This easy turkey brine recipe will ensure that each slice of your Thanksgiving turkey is flavorful, juicy, and tender! Learn two different methods for wet or dry brine.
Table of Contents
- What is brining?
- What’s the difference between a wet and dry brine?
- Turkey selection
- Method #1) How to make a wet brine
- Wet brine salt usage
- How to wet brine a turkey
- Wet brining tips
- Method #2) How to make a dry brine
- Dry brine salt usage
- How to dry brine a turkey
- Dry brining tips
- How long to brine a turkey
- Frequently asked questions
- How to Brine a Turkey (2-Ways) Recipe
Each year home cooks strive to create a stunning and flavorful turkey to shine on the dinner table. Before the bird hits the oven, I recommend brining it a day or two before to guarantee the meat is more savory and moist. Nobody likes dry pieces of meat on their plate.
Like chicken, turkey is lean with a neutral taste and has a mix of light and dark meat. To prevent moisture loss and make the pieces better seasoned, you can submerge the bird in a salt solution or coat it with dry salt. All you need is to add about one day to your meal prep timeline. The difference in flavor is worth the effort!
What is brining?
Brining is a simple process to help prevent moisture loss while enhancing the taste of poultry, meat, and seafood. It’s impossible to stop all of the natural juices in the food from leaving, but a brine makes a big difference in texture and flavor. Soaking or salting a whole turkey or breast with brine before cooking reshapes some proteins and forms a gel.
Brining allows the muscle fibers to absorb and trap the seasoning inside before roasting. The protein won’t squeeze out as much moisture during cooking, resulting in a juicier bird. Osmosis causes the salt in the brine to enter the meat for a less bland-tasting effect.
What’s the difference between a wet and dry brine?
A wet brine is a saline solution between 3 to 8% depending on brine time. It can be further flavored with herbs, spices, and seasonings. The turkey is completely submerged in the liquid. The meat will be very juicy, but the salt taste is more diluted than dry brining.
A dry brine, also called “salting,” applies directly to the turkey. For a concentrated salt coating, the bird is coated with coarse granules on and/or beneath the skin. Herbs, sugar, and spices can be added to the dry mixture. The flavor of the meat won’t get diluted, and the salt more deeply seasons the turkey. There’s also less mess with no water used.
Fresh or thawed turkeys are best to brine. Partially frozen turkeys can be submerged in a brine, allowing the ice crystals to dissolve quickly. Do not brine completely frozen turkeys, as the salt solution cannot move into the meat and will not evenly season the bird.
The types of turkeys to avoid brining are pre-salted. They will be labeled as “kosher,” “self-basting,” or “enhanced.” If you’re not sure, check the label. It may say, “contains up to 4% solution of water, salt, and spices, to enhance tenderness and juiciness”. The Butterball brand of turkey falls into the category of self-basting, so no need to do the additional brining step.
Method #1) How to make a wet brine
Completely submerge the turkey in a salt and water solution. You can add sugar in equal amounts as salt to season the meat and increase the browning on the skin. If you’d like, aromatics like herbs, peppercorns, citrus slices, peels, or garlic cloves can be used. However, the flavor will not penetrate far into the meat, mainly the surface.
Avoid adding vinegar, like apple cider vinegar, as the long brine time can cause the proteins to denature before cooking, drying out the meat. Do not brine past the recommended times, or the meat can become too salty. If you are short on time, for turkeys between 12 to 24 pounds, you can make a 4-hour brine. Double the amount of salt, keeping the water level the same for a more concentrated solution.
Wet brine salt usage
Various types of salt and salt brands have different crystal sizes, shapes, and densities. Therefore, the amount of salt varies based on the product. See the chart below for salt conversions.
|Turkey Weight||Cold Water||Table Salt||Morton Kosher Salt||Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt||Brine Time|
|6 to 8-pound Bone-in Turkey Breast||1 gallon |
|½ cup (152 grams)||2/3 cup (192 grams)||1 cup (144 grams)||3 to 6 hours|
|12 to 17 pounds||2 gallons (7.6 liters)||1 cup (304 grams)||1 ¼ cup |
|2 cups (288 grams)||6 to 14 hours|
|18 to 24 pounds||3 gallons (11.4 liters)||1 ½ cups (456 grams)||1 ⅞ cups|
|3 cups (432 grams)||6 to 14 hours|
How to wet brine a turkey
Make sure there is enough refrigerator space to hold the pot used to brine the turkey. It must be kept below 40ºF (4.4ºC) to prevent food spoilage and illness. Alternatively, add it to a container like a cooler with ice packs or ice bags to keep the water cold.
In the large pot or container, add the water and salt. Stir until all of the salt crystals dissolve. A brining bag could also be used and placed inside another container for easier cleanup. Optionally, you can add additional seasonings to the brining solution.
Wet brining tips
- Do not rinse the turkey! This will increase the risk of cross-contaminated beyond the sink area. Remove it from the packaging, and remove the neck and giblets for gravy if desired.
- Add the turkey breast-side down to the brine solution, submerging it completely. Transfer to the refrigerator.
- Remove the turkey from the brine after at least 6 hours and up to 14 hours. There is no need to rinse the turkey after brining.
- Transfer the turkey to a roasting pan or rimmed sheet pan and dry the surface and cavity. Now you’re ready to cook the turkey!
Method #2) How to make a dry brine
Kosher salt is all you need to dry brine a turkey. I do not recommend using table salt because it will be too fine, making it difficult to distribute evenly. I also add granulated sugar to the mixture to balance the savory taste and make the meat more tender. I season beneath the skin of the breast, legs, and thighs.
Dry brine salt usage
|Turkey Weight||Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt||Morton Kosher Salt||Granulated Sugar||Brine Time|
|14 pounds or less||4 ½ tablespoons (41 grams)||3 tablespoons (54 grams)||4 teaspoons (17 grams)||12 to 36 hours|
|15 to 24 pounds||9 tablespoons (81 grams)||6 tablespoons (108 grams)||8 teaspoons (34 grams)||12 to 36 hours|
How to dry brine a turkey
Place the turkey breast-side up in a roasting pan with V-rack or on a wire rack set over a rimmed sheet pan. Remove the giblets and neck, and save them for gravy if desired. Thoroughly dry the surface and cavity with paper towels.
Combine the salt and sugar to brine underneath the skin of the turkey. Rub about 1 tablespoon under each breast and 1 ½ teaspoon under each leg and thigh area. More if needed for larger turkeys. Use the remaining mixture to salt the cavity.
Dry brining tips
- Refrigerate uncovered for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours.
- You can dry brine for up to 36 hours for even juicier meat. However, loosely cover the turkey’s surface after 24 hours.
How long to brine a turkey
Wet brining requires between 12 to 18 hours, while dry brining takes at least 12 hours and up to 36 hours. Don’t exceed those times! The wet-brined turkey meat will get spongy and too salty. If dry brining past 24 hours, loosely cover the skin with plastic wrap, or the skin will get too chewy.
Frequently asked questions
No! The turkey does not have to be rinsed after wet or dry brining. This could cause cross-contamination in the kitchen if it is not well-cleaned and sanitized. Dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture before roasting.
Yes! You should never leave the turkey out at room temperature while brining. Make sure the container holding the bird fits in the refrigerator. It should be brined below 40ºF (4.4ºC).
Adding a sweetener to a dry or wet brine balances the salt taste in the recipe without being overly sweet. It’s also a natural tenderizer, just like salt. White sugar or turbinado can be substituted. It can also be omitted if desired.
For crispier skin, the turkey can be air-dried in the refrigerator on a rack for better air circulation. After wet brining, dry for about one day. Dry brining already builds in the drying step, so you don’t need to add more dry time.
Do not reuse turkey brine. The salt levels will not be the same, so the impact of brining will not be as effective. Discard the brine and make a fresh batch.
Do not brine a completely frozen turkey. It’s difficult for the salt to penetrate the meat when the juices are solid. A thawed turkey is best to use.
How to make brined turkey skin crispy
After wet brining, and in addition to dry brining, you can season the turkey’s surface with salt and baking powder. The mixture makes the skin crispy due to bubble formation when in contact with the turkey juices. I do this with baked chicken wings and roast turkey.
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How to Brine a Turkey (2-Ways)
- 12 to 14 pound turkey, fresh or thawed, not pre-salted
- 2 gallons cold water
- 1 ¼ cups kosher salt, Morton coarse kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt, Morton coarse kosher salt
- 4 teaspoons granulated sugar
Method #1) Wet Brining
- Make Brine – In the large pot or container, add the water and salt. Stir until all of the salt crystals are dissolved.
- Prepare Turkey – Remove turkey from its packaging. Remove the neck and giblets. Optional to save for making gravy. Do not rinse the turkey! Submerge the turkey breast side down into the brine. Cover and transfer the turkey to the refrigerator.
- Brine Turkey – Brine for at least 6 hours and up to 12 hours. Carefully lift out the turkey and drain the brine into the pot. Do not rinse! Transfer the turkey to a roasting pan or rimmed sheet pan. Using paper towels, dry the surface and cavity. Roast as desired.
Method #2) Dry Brining
- Prepare Turkey – Place turkey on a sheet pan. Remove the giblets and the turkey neck from the cavity and reserve them if used to make gravy. Use paper towels to thoroughly dry the outside surface and inside the cavity.
- Add Brine Under Skin – In a small bowl, combine kosher salt and sugar. Rub about 1 tablespoon of the mixture underneath each breast. Rub about 1 ½ teaspoon underneath each thigh and leg. Rub the remaining mixture inside the cavity.
- Brine Turkey – Place turkey breast-side up in a roasting pan with V-rack or on a wire rack set over a rimmed sheet pan. Refrigerate uncovered for at least 12 to 24 hours. If brining for up to 36 hours, loosely cover the turkey with plastic wrap after 24 hours. Roast the turkey as desired.
- For the Best Results: Reference the tables in the article for exact ingredient amounts and brining times based on turkey size.
- Using Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt or Table Salt: This recipe was made with Morton Coarse Kosher salt. Increase the amount by 50% for Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Decrease by 25% for table salt.
- Wet Brining Larger Turkeys: Increase the ingredients by 50% for 18 to 24-pound turkeys.
- Dry Brining Larger Turkeys: Double the salt mixture for turkeys between 15 to 24 pounds.
- For Crispier Skin (optional): After wet brining, and in addition to dry brining, season the turkey’s surface with a combination of 4 ½ teaspoons kosher salt and 2 teaspoons baking powder. Just enough to coat. You don’t want a thick crust. The mixture creates bubbles on the skin that turn crispy during roasting.
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