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How to Brine a Turkey or Chicken

Updated on September 16, 2011
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Brining a turkey is a simple way to guarantee that your holiday bird is butter tender, juicy, and full of flavor when it gets to the table. It is easy to do, and once you learn how to brine a turkey you will find yourself using this method for chicken, game birds, and other poultry.

It takes some time so you will need to plan to begin brining up to a day ahead of when you want to cook it, depending on the size of the bird. You will need to plan on about one hour per pound with 24 hours as the maximum time the meat should stay in the brining solution no matter how much it weighs. Anything longer and you risk the meat beginning to deteriorate.

You don't need a lot of special equipment, either.

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used under license agreement | Source

Equipment the You Will Need for Brining

Before you begin your turkey brining adventure you will need to collect a few items.

Large Container

You will need a large container, big enough to hold the bird and still allow it to be covered by the brining solution. It is important that you don't use aluminum or copper – these can react with the meat and cause the flavor to be off.

An enamel or stainless steel pot with a cover, food grade resealable container, or even a large freezer bag that self seals will be fine. If you have a restaurant supply store in your area you can find large containers that are very affordable and will hold as large a turkey as you need it to.

Whatever type of container you choose just make sure that it is deep enough to completely submerge the poultry in the brine.

Brining Ingredients

While there are a variety of ingredients used in brining to give different flavors the basic ingredients for the brine are:

  • 1 cup kosher salt – this is the best salt to use for brining because it is pure and there is little chance of getting a weird flavor.
  • ½ to 1`cup Sugar – this works with the salt to flavor and break down the meat, making it tender without making it too salty, a risk of using all salt.
  • Spices and herbs – These are in the brining solution to add flavor.
  • 1 gallon water – this is what you mix the ingredients in before you add the turkey. You may need to add more water so that the meat is covered. If you add more water try this test to see if your brine is the right ratio – Add a fresh egg to the solution and if it floats the solution is correct.If you keep the basic ratio of 1:1:1 (one cup salt, one half to one cup sugar, one gallon water) then your brine will be just right.


You will need to have a cool place large enough to put the container with the turkey in it. This may mean clearing the refrigerator if you don't have a second one, or you can use an ice chest. In fact you can easily use an ice chest as both the container and the refrigeration method. Use a new, plastic ice chest and bleach it out. Rinse it well and fill it with brine. Buy a large bag of ice and, leaving it in the bag, add it to the ice chest. You don't want to add the ice directly to the brine because it will dilute the solution as it melts.

Check the temperature every few hours to make sure that your brine is between 38 – 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the lid closed tightly the rest of the time.

You can use this when you want to brine several turkeys at once.

Steps to Brining a Turkey

  1. Thaw your turkey in the refrigerator if it is frozen.
  2. Mix the brining solution you have chosen according to directions. If no directions are given dissolve the sugar and salt in boiling water – add the spices and let cool.
  3. Clean the bird completely, as you would before using any preparation method. Be sure to get the bag with the gizzard and heart out of the neck cavity.
  4. Place the turkey (or other poultry) in the container.
  5. Check the time. Figure one hour per pound of bird with a maximum of 24 hours. Make a note of when the meat should come out of the brine. It's a good idea to set the alarm on your cell phone to remind you.
  6. Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it well, inside and out. Use several changes of water to ensure that there is no brine residue. If the brine isn't rinsed off completely the meat will be salty.
  7. Drain the turkey and pat it dry with paper towels. Soak up as much moisture from the skin and the inside of the bird as you can.

Prepare as you usually do, stuffed or unstuffed.

How Brine Works

Are you ready for a chemistry lesson?

Brining works by a type of osmosis. The salt water is drawn into the meat through the skin. In this way the meat absorbs the brining liquid. The salt causes the proteins in the meat to move apart and begin to break down and the water and broken down proteins move into the space, taking the flavors of the spices in the brine with it. The molecules of the meat juices are larger than the water molecules and they cannot pass back through the skin into the brining solution.

As the proteins break down the meat becomes more tender and juicy. This is why you don't want to leave the meat in the brine for too long – you will have mush.

Alton Brown:How to Brine a Turkey

Brine Recipes

There are hundreds of ways to make brine from the simple to complex.

Basic Brine

  • 2 gallons water
  • 2 cups kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar

Citrus Brine

  • 1 gallon water
  • 6 quarts orange juice
  • 1 ½ c kosher salt
  • 1 ½ cups brown sugar
  • 15 whole cloves

Spicy Brine

  • 2 gallons water
  • 2 cups kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ to ¾ lb of hot peppers (jalapenos, hatch, etc – or a combination)

Herb Brine

  • 2 gallons water
  • 2 cups kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 tbs dried thyme
  • 1 tbs dried sage

Don't be afraid to experiment with different spices and flavors. Try apple juice, maple sugar, or anything else that sounds like a good combination to you.

Don't be Afraid to Experiment

Knowing how to brine meat of any type means that you can have juicy, flavorful meat. You will never have to worry about dry, tough turkey again.

You May Also Like:

Thanksgiving Side Dishes: If you are tired of the same old thing on your holiday table here are some unique alternatives to the tired green been casserole.

Picture Perfect Turkey: How to clean and stuff a turkey, a pictorial guide.

Thanksgiving Menus: Ideas for pulling your holiday dinner together with style.


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    • Doctore Evile profile image

      Doctore Evile 5 years ago from the Northeast of the U.S.A

      Must try this.

    • Peter Allison profile image

      Peter Allison 6 years ago from Alameda, CA

      Brining brings out the best! Thanks for spreading the word about brining the bird!

    • sagebrush_mama profile image

      sagebrush_mama 6 years ago from The Shadow of Death Valley...Snow Covered Mountain Views Abound!

      Do you know if cooking times change for brined birds? We put our home raised turkeys in a brine over night, after butchering, but the 40 lb. bird we did a couple of years ago was done roasting hours ahead of schedule. Not sure if I had too much salt, or if it's just normal to expect a quicker cooking time.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      Mmmmm another recipe to vote up and bookmark. I now have a nice collection.

      Thanks for sharing.


    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 6 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      I would guess they will work for pork... not sure about beef

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 6 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      This sems like something that I as an amateur chef could really get into. my mouth is watering just thinking of the flavors.

    • rwelton profile image

      rwelton 6 years ago from Sacramento CA

      I have never tried this - although have many recipes that recommend it...I keep thinking it will be too salty...will give it a go in a couple of months...when holiday season rolls around...maybe I will practice on a game hen before...ha.


    • palkal77 profile image

      palkal77 6 years ago

      I have brined chicken and turkey and it is insane the difference it makes in flavor and juiciness. So far we have just used simple brines of water and salt and it makes a really delightful difference in the meat. I normally really enjoy my poultry on the dry side because A) I am ocd about making sure its cooked, and B) I usually am grossed out by "juicy" poultry, but the brining really makes it perfect. Anyone who has the chance should try it just once you wont regret it.

    • shamani67 profile image

      shamani67 6 years ago

      Brilliant Hub. Thanks for the idea. I cook for a large camp and will definitely be trying this method. The proof is in the pudding or so they say. Thanks again.

    • skear profile image

      Sam Kear 6 years ago from Kansas City

      Once you start brining birds you won't go back! I've always had them turn out moist even after several hours in the smoker.

      I should buy one of those large containers but I usually cheat and use a bucket with a turkey oven roasting bag inside.

    • thranax profile image

      Andrew 6 years ago from Rep Boston MA

      Great Hub Marye! I am hungry now thanks...


    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      This was so delicious, Marye. You make me hungry. I'll show this to my mom. I believe she'll love this recipe. Hmmm......yummy. Thank you so much for share with us. Vote up anyway. Have a nice weekend!