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How to Brine a Turkey and Why You Should

Let’s talk turkey. When I was a cooking instructor, the most common question I was asked at this time of year was “how to brine a turkey?” Do you wonder how to bring a turkey and why should you? Let me show you how.

The second most asked question was “why should I brine a turkey? Although I don’t teach cooking classes anymore since starting Bluesky at Home, I still love to cook and share information about cooking.

For years now, I have brined my turkey. After people taste the difference in a brined turkey, they understand why they should brine their turkey because it really makes a difference. People seem to think this is a complicated process, but it’s not.

First of all, brining a turkey isn’t hard. It’s an inexpensive way to make your bird extra moist and juicy. Once you’ve done it once or twice, brining a turkey becomes so easy you won’t need a recipe or even an ingredient list. You’ll be a convert. I promise.

I recommend that you read my post about 10 Safety Tips for Preparing Turkey?  It’s really important. I would PIN it. But let’s talk turkey, specifically brining that bird.

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Why You Should Brine a Turkey

No one likes a dry turkey. We all want a juicy, moist turkey. That’s why we brine our turkeys.

Brining changes the structure of the muscle tissues in the meat, allowing it to swell and absorb water and flavorings.

It also breaks down the proteins, resulting in a tender-seeming turkey. This means that, despite the moisture loss during roasting and the long cooking time, the end result is a juicier bird. I always use kosher salt.

kosher salt

Steps to Brine Your Turkey

The main logistical problem with brining is that you need a container that’s large enough to submerge your turkey in the brine, but will fit in your refrigerator. Furthermore, from a food safety standpoint, it should be stored on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator so that any spills won’t contaminate the food below.

You may use a stockpot, a bucket, or a roasting pan. But most turkeys are too big and who has room in their refrigerator?

I discovered years ago that an ice chest (cooler) is ideal. And since it’s colder in the garage than in the kitchen, that’s where we put the cooler overnight.

  • Place a large turkey bag in the cooler.
  • Place the turkey in the bag
  •  Add the brining solution (see below), making sure that most of the turkey is submerged in the brining liquid. Secure the bag tightly (Use a strong twist tie.).
  • Pack the cooler with ice. I just buy a 10-pound bag at the grocery store.
  • Close the cooler and leave overnight, checking occasionally to see if you need to add more ice. Turn the turkey over once or twice. (This depends on how cold it is in your garage; if you live in a warmer climate, bring the cooler inside.)

You get a good night’s sleep while Tom Turkey is absorbing all that awesome brining liquid and getting all moist and plump.

Brining Solution for Your Turkey

There are numerous recipes for brining solutions. Scientifically, you only need water and kosher salt.  You may add other ingredients to enhance flavor, but they are not necessary.

The basic ratio for turkey brine is 1/2 cup of kosher salt to two gallons of cold water. Some recipes include sweeteners or acidic ingredients (lemons) to balance the saltiness.

This year I decided to add sugar to the brine, just for fun. I added about a cup of granulated sugar. Sweet Shark thought it was the best turkey I had ever made.

kosher salt

Here’s the basic “recipe” with some flavoring options. Adjust the ingredient amounts based on the size of the turkey you have.

The equipment you need for brining your turkey is minimal.

Turkey Brining Solution

Simple instructions for brining your turkey with flavor options.
Cuisine American
Keyword brining turkey, brining solution, turkey brine
Prep Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 10 pound bag of ice
  • 2 gallons cold water

Optional Flavor Additions

  • 1 cup sugar, granulated or brown
  • 2 lemons quartered
  • handful herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 garlic cloves smashed

Instructions

  • In a large container, combine the kosher salt and water.
  • Stir until the kosher salt is dissolved.
  • If adding sugar, add to the salt water and heat until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Cool (You can add ice to lower the temperature faster.) the brine and then add any other flavor enhancers.
  • Add the brine to the turkey in the trash bag set in the ice chest. Be sure that the turkey is completely covered. You can double the brining solution or add additional water.
  • Tightly tie the trash bag closed and cover with ice. Close the ice chest and place it in a cool place. Check ice chest that it is still cold and add more ice, if necessary. You can turn the turkey over once or twice. Allow turkey to brine overnight.
  • Remove the turkey from the brine solution and rinse thoroughly. Discard brine solution and trash bag and thoroughly sanitize the ice chest.
  • Pat turkey dry with paper towels. Sit on platter in refrigerator uncovered (This will help make the turkey skin crisper.) until ready to cook.

Not much effort for an extra juicy, moist turkey on Thanksgiving.  Try it and you’ll thank me.

While your turkey is brining, you should make this amazing Pecan Rum Tart and toast the turkey with the Perfect Pumpkin Martini.

I hope that everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving. Safe travels. May your turkey be juicy and your pie is sweet. So you don’t panic the day before Thanksgiving, PIN this information for later.

pin for later graphic in blue
how to brine turkey

This is my last Thanksgiving post of the year. Starting next week, it’s all about Christmas!

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15 Comments

  1. I’m giving this a try this year! But I’ve always cooked my turkey in an electronic roasting pan. How do you cook yours after it’s been brined? Breast side up and uncovered?

    1. Chris, I’ve been brining my turkey for years. It makes a big difference in the moistness of the turkey. I don’t know what an electronic roasting pan is. I always roast the turkey, breast side up, basted with butter, uncovered. When the turkey cooks to a golden brown, the last 30 minutes, I cover it in foil. Hope that helps.

    1. Rich the amount of salt is a range from 1/2 cup to 1 cup, depending on the size of your turkey. If it’s a really big turkey, you may need more water.

  2. I can’t wait to try brining my turkey this year. You provided some good tips, I.e.,
    putting the turkey in a plastic bag in a cooler etc. overnight sounds much easier!

  3. I’ve done this for years as well. I use a paint bucket lined with a roasting bag to brine the turkey vertically. It fits in the frig, easier than you think, and with the top on you have a shelf for storing the pie overnight. I use less salt than your recipe as many turkey suppliers (especially of frozen turkeys) use added salt in their processing. However it is done, brining is the only sure fire way to ensure moist turkey for not only the holiday meal, but for leftovers too.

    1. Carole, I always order a fresh turkey so I don’t think there is added salt, but that is a good idea. Love that we are on the same turkey page. Happy Thanksgiving.

  4. We were just talking about where to put the turkey when brining it this year so thanks for the cooler suggestion. Happy Thanksgiving, Carol!

  5. I didn’t realize the importance of brining. Love the idea of putting the turkey in a cooler. I never would have thought of that. Thanks for sharing at Inspired by You. I pinned it to our group board. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and please check back on Friday to see if you have been featured and visit us again next Sunday.

      1. Well, I have never done this but want to give it whirl. Should the turkey be thawed first? How many days can I wait to cook it after removing it from the brine and placing it in the refrigerator? Thanks!

        1. Cecilia, first, year the turkey should be 90% thawed. It will finish thawing overnight on the brine. You could leave it uncovered in the fridge for 1 day at most. I put ours in the fridge as soon as it’s out of the brine and rinsed. It’s in there for a few hours. I take it out while the oven is preheating. Hope that helps. Happy Thanksgiving.