The Ultimate Guide: How to Brine a Turkey

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Are you ready to elevate your Thanksgiving feast? Learn the art of brining a turkey and unlock a new level of flavor and juiciness. In this step-by-step guide, we'll walk you through the process, from understanding what brining is to cooking the perfect brined turkey. Gather your ingredients and equipment, prepare the mouthwatering brine, and let's dive into this culinary adventure together. Prepare to impress your guests with a moist and flavorful turkey like never before!

What is brining?

Brining is a technique used to enhance the flavor and juiciness of poultry, such as turkey. It involves soaking the bird in a mixture of salt, water, and other aromatic ingredients before cooking. The brine solution helps to not only season the meat but also tenderize it by breaking down proteins, resulting in moist and flavorful results when cooked. Mastering the art of brining can elevate your turkey dishes to new heights of deliciousness.

Understanding the science behind brining

The osmosis process plays a crucial role in brining. When the turkey is submerged in a brine solution, water from the bird's cells moves outwards due to the higher salt concentration, resulting in juicier and more flavorful meat. Salt is essential to brine as it helps retain moisture in the turkey. The salt alters the structure of proteins within the bird, allowing them to hold onto water more effectively during cooking. This ensures that your turkey remains tender and succulent throughout.

Sugar and spices also contribute to flavor absorption during brining. Sugar can help balance out any harshness from salt while adding a subtle sweetness to the meat. Herbs introduce additional layers of flavor that penetrate deep into every bite, enhancing overall taste and aroma.

  • The osmosis process enhances juiciness.
  • Salt retains moisture in the bird.
  • Sugar balances the flavors.
  • Spices enhance the taste.

Benefits of brining a turkey

Brining a turkey enhances its juiciness and tenderness, creates balanced flavors throughout the meat, and reduces cooking time for a perfectly seasoned and evenly cooked bird.

The brine infuses herbs, spices, and other aromatics, producing a deliciously seasoned bird from skin to bone. The salt in the brine helps to break down proteins, making the meat more tender and allowing it to cook faster while maintaining moisture.

turkey in brining bag

Gathering the ingredients and equipment

To begin brining your turkey, you will need a few key ingredients. Start by gathering kosher salt, brown sugar, water, and any additional herbs or spices you desire for flavor. Next, ensure you have a large container to hold the turkey and the brine mixture. A food-grade plastic bag or a non-reactive container such as stainless steel or glass works well. Additionally, gather measuring cups and spoons to ensure accurate measurements throughout the process.

When it comes to equipment, having a sturdy cutting board and a sharp knife will make preparing your turkey easier. You'll also want a large pot to heat the water and dissolve the salt and sugar. A whisk is essential for mixing these ingredients effectively. Finally, use kitchen gloves to protect your hands while handling raw poultry.

Now that you've gathered all of these ingredients and equipment items in one place, it's time to prepare your brine solution for an unforgettable turkey feast!

Choosing the right turkey

Fresh or frozen? When choosing the right turkey, consider whether you want a new or frozen bird. Fresh turkeys are known for their superior flavor and texture, but they can be harder to find and more expensive. Frozen turkeys, on the other hand, are convenient and often more budget-friendly.

Size matters: weight is another critical factor in selecting your turkey. Consider how many guests you will serve and how many leftovers you desire. A general rule of thumb is to allow about 1 pound of turkey per person.

Turkey breast is an option if you're cooking for a small number.

Organic, free-range, or conventional? The type of turkey you choose will depend on your preferences for animal welfare standards and environmental impact. Organic turkeys are raised without antibiotics or hormones, and free-range turkeys have access to outdoor spaces, while conventional turkeys are typically mass-produced with fewer regulations.

The following section delves into brine ingredients that will elevate your Thanksgiving feast!

Brine ingredients

Water: When it comes to brining, filtered water is the preferred choice. Tap water may contain impurities that can affect the flavor of your turkey. You can also add a quart of cider for extra flavor.

Salt options: Opt for kosher salt over table salt. Kosher salt has a larger grain size and no additives, making it ideal for brining as it dissolves quickly and evenly throughout the solution.

Sweeteners and aromatics: Experiment with different sweeteners like brown sugar or honey to add depth of flavor to your brine. Aromatics such as herbs, spices, and citrus fruits can enhance the taste profile of your turkey. Feel free to get creative with combinations!

Brining equipment

Container options for brining your turkey are plentiful, but the top contenders include a pot, bucket, or a brining bag. Each option has pros and cons: pots provide stability but may not be large enough for larger birds; buckets offer ample space but are bulky to handle; and brining bags are convenient and easy to dispose of after use. The choice ultimately depends on your preference and the size of your turkey.

To submerge or not to submerge? That is the question! While it's ideal to fully immerse your turkey in the brine solution for even flavor distribution, it can sometimes be practical. If you cannot completely submerge the bird due to limited container space or use a bag that doesn't allow complete immersion, rotate the turkey periodically during brining so that all sides get equal exposure.

Remember refrigeration! Ensuring proper cooling is crucial when it comes to safely brining poultry. After placing your turkey in the chosen container with the prepared brine solution, cover it tightly with a lid or plastic wrap. Then, put it in the refrigerator to stay chilled throughout this transformative process. Remember: maintaining an appropriate temperature between 34°F (1°C) and 40°F (4°C) is essential for food safety purposes.

Note: For best results when following these steps at home, always refer back to product packaging instructions, as they may vary depending on brand recommendations.

Preparing the brine

Measuring the ingredients correctly is crucial when preparing the brine for your turkey. To ensure a perfectly balanced flavor, use a kitchen scale to weigh the precise amounts of salt, sugar, and any additional spices or herbs you want to incorporate into your brine mixture.

Once all the ingredients are accurately measured, it's time to mix them to create the flavorful brine. Combine the salt, sugar, and other seasonings in a large pot or container with water brought to a simmer. Stir well until all the ingredients have dissolved completely, leaving a smooth and fragrant liquid ready for brining.

Measuring the ingredients

Choosing the right size turkey is crucial when brining. Opt for a 10-12 pound turkey for a small gathering, while a more extensive crowd may require a 14-16 pound bird. Determining the amount of water needed depends on the size of your container and ensuring that the turkey will be fully submerged. Calculate the salt-to-water ratio by using 1 cup of kosher salt per gallon of water – this will provide proper seasoning without overpowering the flavors.

Mixing the brine

The first step in mixing the brine is gathering all essential elements and equipment. Ensure you have salt, sugar, and aromatics to create a flavorful solution. In a large pot, combine these ingredients, ensuring they are evenly distributed before moving on to the next step. Adding hot water to the mixture allows for easy dissolution of the salt and sugar, creating a well-balanced brine for your turkey. Stir until everything is completely dissolved and ready for use.

Brining time and temperature

The optimal brining duration is crucial for achieving the desired flavor and texture. Size, weight, and personal preference should be considered when deciding on the ideal brining time.

Additionally, selecting the proper temperature range is essential to ensure food safety and prevent bacterial growth during the brining process. Factors like room temperature and refrigerator settings can influence the effectiveness of your brine.

Factors affecting brining time and temperature include salt concentration, moisture content of the meat, and desired outcome. Considering these factors is essential when determining how long to brine your turkey and at what temperature. The goal is to balance imparting flavor while avoiding over-saturation or dryness in meat.

Brining process step-by-step

Preparing the turkey for brining is essential to ensure flavor absorption. Begin by rinsing the turkey thoroughly and patting it dry with paper towels. Next, remove any giblets or excess fat from the cavity and trim any loose skin. Tying the legs together will help maintain its shape during brining.

Creating a flavorful brine solution is crucial for infusing taste into the turkey. Combine water, kosher salt, sugar, herbs (such as rosemary and thyme), and aromatics (like garlic cloves) in a large pot. Bring this mixture to a boil while stirring until all ingredients are dissolved. Let it cool completely before proceeding.

Submerging the turkey in the brine is where magic happens! Place your prepared turkey in a clean container or bag that can hold the bird and enough brine to cover it entirely without overflowing. Pour your cooled brine over the turkey until fully submerged - additional weight may be needed if floating occurs. Seal tightly or cover securely before refrigerating for optimal flavor infusion.

  • Rinse and dry
  • Remove giblets/fat
  • Tie legs together
  • Combine salt/sugar/herbs/aromatics
  • Boil mixture; let cool
  • Submerge turkey in a container/bag
  • Add enough brine to cover completely

After brining

Rinse the turkey thoroughly under cold running water to remove any excess salt. This will help prevent the bird from becoming overly salty during cooking. Pat dry with paper towels to ensure crispier skin and better browning.

Drying the turkey is essential after brining, making the skin crispy when roasted. Place the turkey on a wire rack set over a baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for at least 8 hours or overnight. This will allow any moisture on the surface of the turkey to evaporate, resulting in a beautiful golden-brown skin when cooked.

Rinsing the turkey

Removing excess brine is crucial in achieving a perfectly seasoned turkey. After the brining process, gently rinse the turkey under cold running water to remove excessive saltiness.

To ensure optimal hygiene, thoroughly clean the turkey by inspecting and removing any remaining brine or impurities from its cavities and skin.

After cleaning, pat dry with paper towels to eliminate excess moisture on the surface, allowing for better browning during cooking.

Drying the turkey

Air-drying the turkey is essential for achieving optimal results. Placing the bird on a wire rack in the refrigerator allows air to circulate, promoting even drying and enhancing flavor. Use a fan to create additional airflow to speed up the drying process. However, allowing enough time for moisture to evaporate naturally is vital before proceeding with your brining process. Patience in this step will ensure that your turkey absorbs all the flavors of your brine effectively.

brined turkey in roasting pan ready to go in the oven

Preheat the oven

Setting the temperature is crucial when preheating the oven. Ensure you select the correct temperature for your recipe to achieve optimal results.

Allowing ample time for preheating is essential for even cooking. Give your oven enough time to reach the desired temperature, typically around 15-20 minutes, before placing your food inside.

To ensure accurate temperature readings, check your oven thermometer periodically. This will help guarantee precise cooking temperatures and prevent any dish inconsistencies.

Cooking time and temperature

Determining the cooking time based on weight ensures a perfectly cooked turkey. Use the following guidelines:

  • For turkeys less than 12 pounds, cook at 325°F for 15 minutes per pound
  • For turkeys between 12 and 16 pounds, cook at 325°F for about 13 minutes per pound
  • For turkeys over 16 pounds, cook at a lower temperature of around 300°F for about 15 minutes per pound

A meat thermometer guarantees accurate results by measuring the turkey's internal temperature. Aim for a minimum internal temperature of 165°F in the thickest part of both thighs. 

These simple steps will ensure your turkey is cooked to perfection every time!

Tips for a perfect brined turkey

Adjusting brine flavors: Achieve a perfectly seasoned turkey by experimenting with different flavor combinations in your brine. Add herbs, spices, and aromatics like rosemary, thyme, garlic, and citrus zest to infuse the meat with delicious notes of freshness and depth.

Using a brining bag: Simplify the brining process using a sturdy food-grade plastic bag instead of a traditional bucket or container. The pouch allows easy storage in your refrigerator while ensuring that every inch of the turkey is evenly coated in the brine solution.

Using a brining bag

Ensuring the turkey is fully immersed in the brine:

  • Place the turkey inside a large brining bag, providing it fits comfortably without overcrowding.
  • Pour the prepared brine into the bag until the turkey is completely submerged.
  • Press down on the turkey to release air bubbles and ensure complete immersion.

Minimizing mess and cleanup:

  • Place the brining bag in a clean container or cooler to catch any potential leaks or spills.
  • Keep a towel nearby to wipe any drips or spills during transferring or handling quickly.

Sealing the bag tightly to prevent leaks:

  • Carefully twist and fold over the opening of the brining bag, removing excess air as you go.
  • Use a zip tie or secure clip to seal off and tighten around the twisted opening, preventing any leaks during refrigeration.

Adjusting brine flavors

  • Incorporating citrus zest and herbs: Enhance the brightness of your brine by adding freshly grated citrus zest, such as lemon or orange, along with aromatic spices like thyme or rosemary. This combination adds a refreshing and fragrant element to the turkey.
  • Experimenting with different spices: Get creative with your spice selection to add depth and complexity to the brine. Try using warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, or allspice for a hint of warmth, or go bold with smoky paprika or chili flakes for an added kick.
  • Balancing sweet and savory elements: Achieve the perfect balance in your brine by combining sweet and savory flavors. Add a touch of sweetness with brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup while balancing it with umami-rich ingredients like soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce.

Remember that adjusting brine flavors allows you to tailor the taste of your turkey according to personal preferences. Don't be afraid to experiment and find unique flavor profiles that will elevate your Thanksgiving feast!

thanksgiving dinner spread

Turkey Brine Recipe

turkey in brining bag

Easy turkey brine recipe. Brining a turkey is so easy; there is no reason why you shouldn't try it. Use this recipe or one of the ideas from the blog post for your turkey brine this Thanksgiving.


  • 1 gallon vegetable broth
  • 1 cup sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon crushed dried
  • rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon dried sage
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried savory
  • 1 gallon ice water


    1. In a large stock pot, combine the vegetable broth, sea salt, rosemary, sage, thyme, and savory. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently to be sure salt is dissolved. Remove from heat, and let cool to room temperature.
    2. When the broth mixture is cool, put it into a clean 5-gallon bucket.
    3. Stir in the ice water.
    4. Wash and dry your turkey.  Make sure you have removed the innards. Place the turkey breast down into the brine. Make sure the cavity gets filled with the liquid. Place the bucket or stock pot in the refrigerator overnight.
    5. Remove the turkey, carefully draining off the excess brine, and pat dry. Discard brine.
    6. Cook the turkey as desired, reserving the drippings for gravy. Keep in mind that brined turkeys cook 20 to 30 minutes faster, so watch the temperature gauge.

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  • Jessica McCoy

    Jessica McCoy is a seasoned food blogger with 14+ years of experience in the industry. As a self-taught home cook, she enjoys creating and finetuning easy recipes that are fool proof and simple for anyone to make. Her expertise is in all things kitchen: cooking tips, air fryer recipes, Instant Pot and other pressure cooking recipes, and slow cooker recipes. Jessica was the previous owner of AllSheCooks, where she focused on easy every day recipes including budget friendly dinner recipes and desserts.

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