How to Brine a Turkey That Truly Steals the Show

Learning how to brine turkey is the simple secret to serving moist, tender meat (plus, it enhances the bird's flavor). Once you learn how long to brine a turkey and how much salt to use to brine a turkey, you'll be well on your way to slicing and serving your best entrée ever.

Sometimes it's a good thing to get a little salty! Case in point: mastering how to brine a turkey. Brining, or submerging meat in a saltwater mixture that's occasionally seasoned for a few hours before cooking, acts like insurance to eliminate nearly all of the risk of serving a dry bird—yes, even if you overcook it a bit. As you brine a turkey, the salt helps the meat absorb extra moisture while seasoning it and breaking down some of the proteins for uber-tender results. Learn how to brine a turkey and you'll have one of the ultimate meal prep multitaskers within reach anytime you need to roast a turkey!

How to Brine a Turkey for the Juiciest Results

Here are all the details about how much salt to use to brine a turkey, how long to brine a turkey, what seasonings to consider tossing into the pool, and all of the other must-know meat info, so you can savor and share the best Thanksgiving menu centerpiece yet.

Step 1: Buy and Prep Your Bird for Brining

Start by determining what size turkey you'll need then head to the store to find it. Fresh turkey works especially well when you're mastering brining a turkey, but a frozen bird will do as long as it is not self-basting or enhanced with a salt solution. The added solution in these birds would make the meat too salty if also brined. Check the label or search the internet for brand details about your bird—it should be clear whether it's already been basted or brined.

If the bird is frozen, thaw it in the refrigerator first before proceeding with Step 2. (Here's a complete guide for how long it takes to thaw a turkey of all sizes.) This same method works to brine turkey breasts.

Before we go any further into the process of how to brine a turkey, now is a good time to clear out space in your fridge. Some chefs explain how to brine a turkey in a cooler, but for food safety reasons and help avoid falling into the food "danger zone" between 40°F and 140°F, we recommend brining a turkey in the refrigerator. If your bird can fit comfortably inside it, the crisper drawer at the bottom of your refrigerator is a great spot to brine turkey, because it cannot drip on any other food, and it's easy to remove the entire drawer and disinfect it properly after you pop the bird in the oven.

spice herb jars
Karla Conrad

Step 2: Make Your Turkey Brine Recipe

Brine for turkey is a saltwater solution that penetrates the meat while marinating, adding moisture and flavor. If you've ever used a fork and knife to saw your way through dry turkey breast, you'll appreciate why this technique is so popular. In addition to salt and water, you can also flavor the easy turkey brine with sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, fruit juice, beer, peppercorns, herbs, and/or garlic. Use our Maple-Brined Turkey or Beer-Brined Turkey recipes to get you started.

For an 8- to 12-pound turkey, you will need a 10-quart pot ($60, Bed Bath & Beyond) with tall sides. If a large pot won't fit in your refrigerator, substitute a turkey-brining bag ($3, Target) that you can pop in that aforementioned crisper drawer. So how much salt to brine a turkey? Our general turkey-brining rule of thumb for how much brine for a 12-pound turkey (adjust up or down based on the size of your bird) is 5 quarts hot water + 1½ cups kosher salt or ¾ cup table salt. Mix to combine and add this to the pot or bag.

To flavor the brine, add 1½ cups sugar (or substitute part maple syrup and part packed brown sugar), 1 bunch fresh thyme, 5 bay leaves, and 45 black peppercorns. Add 3 quarts of ice and let the brine stand until the ice melts.

The key to making the best turkey brine is the salt-to-liquid ratio. Too little salt won't produce an effective brine, and too much will make the turkey salty. If you'd like to add beer or juice for even more flavor, substitute it for some of the ice.

Step 3: Start Brining Your Turkey

Add the turkey to the cold brine in the pot. Press and weight down the turkey with a clean plate or two to guarantee all of the bird is submerged in the easy turkey brine. For a 12-pound turkey, cover and marinate in the refrigerator 8 to 12 hours. For a turkey larger than 12 pounds, increase the amount of brine so the turkey will be totally submerged when weighted down with the plates. Marinate at least 12 hours.

Keep an eye on the time, as overbrining can cause the brined turkey to get mushy and overly salty. Set an alarm on your phone or use a kitchen timer ($11, Target) to remind you when to proceed to the next step.

Apple Cider- and Ginger-Brined Turkey
Andy Lyons

Step 4: Drain the Brined Turkey

Remove the turkey from the brine and discard the brine, then pat the turkey dry with paper towels. (Psst ... never, ever wash your turkey! Here's why.) If desired, you can take things up a notch now with a turkey rub recipe, then your brined turkey is ready for roasting to perfection.

Prepare for rave reviews—and to answer questions from the entire table about how you scored such succulent meat! If you happen to end up with leftovers (although that's not very likely, since the results will be so delicious!), put them to good use in these leftover turkey recipes.

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