giblets from the body cavity or neck cavity.
- Brine the turkey: Place the turkey in the brine solution (make sure it's fully submerged). Cover with plastic wrap and let it brine for 8 – 18 hours in the refrigerator.
- Roast the turkey: When your turkey is ready, remove it from the brine and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. Follow our how to cook turkey recipe if you plan to roast the turkey.
- *If you want to brine and thaw a frozen turkey at the same time, use half amount of the salt. Remove the package and place the frozen turkey directly into the brine solution. Let it brine in the fridge for 2 days (set the fridge temperature to 40°F or below).
- **If you’re using table salt, cut the amount by half.
- Brined turkey drippings can be too salty to make gravy. Taste before using them.
- If you’d like to add more seasonings after brining, make sure to omit salt.
- A brined turkey cooks 20-30 minutes faster than a regular turkey.
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