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, fresh herbs, and other seasonings that raw turkey soaks in before cooking in the oven. The mixture 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!
In addition, unlike a dry brine of just herbs and spices, the moisture of the liquid in a wet brine helps lock in moisture, preventing the turkey from drying out as it roasts. The salt also works to penetrate the meat, adding flavor and keeping it moist. It also helps make the skin crispy! Preparing a wet brine really is the best way to start any turkey recipe!
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 at which it cooks. However, because the brine will make the turkey 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, which extends the cooking time. 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 to pair with it!
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 – I like kosher salt better than regular table salt as it has thicker granules which really permeate the turkey.
- Dark brown sugar – While light brown sugar will work too, dark brown sugar has a deeper, molasses-like flavor.
- Lemons – Use fresh lemon slices, or swap them out for orange slices or orange or lemon peels.
- Onions – I recommend yellow or white onions, as red onions may add a pink hue to the brine and the meat!
- Fresh thyme
- Fresh rosemary
- Bay leaves
- Black peppercorns – You can add other spices like allspice berries, too.
- 2 1/2 Gallon of Water
How to Brine a Turkey With Turkey Brine
- Make the brine: Pour 1 gallon of cold water into a large pot, and add all of the remaining ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Then, 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. Cover the pot with plastic wrap, and let it sit overnight.
- Finish: Remove the turkey from the 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 the 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 simply one 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, 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, use the same recipe and halve the ingredients to accommodate the smaller amount of meat. Allow the meat to soak for the same amount of time as a whole bird, and dry it off completely before cooking!
- Large pot
- Large Container
- 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.2 ½ gallons water, 3 cups apple cider, 3 cups kosher salt, 1 cup dark brown sugar, 2 lemons, 2 medium onions, 1 head garlic, 1 bunch thyme, 6-7 sprigs rosemary, 5 bay leaves, 2 Tablespoons black peppercorns
- 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.