Use this easy turkey brine recipe to brine your Thanksgiving turkey for the juiciest, most flavorful turkey ever!
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Maybe you’ve heard of brining a turkey before, but what does it mean? And how do you do it? Well, friends, let me tell you: brining a turkey is easier than you think and the results are totally worth it!
Turkey brine is a solution of salt, sugar, and other seasonings that raw turkey soaks in before cooking in the oven. The turkey brine solution helps to retain moisture in the turkey meat, resulting in a juicier bird. It can also be used to flavor the meat if you add aromatics like onions, garlic, and herbs.
Basically, using a wet brine to brine your turkey before you roast it is the key to a moist, juicy bird. The salt in the brine penetrates the meat, seasoning it evenly and keeping it moist. It also helps make the skin crispy!
Best Turkey Brine Recipe
If you use this turkey brine recipe, it doesn’t change how long to cook a turkey. You’ll follow the same general guidelines for the size of your bird and the temperature you’re cooking it at. But, because the turkey is now extra moist, you won’t need to baste it, which gives you more time to tend to your mashed potatoes, cornbread dressing, and homemade cranberry sauce.
And when I say “you won’t need to baste it,” what I really mean is: don’t baste the bird! Because every time you open the oven, you’ll be letting heat out, so the cooking time is extended. The beauty of brining a turkey is that it takes a little more work at the beginning, but you’ll have less work to do while the turkey cooks.
Oh, and don’t forget to use the drippings to make turkey gravy!
See recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.
- Water – Use filtered or bottled water for your turkey brine if your tap water tends to have an “off” taste to it.
- Apple cider – I like using apple cider, but apple juice works too!
- Kosher salt
- Dark brown sugar – While light brown sugar will work too, dark brown sugar has a deeper, more molasses-y flavor.
- Lemons – Another option is to use oranges, or lemon peel or orange peel.
- Onions – I recommend yellow or white onions, as red onions may add color to the turkey brine—and your turkey!
- Fresh thyme
- Fresh rosemary
- Bay leaves
- Black peppercorns – You can add other spices like allspice berries, too.
How to Brine a Turkey With Turkey Brine
- Make the turkey brine: Pour 1 gallon of water into a large pot and add all of the remaining ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar.
- Cool the brine: Pour the remaining water into a container large enough to completely submerge the turkey, like a large stock pot, cooler, or a 5 gallon bucket. Add the hot brine and let the liquid cool completely, about an hour.
- Add the turkey: Carefully lower the turkey into the brine, making sure it is fully covered. Let the turkey sit in the brine overnight.
- Finish: Remove the turkey from the turkey brine and pat it dry with paper towels.
Once you’ve dried the turkey with paper towels, it’s ready to cook. The cooking time remains the same for the size of bird you’re using, but remember: you don’t need to baste it while it cooks.
For best results, brine your turkey for 12-24 hours. If you don’t have that much time, you can still get good results by brining for at least 4 hours.
You’ll need a non-reactive container that’s large enough to fit your turkey. A non-reactive container is made from materials that won’t react with the salt and acidic ingredients in the brine, like glass, food-grade plastic, or stainless steel. Do not use aluminum because it will react with the salt in the turkey brine and make the turkey taste metallic.
A large stockpot or roasting pan can work, but make sure it’s big enough to fit your turkey and still have a few inches of space around the sides. I like to use a 5-gallon food-grade plastic bucket because it’s easy to find and store. You can also buy a brining bag, which is a big food-grade plastic bag that’s specifically designed for brining.
Yes, you can brine a frozen turkey. Just make sure to allow enough time for the turkey to thaw completely before you start the brining process. I recommend thawing your turkey in the refrigerator for 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of turkey.
Yes, you can brine a turkey breast with this turkey brine recipe. Just halve the recipe since you won’t need as much brine for a smaller piece of meat. Turkey breasts can be brined for the same amount of time as a whole turkey.
- 2 ½ gallons water
- 3 cups apple cider
- 3 cups kosher salt
- 1 cup dark brown sugar packed
- 2 lemons sliced
- 2 medium onions chopped
- 1 head garlic whole, halved horizontally
- 1 bunch thyme
- 6-7 sprigs rosemary
- 5 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- Pour 1 gallon of the 2 ½ gallons of water into a large pot and add all of the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat making sure all the salt and sugar is dissolved.
- Pour the remaining water into a container large enough to completely submerge the turkey. Pour in the hot brine and let cool completely, about an hour.
- Slowly lower the turkey into the brine making sure it is fully covered. Brine overnight.
- When ready to roast, remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry with paper towels.