How to Brine a Turkey

by Alice Currah on November 19, 2010. Updated November 27, 2013

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.

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.

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.

I slowly poured the brine into the bag and tied a loose knot.

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.

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. :)

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

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.


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

Share Button
About these ads

{ 422 comments… read them below or add one }

Brenda November 17, 2014 at 11:29 am

I’m so glad I was able to find this particular recipe again. I used this brine recipe in 2012, and it was the best turkey I’d ever tasted. Unfortunately, I lost the recipe and couldn’t remember the appropriate proportions of the ingredients, so I tried an already prepared brine mixtures. None of them compared favorably to Alice’s recipe.

Now, I have bookmarked this recipe so not to lose it again.


Alice Currah November 19, 2014 at 1:29 am

Welcome back Brenda!


Ashley November 19, 2014 at 3:13 pm

Can I also use the garlic butter injectable with the brine?


Toni November 22, 2014 at 7:31 am

Best idea by far! I’d never even heard of brining a turkey until a friend suggested it. I actually had bought a turkey after Thanksgiving last year and decided to experiment…..well I must say that the directions were clear and easy to follow and the turkey turned out fabulous! I had everyone that I invited over telling me how moist and tender the bird was therefore, I’m completely satisfied with the idea of brining <3 Thank you so much for your easy step recipe Alice!


Amy November 22, 2014 at 7:05 pm

Did the turkey marinate in the oven roasting bag or in the refridgerato drawer?


Dianna November 22, 2014 at 11:10 pm

I have a Jennie O self basting turkey…does that mean it is already a brined bird?


Dianna November 22, 2014 at 11:16 pm

Sorry, I just noticed you included self-basting turkeys in your do not brine list. I guess that means there is no way seasoning the bird other than a rub on and under the skin or an injector (don’t have)?


Leave a Comment

Anti-Spam Quiz:

Previous post:

Next post: