If you want a tender and juicy turkey every time, it’s important to know how to brine a turkey. Here are the simple steps, plus an awesome recipe.

Stockpot full of turkey brine.

Why brine a turkey? Because it’s awesome, that’s why.

There’s no better way to guarantee yourself a tender and juicy turkey than to give it a soak in a salt bath. Poultry lacks the fat that pork and beef have—and that fat adds a lot of flavor, also locking in juices during the cooking process. So turkey needs help, and marinating isn’t the answer. (America’s Test Kitchen confirmed that marinating poultry does nothing.) But brining? Brining is our friend! It breaks down the strands of protein in the meat over time which makes it incredibly tender. It also increases flavor absorption and moisture retention. There are two ways to brine a turkey: with a wet brine or a dry brine. In this post, I’m going to tell you how to brine a turkey with a wet brine.

How to brine a turkey.

Brining a turkey is incredibly easy—it’s just a matter of having all the right things and the right ratios. Here’s a breakdown on how to brine a turkey.

  1. Choose a good container. You want a large non-corrosive container that is big enough to fit your turkey, but small enough to fit in your fridge. (A task, I know.) I like to use a large stainless steel stock pot. You could also use a large plastic container or bucket.
  2. Make your brining solution. One cup of coarse salt per one gallon of water (1:1) is the key ratio for your brining solution. Bring 2 cups of water and 2 cups of salt to a boil and let it simmer until the salt has completely dissolved. Add this to the rest of the water and let it cool completely before you transfer the turkey to the brine. You can speed up the cooling process by adding ice to the brine. 
  3. Refrigerate the turkey. Cover your container with a lid and place the container in the refrigerator for the proper amount of time (one hour per pound). I recommend placing the container on the lowest shelf to prevent the brine from spilling on any other food items. Once the raw poultry hits that brine, consider it contaminated.
  4. Remove the turkey and dry it. About 30 minutes before you plan to cook the turkey, carefully remove it from the brine and rinse it under cold water. Place it onto a roasting pan or plate and gently pat it dry with paper towels. I carefully drain my brine into the sink since this is the easiest way to get rid of it, just be sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect the sink and surrounding area to avoid any cross-contamination.

Close up of sliced tender turkey.

How to brine a turkey breast.

If you’re feeding a small crowd, a turkey breast makes the most sense. When it comes to brining a turkey breast, you’ll follow the same process as you would for a large turkey—just cut the ingredient amounts in half. You’ll also want to brine same-day since most breasts are 3-5 lbs, leaving you with just a few hours of brining time. (Remember, one hour per pound!)

Photo of brine ingredients scattered over a surface.

How to make turkey brine.

In general, one cup of coarse salt per one gallon of water (1:1) is the key ratio for your brining solution. Bring 2 cups of water and 2 cups of salt to a boil and let it simmer until the salt has completely dissolved. Add this to the rest of the water and let it cool completely before you transfer the turkey to the brine. You can speed up the cooling process by adding ice to the brine. I like to add flavor and aromatics to my brine. Here’s a list of ingredients I like to use when making my brine:

Apple cider. I use this instead of water, but you could also do half water and half apple cider.

Fresh herbs. I like to use the prepackaged “poultry blend” herbs, which include fresh sprigs of rosemary, thyme, and parsley. You can also throw in some sage, oregano, and a few bay leaves!

Citrus fruit. I’m pretty devoted to oranges and lemons when it comes to brining turkey. Depending on the recipe and how you’ll be seasoning it, limes could also work. Make sure to use the fruits in their entirety! Squeeze the juices from the fruit, then plop the remains into the brine. This really brightens up the flavors.

Spices. Other than the obvious salt, I like to add whole tricolor peppercorns to the brine. You could also throw in cinnamon sticks, anise, cardamom pods, or cloves, depending on what you’re going for.

Sugar. Adding sugar is important. Again, it balances out the saltiness. I always go for brown sugar because I think the deeper flavor really jives with the apple cider.

Other liquids. I love cooking with apple cider throughout the cooler months, and this is the perfect opportunity to do it. Most brine recipes that I’ve stumbled upon that use cider use a pretty minimal amount. I’ve gone as far as to use an entire gallon before, and it was fantastic! So don’t be shy. You can also use a splash of Worcestershire sauce or a bit of wine. 

Garlic. I use a lot of garlic. I smash a bunch of cloves of garlic before dropping them into the brine because it releases a stronger flavor.

How long to brine a turkey.

This question gets asked so often, I feel like I can’t repeat it enough. After all, it’s crucial to get it right! The rule is one hour per pound. If you’ve got a big 12-18 lb bird, you can get away with brining overnight, up to 18 hours. A turkey breast, however, will be a same-day brine. If your turkey breast is 3 lbs, brine it for 3 hours; if it’s 5 lbs, brine it for 5 hours, etc.

Brining tips + tricks.

  1. Instead of using a container, you can use a brining bag.
  2. For easier cleanup when using a container, use a liner bag.
  3. If your turkey is not fully submerged in its container, be sure to rotate it every once in a while so that the entire bird is infused with the brine.

Ready to brine? Try my roasted turkey breast recipe!

Hope you enjoy!

If you plan on making this recipe, be sure to snap a pic and tag us on Insta! @killing__thyme.

Stock pot full of turkey brine.

Get the Recipe:

How to Brine a Turkey {Wet Brine}

Brining your turkey promises a tender, juicy, and flavorful feast every time. This recipe brings apple cider, citrus, and fresh herbs to the pot for something extra.

Ingredients

For a 12-16 lb turkey (see notes for brining a turkey breast).

  • 2 gallons water (or 1 gallon of water and 1 gallon of apple cider)
  • 1.5 cups coarse kosher salt or coarse sea salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 orange, juiced and halved
  • 1 lemon, juiced and halved
  • 8 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 2 oranges, juiced and halved
  • 2 lemons, juiced and halved
  • 4 TBSP full peppercorns
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 6 sprigs of fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, and parsley

Equipment

  • A non-corrosive container (bucket, stock pot, plastic bag, or plastic container) large enough to hold a turkey, but small enough to fit in your refrigerator.

Instructions 

  • Add 2-3 cups of the water or cider to a small saucepan; add the salt and sugar. Bring the liquid to a boil and let it simmer, stirring occasionally, until the salt and sugar have completely dissolved. When done, set it aside and let the liquid cool completely. (You can speed this up by adding ice.)
  • Fill a large stock pot with the remaining water and add the smashed garlic cloves, herbs, and peppercorns. Then squeeze the juice from the oranges and lemons into the pot (don't worry about the pits), and place the squeezed orange and lemon into the pot as well.
  • Once the brine you boiled is cool, transfer it to the large pot and give it a good stir. Then, slowly and carefully submerge the turkey into the brine (careful as the liquid level will rise).
  • Cover (optional), and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, but no longer than 18 hours (this time is based on a 12-16 lb turkey. Use the hour per pound rule.)
  • When the bird is finished brining, carefully transfer the turkey from the brine to a large platter or cooking vessel. Rinse it under cold water and pat it dry with paper towels. Season it as you wish, but keep in mind that the turkey is pretty salty now, so go lightly.

Notes

If brining a turkey breast, which tends to be between 3-5 lbs, you can pretty much just cut this recipe in half. Just be sure to brine it for only one hour per pound.