How Long to Brine a Turkey and Other Secrets for a Perfect Bird

Brining a turkey is the secret to serving moist, tender meat. Learn how long to brine a turkey and how much salt to use to score 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 for a few hours before cooking acts like insurance to eliminate nearly all of the risk of serving a dry bird—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 proteins for uber-tender results.

Learn how to brine a turkey, and you'll have one of the ultimate meal prep multitasking tools anytime you need to roast a turkey!

How to Brine a Turkey for the Juiciest Results

Here are the details about the amount of salt to brine a turkey, how long to brine a turkey, and what seasonings to consider adding. We also have all the other must-know meat info, so you can savor and share the best star of the Thanksgiving menu you've ever prepared.

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 exceptionally 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. Check the label or search the internet for details about your bird—it should be clear whether it's already been basted or brined.

f the bird is frozen, thaw it in the refrigerator 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 you go further into brining, clear out space in your fridge. Some chefs suggest you brine a turkey in a cooler, but for food safety and to 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 on a shelf, a crisper drawer at the bottom of your refrigerator is a great spot to brine a turkey. It can't drip on any other food in a drawer, 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 turkey brine with sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, fruit juice, beer, peppercorns, herbs, and/or garlic. Use our Maple-Brined Turkey recipe to get you started.

How to brine a 12-pound turkey or smaller: You'll need a 10-quart pot with tall sides. If a large pot won't fit in your refrigerator, substitute a turkey-brining bag ($2, Target) that you can pop in that crisper drawer. So how much salt to brine a turkey? Our general turkey-brining rule of thumb for how much to brine 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 the bird is entirely submerged in the 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 brine so the turkey will be totally submerged when weighted down with the plates. Marinate for 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.) 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 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.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles