How to Brine a Turkey

Brining has become more well known and popular recently. It helps to both make the turkey meat moister as well as being a way to add flavor to your turkey.

Recipe by: M. craig Weaver

Makes enough brine for one turkey.

Categories: American, Thanksgiving


Ingredients for Turkey Brine

turkey (fully thawed or fresh never frozen, fresh is better)
table salt  (Use 1 cup for brining up to 6 hours; use ½ cup if brining longer)
½ cup light brown sugar
1 gallon chicken or vegetable broth or apple cider (you can use water in a pinch)
1 head of garlic peeled (smash each clove)
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 Tablespoons fennel seed
2 Tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
1 Tablespoon crushed red pepper

The technique I use here can be used with other brine recipes, but I like this one. I use table salt instead of kosher salt in my brine, because kosher salt is too variable. Different brands of kosher salt come in different densities, so getting the proper amount by volume is difficult.

Types of Turkeys

There are three types of turkeys that can be purchased at grocery stores:

  1. Kosher
  2. Self-basting (aka flavor injected)
  3. Natural


A kosher turkey has been handled in accordance with kosher laws and has been treated with salt.  This koshering process has an effect similar to brining, and if you "re-brine" the turkey, it may end up being too salty, depending on how much salt the turkey absorbed during the koshering process, so it is best to leave kosher turkeys un-brined.


Self-basting turkeys have been injected with flavoring, broth, fats, salt, etc., to improve the flavor and juiciness of the meat, so self-basting turkeys don't need to be brined, and if you do brine a self-basting turkey, then it may be too salty.


Natural turkeys are turkeys that haven't had anything done to them, no flavoring, salt, sugar or anything.  Natural turkeys appreciate being brined because brining them keeps their meat moist and adds flavoring that is to your taste. I usually purchase my turkeys from a local farm, but natural turkeys from the store are fine, and when they are on sale I get them.


5 Gallon Bucket and Large Cooler

Brining Containers

You will need a pot, a bucket, or a cooler large enough to hold your turkey and the brine, along with some ice.  I use a large cooler, or a five gallon bucket that I bought at Home Depot, or if my turkey is small, a large Dutch-Oven or stock pot, but any clean container that is okay for food handling will work.  Note that your turkey may not fully submerge in the brine, and so it will need to be flipped over half way through brining, so your brining container will need to be large enough to allow that. 

Note that for safety, the FDA recommends that you use food-grade containers. The containers pictured here are not food-grade containers.

How Long

You will want to brine your turkey for 4 to 12 hours.  I like to brine my turkey overnight and remove it from the brine on the evening before I plan to cook it. This gives me the opportunity to allow the turkey skin to dry thoroughly, which helps to produce a nicely browned crisp skin. Just let your turkey sit uncovered in your refrigerator until you are ready to roast it. Note that if you let your turkey soak in the brine too long, it will absorb more salt, this recipe adjusts for that.

Your brine needs to be at refrigerator temperature when the turkey is put into it, so you need to start making your brine far enough ahead so that it will have time to cool from boiling to around 40° F (4° C).  So I usually make my brine ahead of time, then refrigerate it until it is time to brine the turkey.

Making the Brine

To make the brine:  Combine all the ingredients except the ice, in a pot large enough to hold them. Stir well to start dissolving the soluble ingredients, the salt and sugar.  Heat to a boil and stir well to get all the salt and sugar dissolved.  Cover and simmer for about five minutes to allow the flavors from the garlic and herbs to blend with the solution.  Cover and allow the brine to cool to room temperature, then store in your refrigerator until you are ready to put the turkey in the brine.

Brining the Turkey

Before you put the turkey in the brine, clean the turkey well, removing any extraneous gunk from the interior that you aren't interested in eating. Pour the brine into your brining container, then place the turkey into the container doing your best to submerge the whole bird. Top this off with enough ice to cover the bird and keep it chilled. Alternately, you can brine your turkey in a large plastic bag that you then put into your cooler or bucket, and cover with ice. Put the turkey in the bag, fill with brine, close off the bag squeezing all the air out, then cover with ice. That way the melting ice doesn't dilute the brine. Cover the container and put it in a cool place, like your refrigerator, your basement, or your garage. You want to keep the turkey cold until it is time to cook, to avoid bacterial growth.  About half way through the brining process, turn your turkey over so that any portion of the turkey that wasn't fully submerged is now in the brine. If the ice has all melted, then add more ice.  Cover for the rest of the brining time.

At the end of the brining time, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse and dry well.  If you want nice crispy skin on your turkey, then you can let it sit uncovered in your refrigerator for 8 or more hours before cooking.

Now that you have brined your turkey, here is How to Cook a Turkey.