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!

*Notes:

-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
Author: 
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.
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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.
Notes
*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

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

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{ 412 comments… read them below or add one }

ES November 24, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Wonderful outcome! Some changes: Omitted sage as I did not have it on-hand and I used fresh rosemary (not dried). Family said best turkey ever. I was a bit concerned by the comment about using the refrigerator door but realized she meant to write the refrigerator drawer.

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Christopher Pratt November 25, 2012 at 3:34 pm

After brining, can I use some of the solid material from the brine, ie oranges, onions, apples, spices to cook inside the turkey?

Thanks,
Chris

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A. December 6, 2012 at 12:17 am

I wouldn’t do it for the same reason “they” now aren’t fans of cooking stuffing inside turkey. Too hard to get the whole thing cooked and into the “safe” temp zone when there’s so much mass to it. On top of that, the stuffing hasn’t even been soaking in raw meat juice, like the brined solids.

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Matt Wolczynski November 26, 2012 at 11:16 am

I tried this recipe this past Thanksgiving, and I can honestly say that it made the best turkey that I have ever tasted. I used a 16lb fresh bird and brined it for 1 1/2 days.

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Chrissy November 30, 2012 at 6:57 pm

This made THE best turkey I ever had. I brined a turkey breast for 24 hours. Made it moist, juicy, tender. Used no other seasonings. Wiped skin with olive oil, stuffed cavities with carrots, onions, celery. GREAT Recipe! Thanks

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Lisa December 3, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Brined our Thanksgiving turkey for the first time this year. My turkey was a huge hit. My husband says not to make it anyother way now. Thanks. Planning on repeating this for Christmas.

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Lisa December 6, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Did two turkeys this year and deep fried them. One was marinated in wine the other was the brine. And without a doubt it was the best turkey we ever had. My guest kept complimenting on great it tasted!

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Ivette December 16, 2012 at 10:34 am

Hi
I would like to know if after brining the turkey can you still stuffed it?

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Kim December 21, 2012 at 2:13 am

What is time and temp for a 12 pounder?

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Joshua Jackson December 22, 2012 at 7:22 am

Cook the turkey to 165. Time will vary based on the thickness and the temperature setting of the oven.

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Robyn McGee December 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm

This is a wonderful recipe. Using the fridge drawer is pure genius. What about baking with a granny apple for flavor? Has anyone tried?

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Melanie December 23, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Can u re-use the oven roasting bag used for brining to cook the turkey in??

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jean December 23, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Thanks for this easy, cost effective recipe.
I always brine my turkey now. I use a small cooler and keep it in my husbands wine room. Throw in a few ice cubes every few hours to keep it safe. Love the baking bag idea. Will try that next.

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Genean December 23, 2012 at 8:16 pm

I have never ever ever cooked a turkey before , however it was a hit! My cousin who doesn’t even eat turkey was coming back for more! It was perfectly brown and sooooo juicy! I also did a garlic and butter rub with other seasons under the skin of the bird to add even more flavor. Unfortunately I waited too late to brine the turkey (only one day), but it still tasted great! Thanks for the great recipe!

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Syma November 25, 2013 at 9:29 am

Can you brine a turkey thaat you cook in an oven bag or is that like self basting?

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Erica December 24, 2012 at 3:31 pm

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

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Carol December 24, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Thanks so much for this recipe, Alice! We made it for the first time this past Thanksgiving, and it was superb – so tasty, moist, and tender! It is now going to be our tradition during the holidays – am including my daughter in the preparation of this one for Christmas, so she will be able to keep the tradition going! Thanks a again for sharing!

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Owen December 27, 2012 at 6:58 pm

I brine my turkey and prior to roasting I put onions,carrots,and celery in the cavity. The juice from the veggies is added to the stock for the grave.

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brett January 1, 2013 at 11:14 am

Is the sugar essential?

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Ginger February 2, 2013 at 8:09 am

I used this recipe for our Christmas bird and it was a big success. Juicy,not dry at all. I used the roasting bag, but it broke open and leaked all over the fridge drawer, so I transferred it to 2 kitchen can bags, because I didn’t want any more leaks. I roasted the turkey in myconvection oven, with a foil tent, and it was beautiful. Perfect bird, and I hadn’t roasted a turkey for 20 years. Try it, if I can turn out a perfect bird, anyone can. :) I’m doing another one today, just so we can have turkey in the freezer ready to go.

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Beth March 21, 2013 at 8:48 am

ABSOLUTELY the best turkey I have EVER made! The juice form this turkey was so rich and flavorful as well and made the best soup! Thank you so much! WIll share this with my mother!

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cari May 24, 2013 at 10:51 am

Turkey brine you should try this

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Stephanie C October 21, 2013 at 11:06 pm

Apple cider vinegar or apple cider???

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shea October 22, 2013 at 12:17 pm

in doing this do u have to use vinegar child is allergic to vinegar & onions? what room u put it in to do this?

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shea October 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm

what kind of container?

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DeAnn November 6, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Do you have a recipe for chili?

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sue s November 9, 2013 at 7:19 pm

since in live in illinois and it’s november and COLD- I got a food grade bucket from Walmart (free if you ask nice) – submerged ,my turkey in that and put it in the garage (with the lid on to keep out nosey critters). haven’t tried it yet, but will try in the morning after a minimum 12 hour soak. (12 lb bird). I used fresh herbs since they are still not dead. rosemary – sage – thyme and parsley. just cut them off the plants. didn’t measure…. used apple cider vinegar. white sugar and brown sugar.

the hubby asked if we should cut it up first and brine that way? anyone ever done that? if so, do you reduce the brine time? my understanding is that a brined turkey cooks faster than un-brined?

thanks for the simple brine recipe. I’m sure it will be great!

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jamin November 14, 2013 at 6:20 pm

I loved this recipe! I tried it last year for my first-ever-hosted Thanksgiving and everyone said how wonderful the turkey tasted. My godmother said it was the best in her then-88 years of living! Thank you so much. I’m making my shopping list now reading your post again for an early one this Saturday.

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Karl Schneider November 16, 2013 at 7:21 pm

I’ve brined & roasted turkeys about a dozen times using this same method with a few small variations…the seasonings I change around a bit but they really don’t make much difference as long as you have the salt and the sugar. What I did find was a good way to do the brining and the thawing at the same time! About 3 or 4 days before the cooking day, I unwrap the rock-hard frozen bird, plonk it into my big stockpot and add the cooled brine liquid to cover. Put a lid on it and leave it sit at room temp for about 2 days which is about long enough to thaw it. If I notice the temperature of the pot & water has warmed up any, I just add a couple trays of ice cubes and let it continue to soak. I check it a couple times a day and if it starts to warm up just add some more ice. A few hours before time to roast, I take it out, rinse it and do the regular preparations to cook it. It always works really well.

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Alice Currah November 17, 2013 at 1:43 am

Thanks Karl for your feedback!

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Elle November 18, 2013 at 7:58 pm

What a FANTASTIC idea to put the turkey in the bag/in the fridge drawer!! Genius!! What size was your turkey that fit in the drawer? Thanks for sharing your technique!

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traci November 27, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I just put mine in the fridge in the drawer…it was 25 lbs and fit perfectly!

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roxie November 19, 2013 at 10:06 am

can you do this to a butterball turkey i’ve never cook a Turkey before an really want this to come out great cooking for my in laws :)

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Mrs. Jameson November 19, 2013 at 4:31 pm

I’m planning on brining a 24lb bird this Thanksgiving. Would I double the receipt for the brine with a bird that large?

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Alice Currah November 22, 2013 at 2:31 am

Hi Mrs. Jameson.
No, this will be enough brine for your large bird.

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Shell November 19, 2013 at 10:46 pm

For the last couple of years we have been cooking turkey breasts only, can you brine them like the whole turkey?

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Alice Currah November 22, 2013 at 2:30 am

Hi Shell, Yes you can! I would brine for 8 hours or overnight.

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Abby November 21, 2013 at 8:43 am

Actually used this twice last year! I do have a recommendation as far as brining containers. There’s a sandwich company called Firehouse Subs where we live, & they sell their pickle buckets for $2 after they’ve emptied & washed them. It’s food-grade & the money helps your local fire dept. They make the perfect brining bucket. Even though the restaurant & I washed out the bucket, it still had that pickle smell & it added a great kick to the brine. After rearranging the shelves, it fit just fine on the bottom shelf of our side by side fridge.

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Alice Currah November 22, 2013 at 2:29 am

Thanks for your tips, Abby! Happy Thanksgiving!

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J.T. November 25, 2013 at 10:46 am

I had to laugh out loud when I read in your notes section “The “things” floating in the picture are not anchovies or sardines”

When I first saw that picture, I too wondered “why are their little fishes in that pot?” lol!
But after awhile and before reading your comment, I figured it had to be ice cubes.

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J.T. November 25, 2013 at 10:47 am

I had to laugh out loud when I read in your notes section “The “things” floating in the picture are not anchovies or sardines”

When I first saw that picture, I too wondered “why are there little fishes in that pot?” lol!
But after awhile and before reading your comment, I figured it had to be ice cubes.

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Jack November 25, 2013 at 5:30 pm

fwiw, I (almost) always remove the wishbone whenever I roast a chicken. I guess this year I’ll do the same with the turkey. It sure aids in ease of carving.
J

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Lynda November 26, 2013 at 3:58 pm

totally laughed out loud about the ice cubes. I was like, what? a bring with sardines? don’t let the turkeys get you down:)

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Taylor K November 26, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Hello there!

I am SO excited to try your brine recipe! I am wondering if you have a favorite roasting method to go along with the brining? This is my first time hosting Thanksgiving and I’m findin the turkey very intimidating! My bird is 17 lbs.

Thank you so much!

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Alice Currah November 27, 2013 at 11:46 am

Hi Taylor,
I follow the butterball roasting method. I just posted my link on how to roast a turkey. http://savorysweetlife.com/2013/11/how-to-roast-a-thanksgiving-turkey/

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Jessabella November 26, 2013 at 11:11 pm

I have used this brine for the past 2 years and I always have the best tasting, incredibly moist turkey and I always get compliments from my guests. Thanks for helping me create yummy Thanksgiving memories!

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John S November 27, 2013 at 8:30 am

So I got up early, prepared the turkey and the brine, put the turkey in and put the bucket in the refrigerator. Then for whatever reason I thought about it and went back to read the packaging for the turkey and it says contains an eight percent solution for basting. Now what do I do? Do I take it out or leave it in for less time? Suggestions welcome

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Alice Currah November 27, 2013 at 11:39 am

Hi John,
I have used self basting turkeys and brined them without a problem but if you are concerned, feel free to cut the brine time in half. Happy Thanksgiving.

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John Shanagher November 27, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Thank you. My kids said it wouldn’t be a problem but I got worried Happy Thanksgiving.

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Ryan November 27, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Just put my bird in the brine but something concerns me. The brine has a potent vinegar odor. Is this normal?

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Alice Currah November 27, 2013 at 1:26 pm

You used one cup, right? Yes, it’s fine. The acidity from the vinegar helps tenderize the turkey. Hope this helps.

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Ryan November 27, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Yes one cup used. Thanks for the quick response, just had the horrifying notion of serving a turkey that tasted like vinegar. Very glad to know that’s not the case

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Chris tine November 27, 2013 at 3:24 pm

The herbs that are called for, do you use fresh or dry??

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Alice Currah November 27, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Hi Chris,
I use dry herbs for the brine and fresh herbs when roasting. There is a link above in the post on how to roast a turkey and I use fresh herbs inside the cavity of the turkey when roasting as well as for garnishing.

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Teresa November 27, 2013 at 6:02 pm

I have no Koshered salt…can I use regular salt?

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Chris November 27, 2013 at 7:41 pm

I did… Hope it works out! I also subbed oregano and bay leaves for the sage

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Chris November 27, 2013 at 7:38 pm

I had to add a lot of water for the bird to be submerged… Did I miss a step or do something wrong???

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Paul November 27, 2013 at 9:44 pm

My turkey bag also broke while turning the turkey in the frig to make sure all sides were properly marinated. I then doubled the brine recipe to make enough liquid and submerged it in a clambake style pot. Hope it works! I’ll let you know tomorrow.

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John Shanagher November 28, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Turkey was delicious, thanks for the help!

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Alice November 29, 2013 at 12:40 am

Hi John,
Glad to hear it! How long did you end up brining for?

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stella zankova December 21, 2013 at 8:29 am

What is the cooking time please?

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bubba December 21, 2013 at 12:47 pm

I found a 32 qt Rubbermaid container with the lid at walmart….it’s 10 1/2″ tall 19″ long and 13″ wide turkey will fit right in and it fits great in the bottom of the fridge…I am guess I should still use the bag for the turkey not sure with all the vinegar and such

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george December 24, 2013 at 10:43 am

Thanks for the recipes for brining without the requirement to download the site. hackers do all kinds of crazy stuff. I plan on using the cajun injection liquid creole butter and rub and deep fry the turkey. has anybody done this yet. hope its not too salty. thanks again, G.

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Preston W. January 26, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Will try this brining method on a 15 lb turkey which we plan to smoke ( mesquite wood) for the upcoming Super Bowl eats. Will start thawing the turkey in the refrigerator on Tuesday Jan. 28 and will brine the turkey for 2 days on Jan. 30 and Jan 31. Will smoke the brined turkey on Feb 1 for about 4-5 hours at 295 F and will then finish in the oven at 190 F until internal temp of breast meat is at 165 F. Will cover tips of legs with foil to prevent excessive dryness. Will report back on this.

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