Brining a turkey is the secret to achieving a show-stopping centerpiece for your holiday feast. This simple yet transformative technique infuses the bird with a burst of flavor and ensures that every juicy bite is a true delight. Whether you need a flavorful turkey for Thanksgiving dinner or a simple way to level up your basic turkey recipes, this guide on how to brine a turkey and easy turkey brine recipe is for you!
Table of Contents
- What is a Turkey Brine?
- Wet Brine vs. Dry Brine?
- What You Need to Wet Brine a Turkey
- How to Brine a Turkey
- Girl Carnivore Product Recommendation
- WHAT RECIPES TO USE WITH THIS WET BRINE RECIPE
- Easy Turkey Brine Recipe
- Helpful FAQs
The perfect roast turkey starts here. Imagine sinking your teeth into turkey meat that’s perfectly crunchy on the outside and delectably juicy on the inside. That’s what brining does, and it’s one of the best things you can do to your turkey this Thanksgiving. If you’ve never heard of brining before, stay tuned. This post is going to cover everything you need to know about how to brine a turkey.
Need some delicious recipes to jazz up your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner? Check out our list of holiday recipes for inspiration!
What is a Turkey Brine?
A brine is a salt solution consisting of water, salt, and herbs. You can use a brine solution with all kinds of meat and even vegetables! The salt penetrates the exterior of the turkey through osmosis and diffusion. Osmosis is when the water inside the bird comes to the surface to dilute the salt. Diffusion occurs when the saltwater solution moves from the outside of the bird and penetrates the meat inside.
As the turkey’s muscle fibers are being broken down from the brining process, the bird is infused with flavor and moisture.
Wet Brine vs. Dry Brine?
There are two types of brines we’re going to be discussing for brining a turkey.
Wet brining is where you submerge a whole turkey in cold water in a brine bag or ziplock bag, place it in a large container or large stockpot, and set the bag inside the refrigerator. A good rule of thumb is to brine for 1-2 hours for every pound of poultry. For this brine recipe, we brined our turkey for a maximum of 12 hours.
After brining, the bird is patted dry with paper towels to remove the excess moisture and promote crispy skin. Then, cook as desired.
Keep in mind the wet brining method requires some plan-ahead time, so you’ll need to factor this into your cooking process.
Pro tip: If wet brining, let the turkey air dry in the fridge uncovered to allow the cold air to circulate around the meat for 12 hours after you remove the turkey from the salt water mixture. This simple step helps the skin to dry out, producing the most crispy crust.
Dry brining is the simpler version of wet brining in a big way, it skips the liquid altogether, as the name implies. Dry-brined turkey involves rubbing down the meat with a dry rub consisting of salt and other spices. Alternatively, you can lift the skin and rub the meat to enhance the flavor further. Then, the meat is placed in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours to allow the brine for maximum flavor infusion.
Dry brining is faster and less messy than wet brining but both methods have good results and are a great way to infuse your Thanksgiving turkey or turkey breast with tons of extra flavor.
What You Need to Wet Brine a Turkey
- Kosher Salt – do not use table salt for this recipe.
- Black peppercorns
- Dried rosemary
- Dried sage
- Dried thyme
- Thawed turkey
Pro tip: Customize the brine’s flavor depending on your personal preference. For example, you can add different fresh herbs, apple cider, bay leaves, brown sugar, or anything else you like!
How to Brine a Turkey
Preparing the Brine
- First, you’ll need to get a large stockpot. Fill it with water and put it on the stove to heat up. You want it to come to a boil.
- Once the water is boiling, turn off the heat. Now, add all the brine ingredients, like salt, black peppercorns, dried rosemary, sage, and thyme. Stir everything really well until the salt is all dissolved.
- Now, you need to let this liquid cool down. It has to be completely cool before we use it.
Getting the Turkey Ready
- When the liquid is cool, it’s time to get your raw turkey in there. We like to use a large brining bag. It’s strong and can hold both the liquid and the turkey.
- If you’re using a brining bag, put your turkey inside it first. Then, carefully pour the cooled brine into the bag. After that, we need to get rid of any air inside. Hold the bag above the turkey, twist it, and use your hands to make sure no air is left. Once it’s air-free, secure the bag with a zip tie where you were holding it twisted.
Girl Carnivore Product Recommendation
We tested these brining bags in the Girl Carnivore Meat Labs and love them. They are huge, thick, and durable. We find that brining can be a little unnerving with the risk of cross-contamination, but with these sturdy bags, everything was contained and safe. The package we purchased came with 3 bags. We used zip ties as an easy way to secure the bag once the turkey and liquid were in it.
- Now, put the turkey in the fridge and leave it there for about 12 hours. You can either place the bag in a 5-gallon bucket (if it fits) or use a big vegetable drawer in your fridge. If you don’t have enough refrigerator space, you can also keep the turkey in the brine in a large cooler with ice to make sure it stays nice and cold.
Getting Ready to Cook
- After the 12 hours are up, take your turkey out of the brine. You won’t need the brine anymore, so you can toss it. Before you start cooking, pat your turkey dry with some paper towels. Now it’s all set for you to cook it up and enjoy!
Now the next step is to check on how long to cook a turkey per pound to set yourself up for success.
Get ready for a juicy turkey like you’ve never had before! This Turkey Brine recipe will take your basic bland turkey and turn it into a flavorful, tender bird! Once you brine your turkey, you’ll never settle for an unbrined bird ever again!
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Easy Turkey Brine
- Large stock pot
- 2 gallons water
- 1 cups salt
- ¼ cup black peppercorns
- ½ cup dried rosemary
- ½ cup dried sage
- ½ cup dried thyme
Make the saline
- Bring the water to a boil in a large stock pot.
- Remove from heat and stir in the brine ingredients until the salt is dissolved.
- Allow the liquid to cool completely.
Brine the turkey
- When cooled, submerge the turkey in the liquid. We find the easiest way to do this is to use a brining bag, a heavy duty plastic bag designed to hold liquid and a turkey. See our notes below for our recommendation.
- If using a brining bag, add the turkey to the bag and then pour the liquid in.
- Next remove the air, do this by twisting the bag above the turkey and secruring with your hands.
- Carefully press air out, careful not to slosh any liquid out.
- Secure the bag with a zip tie where your hand was holding it twisted.
- Place the turkey, in the brine, in the fridge for 12 hours.
- You can use a 5 gallon bucket to hold the bag, and store the whole bag in the fridge. Or you can empty a vegetable draw and use it, if it is big enough and store the bird in the brining bag in the drawer. Alternatively, you can store the turkey in the brine in a cooler, on ice to maintain a safe temperature.
Remove from brine and cook
- Remove from brine, discard the liquid, and pat the turkey dry before cooking.
- How to Dry Brine a Turkey
- How to Spatchcock a Turkey
- How to Truss a Turkey
- How Long to Cook a Turkey Per Pound
- How to Carve a Turkey
Brine ratio: 1 cup salt to every 2 gallons of water. Make sure the salt is dissolved and the water is cool before brining.
You can rinse your turkey after brining to remove excess salt, but with our turkey brine recipe, we don’t need to.
Since the brining process imparts plenty of flavor into the bird, you don’t have to! If you want to add more seasoning, we recommend using a seasoning or dry rub without salt as the bird will be plenty salty. We add compound butter for extra fat and flavor under the skin while the turkey roasts.
It takes 12 hours at most. Any more than that, and we find the turkey meat becomes too salty.
Nope! We highly recommend our giblet gravy after you’ve brined and roasted your turkey.
Yes! However, you’ll want to partially thaw the turkey enough to clean out the cavity before brining. If you want to know How to Thaw a Turkey, check out our guide!
Yes! You can use a wet or dry brine on a spatchcocked turkey. Never spatchcocked a turkey before? Check out our How to Spatchcock a Turkey guide!