How to Brine a Turkey

turkeybrine1 How to Brine a Turkey

Who wouldn’t want to eat a tender, moist, and flavorful turkey for their Thanksgiving feast?  Brining is a salt marinade which causes the meat tissues to absorb water and flavorings by breaking down the proteins.  This is why brining is a popular method of preparing a Thanksgiving turkey because any moisture loss while roasting  still produces a juicy and flavorful turkey.

It’s important to note that you do not want to brine a kosher or self-basting bird.  Otherwise the turkey will be too salty.

Most brining recipes call for a gallon of water or stock and a cup of salt and sugar each.  From there, people often add apple juice, vinegar, whiskey, and other aromatics.  I like to keep things simple by using ingredients I have in the pantry.

A few weeks ago I brined a turkey for two days for my father’s birthday.  Everyone commented on how juicy and tender the turkey was.  Dad was happy, I was happy, and I decided brining is the only way I’ll ever prepare turkey again.

I thought I would share with you how I brined the turkey.

rinsingturkey How to Brine a Turkey

Using a thawed turkey, I removed the giblets and neck from the inside.  Next, I rinsed the outside and inside of the bird thoroughly.  Then, I set the turkey in a rimmed roasting pan and pat it dry with paper towels.

turkeybags How to Brine a Turkey

I placed an oven roasting bag in a large soup pot with the opening of the bag over lapping the rim of the pot, carefully placing the turkey in the bag.

***Many people will tell you to brine your turkey in heavy duty garbage bags, Home Depot style pails, and XXL size ziplock bags.  I’ve read that garbage bags shouldn’t be used because they are not made from food-grade plastic.  Unless you have a second refrigerator, I don’t see how a large pail can fit in a family refrigerator.  I also had a hard time finding the XXL ziplock bags.  So what I decided the most practical thing to to do was buy poultry oven roasting bags I knew would fit my turkey.  I also emptied out, washed, and sanitized the bottom meat drawer of the refrigerator.  I found this was a good way to brine my turkey with the least amount of hassle, taking up the least amount of space, and kept the turkey nice and cold.

turkeybrine How to Brine a Turkey

I slowly poured the brine into the bag and tied a loose knot.turkeyinthedrawer1 How to Brine a Turkey

I carefully transferred the turkey to the (cleaned and sanitized) meat drawer from the refrigerator with the knot facing upwards.  I marinated the turkey for 1 day  before turning the turkey over so the top side was bottom, and the bottom was top.  This way both halves of the turkey had ample time to marinate.  I basted the upper  side of the turkey once during the process.TurkeyinDrawer How to Brine a Turkey

When it was  time to roast the bird, I rinsed the turkey again, including the inner cavity.  I patted the turkey dry before lathering with  seasoned butter before cooking.  This is how I brined the bird and highly recommend you do the same for moist, flavorful turkey!


-Someone suggested in the comments that you should brine your bird for 1 hour for every pound.  I think this is a good rule of thumb but I have brined for longer with good results too.

-I’m getting asked a lot if a person can brine a pre-seasoned turkey.  Technically speaking, experts say not to.  However, I have and I cut the brine time down in half with no problems of excess salt.  I am not recommending you do this but just sharing my own experience. Your mileage may vary (YMMV).

-The “things” floating in the picture are not anchovies or sardines as people have mistaken them for in the comments.  They’re ice cubes. simple smile How to Brine a Turkey

Here’s my guide on how to roast a turkey.

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How to Brine a Turkey
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 turkey
If you want a moist, flavorful turkey, brining a turkey is a great way to accomplish this. This turkey brine recipe is so easy and using the refrigerator door is a great way to prepare the turkey before Thanksgiving.
  • 12 cups water, divided
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sage
  • 2 tablespoons thyme
  • 2 tablespoons rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 4 cups ice
  1. Bring 4 cups of water to a simmering boil. Add salt and sugar. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Turn off the heat. Stir in 8 cups cold water, apple cider vinegar, sage, thyme, rosemary, pepper, and ice. The brine is ready to be used.
  2. Remove giblets and neck from the cavity. Rinse the outside and inside of a thawed turkey. Using paper towels, pat the turkey dry. Complete submerge the turkey in a large soup pot bigger than the bird and cover with a lid. Allow the turkey to marinate for 12 hours for a small turkey (8-10 lbs) and up to a full day for a bigger bird. (Update: 11/27/13 - You may need to flip your bird half way through the brine process) Rinse turkey and pat dry before adding additional seasoning, butter, or oil in preparation for roasting.
*It’s important to reiterate not to use a self basting, pre-seasoned, or kosher turkey. Otherwise the turkey will be too salty.

how to roast a turkey How to Brine a Turkey

Here’s my guide on How to Roast a Turkey. Click here for the recipe.

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  1. Lynn says

    Are the ice cubes absolutely necessary? I don’t make ice cubes but could go buy a bag. But if I can get by without them this time (my first time brining) it would be great. The turkey is just for me, no guests etc.

    • says

      Hi Lynn,
      You don’t need the ice cubes as long as your bring mixture is cold. The reason for the cubes is to cool the brine down so it doesn’t start the cooking process prematurely. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Mike says

    Can I use a cooler for the turkey? If I use a cooler I could add more ice and even frozen ice bags to keep the turkey cool.
    Thanks for the help.

  3. Kimberly says

    Hi Alice,

    This is going to be my second time making a turkey and I’m truly excited and nervous (the first time was a few years ago and it didn’t turn out as I had hoped). I would like to use your brining recipe and was wondering if I used chicken broth instead of water, will I end up with the same results? Also if I did use chicken broth, is there anything I should do differently while using your recipe? Please help, I am truly an amateur when it comes to cooking. Thank you.

    • says

      Hi Kimberly- SO sorry I did not see this sooner. You could use broth but I don’t see how it would make a difference because it is the high salt content you want. Hope your turkey turned out great.

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