How to Brine a Turkey (Whole)

How to Brine a Whole Turkey

This time of year, there are many turkey recipes and how to articles that describe best methods of cooking turkey. Brining is becoming a popular preparation for turkey and other game or pork. During the holiday season, you may be thinking about brining turkey breast or a whole turkey.

The method of brining turkey depends in part on whether you are merely cooking breast of turkey or preparing an entire bird. Whether you plan on roasting turkey in the oven, cooking it over the grill, or even frying a turkey whole, brining is an excellent method of seasoning and helps retain moisture in the meat. After all, no one likes a dry tasting turkey!

In this hub, I'll show you how to brine a turkey (whole). We've followed these instructions year after year at Thanksgiving, and have never been disappointed.

To brine a turkey, leave yourself least 12-24 hours ahead of cooking time, depending on the size of your bird. You will need the following:

1. Large Brine Bag: The entire turkey will need to fit in the bag, with ample room for 5-8 quarts of liquid to be added. A brine bag must be sealable;

2. Large container or refrigerator in which to place the turkey while it is brining;

3. Brining seasonings, depending on your taste (described below);

4. 1/2 - 1 cup Vinegar or Bourbon;

5. 1/2 - 2 cups granulated sugar; and

6. Ice water

Cooked brined turkey for the holidays
Cooked brined turkey for the holidays | Source

Brine Your Turkey for a Juicy, Tasty Bird

In order to brine a turkey (or chicken, other game or pork), salt and seasonings are the main ingredients. With a liquid brine, flavor is imparted to your meat before cooking, and the salt in the mixture helps retain moisture to ensure that you have flavorful, juicy cuts to enjoy.

Once you know how to brine a turkey, you may never go back to plain roasting or grilling again!

Brining should be considered the first step in preparing your turkey or other meat. After brining, you can grill, roast, fry or otherwise cook your turkey as desired.

Several words of caution: be sure to brine poultry or pork that has not already been pre-seasoned, and start with meat that is 100% thawed.

Once you are finished brining, you will want to be sure to completely rinse off the brining solution so that your bird is not too salty. Also, watch to be sure the meat does not stay in the brine too long. When you brine a turkey, you can expect to use less seasoning or salt when its fully cooked.

As noted above, you'll need one hour per pound of turkey/meat. Don't leave a 20-25 pound bird in the brine for longer than a 24-hour period.

How to Brine a Thanksgiving Turkey

How to Brine a Whole Turkey

1. Remove thoroughly thawed turkey from wrapping, rinse and pat dry. Remove giblets and set aside. (NOTE: any size whole turkey is appropriate for this recipe, from 10-30 pounds )

2. Dissolve sugar in 3 quarts (12 cups) water over medium heat. Add brining seasonings, as desired, whether you purchase pre-packaged brine, or make your own (see suggestions below).

3. Remove brining solution and allow to completely cool.

4. Place brining bag into a roasting pan and carefully add whole turkey, breast side down.

5. Add 5 quarts ice water into brining bag, then add cooled brining solution and 3/4-1 cup apple cider vinegar or bourbon

6. Seal brining bag completely, removing any air

7. Place turkey in a refrigerator or cooler for 1 hour per pound of turkey (therefore, a 24 pound turkey should be allowed to brine for 24 hours).

8. After brining, remove promptly from solution - do not overbrine - and rinse thoroughly to remove all salt and seasonings. You do not want an excessively salty turkey!

9. Cook turkey as desired, whether roasting, grilling or frying.

Brining spices on the stove
Brining spices on the stove | Source

Brining a Turkey (Whole)

Brining spices covering a turkey
Brining spices covering a turkey | Source

Recipes for Brining Turkey

With four kids, I'm looking for easy brining recipes. So, I've usually considering pre-made brining spices to use for my turkey. There are a number of kits you can purchase, which include the spices, brining bag and directions. But, you can save money by making your own brining solution.

The base for any homemade brine is to mix 1/2 - 1 cup of iodized salt with 1 gallon of water. From there, you can add other spices, provided that they do not include salt!

Here are a few of my favorite brining recipes:

Spicy Brine:

  • 6 quarts tap water
  • 1 pound kosher salt
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 2 cups honey
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon dried sage
  • Large bunch fresh thyme
  • 2 heads garlic broken into individual cloves, unpeeled

Dissolve salt in water, then add other seasonings. Whisk together, then add to the turkey in a brining bag. Remove after 1 hour per pound of poultry, rinse and cook bird.

Sweet Brine:

  • 1 gallon cold water
  • 2 quarts apple juice
  • 2 quarts orange juice
  • 2 cup salt (3 cups Kosher or coarse salt)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg

Dissolve salt, sugar and nutmeg in 2 types of juices, warmed over medium heat. Add cloves and cold water. Cool completely and then add to turkey in brining bag.

Savory Brine:

  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon dried sage
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme

Dissolve salt, sugar and spices in water or stock, as called for above. Cool completely, then add to brining bag with turkey or other poultry.

Dry Brining Turkey

Cooking the Turkey after Brining

Remove the turkey (whole) from the brining solution and rinse completely. Afterward, prepare the turkey for cooking - whether in the oven, the grill, or fried.

You don't have to change your cooking methods if you have brined the turkey first.

If you have your own turkey brine recipes, please be sure to share in the comment section below!

Roast a Turkey

© 2011 Stephanie Hicks

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Comments 24 comments

davidpaul-est88 profile image

davidpaul-est88 5 years ago

Ummmm im ready 4 the holidays :)


itsmonkeyboy profile image

itsmonkeyboy 5 years ago from London, UK

Never heard of this before but it sounds fantastic! Thank you for sharing.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon

And I didn't even get an invite~ Hmmpf~ Guess I'll just have to do it on my own~~~ and hope that Griffin the counter cruiser doesn't find it first.

I've always wanted to try this so maybe the next turkey I will have to brine. Looks really pretty easy and absolutely delish!

Enjoy your holiday turkey - it looks good enough to eat~ Which I'm sure you already did~~~


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks you guys and Happy Thanksgiving!! Audrey - Griffin can come and hang out with Garrett (our 4-legged friend). We are hours away from enjoying our brined turkey! Enjoy the holiday season and cooking! :) Steph


angela p profile image

angela p 5 years ago from Richmond, Virginia

I have never heard of this before. Being a country girl I thought my grandmother had taught me everything. Guess not. I will have to try this on my next turkey. Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 5 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

Hi, Steph

Brining is a technique I usually use for fish prior to smoking and have never considered using it for turkey, or even other poultry. I love your idea and will definitely give something like this a try.

Thanks for the idea :)


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Angela and Gordon, so happy to let you know about brining turkey! We thoroughly enjoyed our brined turkey this Thanksgiving, and hope that others try this recipe and technique for preparing turkey (as well as other poultry, pork or even fish). Best to you! Steph


randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I love the mix of recipes! Very useful hub.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

Brining is totally new to me, sounds like a good way to spice the meat. Thank's for the info. May try this...


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, this sounds great! makes a simple turkey sound so much more delicious, I have to admit I am a 'open the oven and stick right in' type of person! thanks for the great info, cheers nell


Les Trois Chenes profile image

Les Trois Chenes 5 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

Only just found out about this process, sounds interesting.


oceansnsunsets profile image

oceansnsunsets 5 years ago from The Midwest, USA

Hi Steph, I was glad to see your hub, as I like to see what others do as well regarding Turkey preparation. We love to brine our turkey, its our favorite way to prepare a turkey to date. Might try different recipes in the future, based on these ideas! Great hub!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks all - I am happy to say that our brined turkey turned out great on Thanksgiving! We have another bird in the freezer, and we will probably be doing this preparation again for Christmas. Different brines will result in different flavors, so we'll change up the recipe next time. Best to all, Steph


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

Thanks for all of these brining recipes. I have watched the chefs on TV recommend brining for years...even for chickens. Excellent hub. Rated up and useful.


pmccray profile image

pmccray 5 years ago from Utah

Voted up, marked useful, interesting and book marked.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Peggy and pmccray, you can brine any poultry before cooking. Our Thanksgiving turkey was moist, flavorful and delicious. Its essentially like marinating meat. Thanks again, Steph


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California

AWESOME! Shot out into tweetville for all of those who have turkey brine questions for the next turkey feast! Great job Steph,...as usual! Loving your bourbon recipe best!

Cheers~

K9


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks K9! Brining turkey is the way to go! :) Happy Holidays and more, Steph


stessily 4 years ago

Steph, Brining makes all the difference between a good Thanksgiving turkey and an excellent Thanksgiving turkey.

You've provided clear step-by-step instructions, and the videos and photos are supportive.

I especially appreciate your brining recipes. My favorite is Spicy Brine because of the molasses. Yum!

Thanks for sharing.

Kind regards, Stessily


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Yes, spicy brine with molasses! I absolutely love turkey, and brining makes a big difference. Thank you for the kind comment. Best, Steph


kitkat1141 profile image

kitkat1141 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

We always smoke our turkey. I have always wanted to try brining it first, but was always intimidated. This is an excellent hub, with great recipes and details. I think we will try brining this year!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you kitkat! Enjoy the turkey and let me know how it turns out. Cheers, Steph


HoneyBB profile image

HoneyBB 4 years ago from Illinois

I love that you gave three very different recipe flavors at the end of this hub. Now, I have to decide which one I want to use. I'm glad to have the choices. Thanks for sharing.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks HoneyBB - hope you enjoy brining your turkey. All the best, Steph

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