Easiest Turkey Brine

When buying a turkey for brining, make sure it hasn't already been brined or injected with a saline solution. Organic turkeys are usually a safe bet; turkeys labeled "kosher," "enhanced," or "self-basting," have usually already brined.

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 10 minutes
  • Brining time: 12 to 24 hours
  • Yield: 1 brined turkey

Ingredients

  • 1 12- to 20-pound turkey, not kosher, saline-injected, or otherwise pre-salted
  • 3 oranges
  • 3 lemons
  • 1/2 cup fresh sage leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
  • 5 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 4 quarts water
  • 250g kosher salt (1 cup Morton, or 1 3/4 cup Diamond Crystal, or 3/4 cup table salt), plus more if needed

Method

1 Prepare the turkey for brining: Remove the turkey from its package and pat dry. Remove the giblets and save for making gravy. Place the turkey in a large pot, brining bag, or other container large enough to keep the turkey submerged.

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2 Prepare the brine ingredients: Strip the peels from the oranges and lemons using a vegetable peeler. Try to remove just the peel, leaving behind as much of the bitter white pith as possible. Roughly chop the sage leaves. Make sure the bay leaves, peppercorns, and garlic cloves are measured out and ready to go. (Save the leftover oranges and lemons for stuffing the turkey during roasting!)

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3 Prepare the brine concentrate: Bring 1 quart (4 cups) of the water to a boil in a large saucepan or stock pot on the stovetop. Once boiling, add the salt and stir until dissolved. Add the orange and lemon peels, chopped sage, bay leaves, peppercorns, and garlic. Let the water return to a boil, then remove from heat.

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4 Cool and then dilute the concentrate to make the turkey brine: Let the brine concentrate and flavoring ingredients cool until no longer steaming, then stir in the remaining 3 quarts of water. (If your pan is too small, you can do this in a pitcher or other large container.) Check the temperature of the brine; it should be room temperature or lukewarm.

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5 Pour the brine over the turkey: Make sure the turkey is submerged, though it's ok if the boney tips of the legs stick out the top. If needed for larger turkeys, prepare additional brine solution (1/4 cup of salt dissolved in 4 cups of warm water) in order to cover the turkey. If the turkey is floating, weight it down with a plate or other heavy object.

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6 Brine for 12 to 24 hours: Cover the turkey and keep refrigerated during brining.

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7 Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse: When you're ready to begin roasting your turkey, remove it from the brine and rinse it with cool water. It's ok if the water is tinged pink. Pat dry.

8 Roast the turkey as usual: There's no need to salt the turkey before roasting, but otherwise, roast the turkey as usual following your favorite recipe. If desired, stuff the cavity of the turkey with leftover sage and the peeled lemons and oranges from preparing the brine. Roasting time may be shortened; begin checking the temperature of the turkey halfway through roasting.

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Comments

  • Rocio Brown

    We did this for Thanksgiving and have had it requested several times since then by my family!! GREAT RECIPE!!! Thank you!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Alyssa

    Didn’t seem to do much for my turkey. It might have just been my bird, but I’ll go in a different direction next time.

  • Chandra

    Best brine I’ve ever used, this was by far the best, juiciest and most flavorful chicken I’ve ever made! I added some additional fresh herbs to the brine, some parsley, rosemary and thyme. Delicious! Completely worth the extra effort. Thanks for a great recipe!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Karin

    Which brand of kosher salt did you use when developing the recipe? I ask because Diamond is half the weight of Morton for the same volume. I’m using Morton do need to adjust if you used Diamond. Thanks!

  • Brittannia

    If you stuff with the oranges and lemons can you still use the drippings for gravy?

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Brittannia! Yes, you can still use the drippings to make gravy. The citrus flavor doesn’t infuse the drippings very much, as far as I’ve found. Enjoy!

  • Patty hansen

    I’m doing this brine today. Do you put some of the leftover oranges and lemons in the cavity?

  • Marc

    Making the brine as we speak, love the smell going thru the house. I was in the supermarket by 7am getting all the items needed. Looking forward to tomorrow am. This bird is going to be great! Thanks so much for the easy idea! Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Belinda

    I am using this recipe this week. Correct me if I am wrong. Do we only use the peel of oranges and lemons for the brine?

  • MONICA

    I will try this recipe. Thank you kindly.

  • Jessica

    So my local stores are out of sage. Would rosemary be an okay supplement ?

  • Joan

    That sounds like a good thing. But I have a question that I hope you can answer. My husband is on a salt-restricted diet. How much extra salt are we adding when we brine? I’ve been leery of brining because I am afraid of adding too much salt to the turkey.

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Joan! Unfortunately, I don’t have the exact information on sodium levels after brining. All I can say for sure is that the turkey tastes seasoned, but not actually salty. I’m sorry that I can’t be of more help!

      • Joan

        Thanks. While I think that brining sounds like the way to go, I will probably not do it.

  • Ruth Ballesteros

    Ok, imma try this … just need to know the temp of the oven for a 19 lb Brined Turkey should be ? 350 degrees or 325 degrees. Thank you for the Recipie .. I am excited to Surprise my family with a Juicy turkey , Happy Thanksgiving

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Ruth! I like roasting at 425F for about 20 minutes, until the skin starts to brown in spots, and then lowering the oven to 350F for the remainder of cooking. Roast until the turkey registers at least 160F in the thickest part of the meat in the breasts and thighs. For a 19 pounder, I’d estimate 2 1/2 to 3 hours or so of total cooking time.

  • Meg Paul

    I’ve used a turkey brine recipe from this site in years past that seems similar to this one but I can’t find it. Any suggestions? I absolutely love that one but never printed it off.

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Meg! This is the only turkey brine recipe we have on the site and we haven’t made any changes to the recipe since posting. Hopefully is the recipe you’re looking for! Enjoy!

  • Sakina Bashir

    This will be my first time brining a turkey. I usually rub the turkey down with oil before putting it in the oven. Should I still give it a good rub down or just brine?

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Sakina! Pat the turkey dry and, if you have time, let it air dry for 15 minutes or so. Then rub with oil just before it goes into the oven and roast as usual. Enjoy!

  • Misty Lundberg

    This brine was perfect for whole chickens! It incorporated a few of the ingredients I already used when roasting a whole chicken, which made it perfectly flavored. This is my first attempt at brining anything and it went off without a hitch.

    I halved the recipe and stuck my chicken in a one gallon glass jar with lid (that I use for dough proofing during bread season). Half the amount of brine covered the entire chicken up to the rim nicely. Roasted it at 325 for 1.5 to 2 hr and it came out incredibly moist and very flavorful without being overwhelming to the point you couldn’t taste the meat. It got rave reviews at Thanksgiving! So thank you for a very simple and highly flavorful brine with every day ingredients I already had handy. :)

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Jordan

    This was my first time ever making a whole turkey & this made my life so much easier for someone whose never done this before. This recipe really did a good job of infusing bright flavor & made my house smell amazing. The only thing I did differently was I used orange zest and some rosemary in a butter rub & rubbed down on top of & under the skin. Super juicy turkey, crisp skin, & all the glory. Thanks for posting!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Ann D.

    We were gifted with a 20lb turkey for Thanksgiving and it will be our first time to try to roast a turkey for said holiday. I saw this brining recipe PLUS Elise’s mom’s roasting recipe and we would love to try both. Anything we should consider or change for the roasting part considering this brining recipe? Nervous but hoping for a successful first attempt :)

    Note: Super LOVE the recipes. :)

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Ann, very good question! We never brine a turkey but Emma does, which is why she is the author of this brine recipe, not me. That said, if I were to brine a turkey, and then roast it following our turkey instructions (for cooking a turkey breast side down) I wouldn’t add any salt to the turkey. That’s the only change I would make.

    • Emma Christensen

      Ann, I think brining + Elise’s mom’s recipe would be a winning combo! Just be sure to rinse the turkey before roasting (to rinse of the brine solution). And yes, as Elise says, you won’t need to salt the turkey. I also find the cooking time for brined turkeys is sometimes a little shorter, so start checking the temperature about halfway through so you can gauge how quickly it’s cooking. Happy holidays!

  • Christina M Ihinger

    Can a brined turkey be stuffed with dressing ?

    • Emma Christensen

      Christina — Sure! Just be sure to drain it from the brine and then rinse it inside and out before stuffing it. :)

  • Jeff Bloom

    Your brine looks amazing and I made it for my turkey. But one gallon of water doesn’t cover my 16 lb. bird.
    I’m adding more water hoping it doesn’t delute it too much.
    Any thoughts?

    • Emma Christensen

      Jeff, if you only need to add a cup or two to cover, I think that’s fine. But if you need to add 4 cups or more, then I’d add more salt (1/4 cup per 4 cups) so that the brine stays at the correct concentration.

  • sharleen Smith

    Can I brine if I cook mine in a bag? Thank you!

    • Emma Christensen

      I’ve never cooked a turkey in a bag so I’m not 100% sure, but I think it would work just fine! If you’re brining and cooking your turkey inside the same bag, then just be sure to drain off all the brine before you bake and pat it dry — don’t bake the turkey IN the brine!

  • Jennifer Irizarry

    I am going to add juniper berries to this brine. What do you think? Also the bird I ordered is 9.5 pounds. Do I need to cut back on the salt? Thank you :)

    • Emma Christensen

      Juniper berries sound great! No need to cut down on the salt or the brine solution — the amount in this recipe should do a nice job of covering your bird without too much extra.

  • Marianne Evans

    Just finished reading your column on brining. I plan to incorporate some of your ingredients in my turkey brine this year. Like you, I have been brining for some time and rarely cook chicken without a brine, even if it’s for just a few hours. I wanted to pass along something that I do when brining a large bird. I have a clean 5 gallon bucket that I line with a non-scented garbage bag. I go through the steps of preparing the brine in the usual fashion, putting the bird and the brine in the bucket. But where and how to keep it cool. I could never get a turkey in my fridge. I place the bucket outside in a place where the sun doesn’t ever get to the bucket, get a couple of bags of ice from the store and cover the top. If the ice melts, I buy more.

    • Giana

      Hey do you tie your trash bag closed and put the ice in the bucket around the bag or is the ice going into your brine mix? If its going into the brine, do you also add salt when you add ice?

  • Barbi

    I’ve been brining my turkey for years too and haven’t served up a dry turkey at Thanksgiving since! I never have enough room in the fridge so my solution is to place the turkey in a large trash bag, add the brine and tie off the top. I place this in one of my large ice chests and pack it in ice and let it soak in the bring overnight. Once I take out the turkey I place all the beer and soda in the ice chest for my guests to help themselves to drinks freeing up more space in the fridge. Just make sure to tie off the trash bag well so none of the brine leaks out into the ice chest, if it does you will want to discard the ice.

    • Emma Christensen

      I’m always so nervous about keeping the turkey at a safe temp during that I worry about doing it in an ice chest! But as long as the ice isn’t totally melting, or you’re checking and replacing the ice regularly, then I’m sure you’re just fine. I’m just a Nervous Nelly about this stuff!

  • Gay

    In other brine recipes i see that sugar is a necessary component along with the salt–something about the chemistry that lets the flavors be absorbed into the meat. Is that not true?

    • Emma Christensen

      The only necessary ingredient for brining, scientifically-speaking, is the salt. Everything else is just there for flavor. In my experience, sugar doesn’t really add much flavor. It might help browning of the skin a little bit, but I feel like it’s so diluted in the brine that it probably doesn’t really do much. My 2-cents, anyway!

  • Jon

    I would love to use this recipe, how should I cut back on the recipe for a turkey breast? 1/2? 1/4?

    • MsBunny

      How much does the breast weigh? I imagine that would be the determining factor. If the breast weighs 8 or 9 lbs, cut the brine recipe in half. It’s all pretty flexible. So long as the brine covers the turkey, it’s the right amount. If the brine REALLY covers the turkey, it may be too much, but it will be discarded when finished, so not a big deal. Best of luck.

    • Emma Christensen

      The key thing about brining is just keeping the ratio of water to salt the same — 1/4 cup kosher salt per quart (4 cups) of water. Just make enough to cover your turkey breast, and you’re good to go! I’d start with half of this full-turkey recipe and add more from there if you need to.

    • Shawn

      I think scaling for size applies to the time needed for brining. Smaller birds (I do a lot of 4-6 lb chickens) don’t need 12-24 hours of brining.

  • M Dynis

    Can I brine an 8 lb turkey breast?

    • Emma Christensen

      Yes! Another commenter had a similar question — I’d start with half of this full-turkey brine and add more if needed to cover your turkey breast. Just keep a ratio of 1/4 cup kosher salt to 1 quart water, and you’re good!

  • Susan Walter

    I live in France and here I brine stuff in a big plastic bucket with a lid that I got from my local dairy farmer (so it’s food grade) and keep it in the cellar, which is a constant 12C. I absolutely agree with the above comment about not being tempted to reuse brine and making sure the brine is chilled before you pour it over the bird. I have a feeling it is illegal in France to inject poultry with brine or water prior to sale, but I could be wrong. I’ve never brined a whole turkey, but I do turkey legs, whole chickens and pork roasts all the time.

    By the way, 4F is awfully cold. That would be nearly as cold as my freezer. I think it must be a typo and the commenter meant 40F, which would be cold fridge temperature. I run one of my fridges at 4C (40F) and the other at 8C.

  • Dawn

    Don’t be put off brining an “enhanced” turkey. I have often brined Butterball and other “moist” turkeys (not kosher though) and I just cut the salt in the brine in half. Everything seems to balance out, and just warn your guests that the cooked meat is pre-seasoned. Also, if you make gravy using meat juices, taste it before adding any more seasoning.

  • FoodJunkie

    This is a nice simple brine and a little lighter than some recipes I have seen. I will be giving this one a try whenever I next do a bird. Thanksgiving of course is long past here north of the border. You touch on temperature but I think it worth harping on a bit for food safety. Cold-cold-cold. Make sure your brine is chilled down to 4 F or below before the turkey goes in the brine and make sure it stays there for the entire brining time. Brining is definitely not something to attempt if you don’t have a place to keep it cold. Also don’t try to reuse a brine as the salt is depleted in the used brine and it could be full of bacteria.

    • FoodJunkie

      As pointed out the 4 F is definitely a typo, it should be 4 C or about 39 F. Thanks for the catch Susan! I converted the C to F for American consumption and forgot to change the number.

    • Emma Christensen

      Yes, great reminder about food safety! I feel that room temperature brine is fine to pour over the turkey — it’s all going straight into the fridge and therefore not in the “danger zone” for any significant amount of time. Still, you can never really be TOO safe, I suppose!