If you are roasting or smoking a turkey this season, our Easy Turkey Brine recipe is the perfect first step to preparing your holiday meal. Learn how to brine a turkey for a super juicy, tender Thanksgiving star every time! You can use this turkey brine for Juicy Roast Turkey or Spatchcock Turkey.
It’s so juicy, that you don’t even need the Turkey Gravy. Oh, who are we kidding? You always need gravy!
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What is a Brine?
Brining means to soak your turkey (or chicken, or pork) in a water and salt solution (brine) with herbs, sugar, spices, and sometimes even fruit.
Why Do You Brine a Turkey?
Turkey, like chicken and pork, is a naturally lean protein and is prone to overcooking and drying out while roasting in the oven. Brining is a helpful technique to enhance moisture retention because the salt alters the structure of the meat’s proteins, allowing it to absorb and retain more flavor-infused liquid.
Best Turkey Brine Recipe
If you have never brined a turkey, you are missing out. This wet brine recipe is not part of the cooking process but is an additional step in preparing your turkey 12-24 hours before cooking. Soak your turkey in this herbal brine and you will have the most flavorful, tender cuts of turkey your platter has ever seen. Brining will make your turkey:
- Extra flavorful, seasoned throughout
- Consistently moist, tender, and juicy
- Aromatic – all of the fresh herbs that are infused while soaking are enhanced when the turkey is roasting in the oven.
Be sure to remove the bag of giblets and neck from the turkey’s cavity before adding your bird to the brine.
This brine recipe is so simple, it really is as easy as submerging your turkey (just about any sized turkey will work here) in seasoned water and adding some herbs. For this easy turkey brine recipe you will need:
- Salt – fine sea salt or kosher salt, preferably salt without additives or iodine
- Granulated sugar – balances the saltiness of the brine and also helps to give your finished roasted turkey a golden brown, caramelized crust.
- Herbs and spices – bay leaves, whole peppercorns, fresh garlic, rosemary, and thyme
- Water – cool not hot, enough to fully submerge your turkey
Sugar – Swap the granulated sugar for brown sugar.
Cider – Try replacing 3 cups of water with equal amounts of apple cider (apple juice in a pinch, NOT apple cider vinegar) for extra flavorful moisture.
Zest – Add the peels from 3 oranges for a hint of citrus in your brine. Use a knife to finely slice only the zest (colored skin) and not the bitter white pith.
Dry Herbs – if you don’t have fresh rosemary and thyme, it’s perfectly ok to substitute 1 Tbsp dried rosemary and 2 tsp dried thyme.
A general rule of thumb is to brine for 1 hour per pound of turkey to give you the best flavor and moisture content.
How to Brine a Turkey
- Combine – Place the sugar, salt, peppercorns, 1 gallon of water, and fresh herbs into a container large enough to hold your brine and submerge your turkey (or use a brining bag). Stir the mixture until the sugar and salt dissolve.
- Add Turkey – Place your turkey breast down, into the brine and more cold water until the turkey is fully submerged (I added 8 additional cups).
- Brine – Store your turkey and brine in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours or overnight.
- Get Ready to Roast – Remove the turkey from the pot or brining bag and discard the brine. In a clean sink, rinse the turkey to remove the excess salt and seasonings. Pat dry all over with paper towels and you’re ready to roast or smoke your turkey.
Before rinsing the turkey, make sure that your sink is clean and does not have anything in it. Have paper towels for drying, and your roasting pan next to the sink ready to receive the dried turkey. Being set up before rinsing will prevent the splashing and spreading of raw turkey juices and bacteria. After placing your turkey into the roasting pan, be sure to clean the sink and counters with antibacterial cleaning products to prevent cross-contamination.
This recipe is best with fresh or already defrosted turkey to allow the meat to fully absorb the brine.
Yes! After brining is the only time you should rinse a turkey, inside and out, to reduce the saltiness and remove the herbs. You can also soak the turkey in a pot of cold, fresh water for 15 minutes.
It’s totally normal and fine if the water turns a pinkish color while your turkey soaks.
The USDA recommends that you always store raw turkey in the refrigerator at 40°F or less to prevent foodborne illness. A brining bag takes up less space than a large, rigid container, so consider using this option if space is a concern.
If you prefer crispy skin, we recommend letting your turkey sit uncovered on a platter in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours before cooking.
What Type of Container Should I Use to Brine a Turkey
This recipe works well for a turkey 10-20 lbs. You are going to need a large pot or container to hold your turkey while it brines. It’s best to use something non-reactive such as plastic, glass, or stainless steel. Consider using a:
- food grade bucket
- large stockpot
- crockpot bowl
- a brining bag or 2-gallon Ziploc bag- double bag it!
For a turkey that is larger than 15 lbs, a brining bag is recommended. If you don’t have a brining bag, you will need to increase the recipe by 50% to keep the salt-to-water ratio balanced (make 1 1/2 times the recipe). Make room in your fridge because you definitely need to keep the turkey refrigerated while it soaks.
To help keep your turkey fully submerged, place a plate, bowl, or pot lid on top to weigh it down.
Since the turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving table, it’s definitely worthwhile to brine for a more flavorful and tender turkey. I find the turkey is a little more forgiving when it’s brined.
Leftover Turkey Recipes
With Thanksgiving on its way, you are going to need all of the turkey recipes to enjoy leftovers in a million different ways. Don’t fret, Natasha’s Kitchen has you covered. You don’t want to miss these other recipes to help you use up your leftover Roast Turkey.
- Turkey Noodle Soup
- Leftover Turkey in Gravy
- Turkey Crepes
- Turkey Chili
- Chicken Bacon Sandwich (with Turkey meat!)
Easy Turkey Brine Recipe
- 16 cups lukewarm water, plus 8 cups cold water
- 1 cup fine sea salt , or 1 1/2 cups kosher salt*
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 Tbsp whole peppercorns, coarsely crushed
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 2 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh rosemary, or 1 Tbsp dried rosemary
- 1 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh thyme, or 2 tsp dried thyme
- Combine brine ingredients and 1 gallon of water in a container large enough to hold and submerge your brine and your turkey, or use a turkey brining bag set in a large bowl. Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved and the liquid turns clear.
- Add the turkey and add more cold water to ensure the turkey is fully submerged. I added an additional 8 cups of cold water (this will vary depending on the size of your turkey and the size of your tub/container/pot. Store in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours or overnight.
- Remove the turkey from the brine and discard the brine. Carefully rinse your turkey to avoid splatter* and dry all over. If a crispy skin is desired, we recommend letting it sit on a platter uncovered in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours before cooking your turkey.
*Use a salt without added preservatives and avoid iodized salt.
*Thoroughly clean your sink and surrounding work surfaces after rinsing your turkey.