Learning How to Brine:

Learning How to Brine:

No More Dry Turkey
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Turkey is a traditional favorite during the holiday season. It’s right up there between pumpkin pie and hot chocolate. This year, try brining a turkey in your own kitchen. This process is excellent for retaining as much moisture as possible. One can only use so much gravy, after all.

Thankfully, brining a turkey isn’t rocket science. It is a simple process that requires basic techniques and a little patience. The payoff? A juicy, delicious meal that encompasses everything we love about this time of year. Holiday cooking has never tasted so good.

What is a Brine?

Characterized by high salt content, a brine is a solution that moistens the turkey while adding a flavorful punch. The turkey sits in the brine overnight for 8-12 hours. The secret lies within the salt, which denatures – or dissolves – some of the muscle proteins of the turkey. As a result, the meat is able to stay juicy longer. Learn more about water-based brine vs dry brine.

Yet, it’s important to note that a brine is not the same as a marinade. The ultimate goal of a brine is to add moisture, while a marinade solely adds flavor. And while a brine can certainly wake up your taste buds, its main purpose is to increase moisture.

This is especially useful for lean meats, such as turkey, which are more susceptible to drying out. In fact, brining can increase moisture up to 15 percent. It might be exactly what you need to transform your party menu.

What is Turkey Brining - Learning How to Brine Turkey

Brine Recipes

Ready to brine your own turkey? Follow one of these recipes for a small turkey up to 12 pounds. For larger turkeys up to 20 pounds, double the recipe. Prep time will take no more than 15 minutes.

Simple Brine: Back to Basics

This version is the simplest of brines. It features the two most important components for a brine: liquid and salt. This basic brine is ideal if you’re feeding a crowd of picky eaters!


  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 cup kosher salt or smoked coarse sea salt

Apple Cider Brine: Sweet Version

Feel free to experiment with extra aromatics and ingredients. These additions can give a standard brine a tasty spin, but they aren’t necessary. This particular version features quintessential autumn notes such as cinnamon and rosemary. To guarantee the best flavor possible, use an entire gallon of apple cider; do not mix it with water.

  • 1 gallon apple cider
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 3-4 cinnamon sticks
  • 1-2 tablespoons dried cranberries
  • 3-4 stalks fresh rosemary
  • Zest of one orange

Vegetable Stock Brine: Savory Version

Take it up a notch with fresh herbs, peppercorns, and mustard seeds. This savory brine is ideal for giving your turkey dinner an extra kick.


  • 1 gallon vegetable stock
  • 1 cup smoked coarse sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon dried fresh sage
  • 1 tablespoon dried fresh oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Brining Recipes - Learning How to Brine Turkey


  • Large pot (for prep)
  • Large brining bag, large pot or food-grade plastic, stainless steel, or glass container that can fit in the fridge

Remember, the turkey must be fully submerged in liquid while it sits in the fridge. Double-check that your bag or container is big enough to accommodate the entire turkey.

Brining Instructions - Learning How to Brine Turkey


  1. Remove giblets and neck (can be used for stock) and liver (can be used for stuffing).
  2. Thoroughly rinse inside and out.
  3. For a basic brine, mix the salt and water together in a large pot until the salt dissolves. If you’re adding extra ingredients, heat ½ gallon of the liquid and add the salt and other ingredients. Once the salt (and sugar, if applicable) is totally dissolved, turn the heat off. Let cool and add the remaining ½ gallon of liquid.
  4. Add the cooled brine to the bag or container. Add the turkey. If the pot you are using to prep the brine is big enough to hold the turkey, you can add it directly to the pot.
  5. Place in refrigerator for 8-12 hours, but no more than 18 hours.
  6. Pat completely dry and place back in the refrigerator until the surface is totally dry. If desired, rub skin with butter or oil to encourage browning.
  7. Your turkey is ready to roast!

Turkey Brining By Size - Learning How to Brine Turkey

Brining Tips

While brining doesn’t require fancy skills or ingredients, there are several important aspects that you should keep in mind. At first glance, these concepts might seem unimportant or trivial; however, they will make a huge difference in successfully brining a turkey.

Fresh is Best: For optimal results, brine only fresh turkeys. Many frozen turkeys have already been injected with salt solutions, making it unnecessary to create a brine. A fresh turkey gives you a “blank canvas” to work with.

Skip the Fancy: Do not use enhanced, kosher, or self-basting turkeys. These have already been brined.

Concentrate on Concentration: Focus more on the salt-to-liquid ratio instead of the salt-to-turkey ratio. There must be enough salt added to the liquid to create a saturated, salty solution.

It Takes Two: Feeding a large crowd? Brine two separate turkeys instead of a single large one for a more even roast.

Show Support: Place the brining bag in an aluminum foil pan or sturdy container while it is in the refrigerator. This will keep the bag and liquid in place.

Keep It Covered: The turkey must be completely submerged during the 8-12 hours [1]. This will ensure complete and even moisture throughout the turkey.

Toss It Out: For safety reasons, discard the brine. Do not reuse.

Watch the Clock: Do not leave the turkey in the brine for more than 18 hours. This will result in an undesirable spongy texture.

Cooking Tips

The weight of a turkey is the most important factor to pay attention to. Otherwise, you may undercook (or overcook) the turkey. By taking note of the exact weight, you can determine the best cooking time to ensure that the turkey is roasted to perfection. Here are more tips on perfecting your brining skills.

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Kirsten Nunez
Kirsten Nunez is a lifestyle author based out of New York. She focuses her writings on health, DIY, creative projects, and food. She is the author of the DIY book, “Studs & Pearls: 30 Creative Projects for Customized Fashion”
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PUBLISHED ON November 07, 2016
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