The BEST Turkey Brine Recipe for Juicy and Flavorful Turkey

A good brine ensures your turkey remains moist with the added bonus of subtle flavors.
turkey submerged in brine

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Brining your turkey will take it from “just okay” to “now, that’s a great turkey!”.

It’s a step that many people overlook or ignore, but I’m a firm believer in bringing if you want a juicy and flavorful turkey.

I think we all probably have at least one core memory of biting into a hunk of turkey as a kid and feeling like we were just spoon-fed wood pulp from a lumberjack. I always thought that’s why gravy was invented. To save the poor bird.  

However, when I started to brine, I realized those birds in the past needlessly suffered.  I find the flavors and succulence of the meat, especially in the traditional dryer areas like the breast, are greatly amplified.  

What is a brine? 

At the simplest level, a brine is a measured amount of salt dissolved in water.  However, there are plenty of flavor options you can add;

  • Do you want it sweet? Try some brown sugar in the mix.  
  • Do you want it spicy? Throw in some cayenne. 
  • Do you want some citrus notes? Add some orange, lemon, or even grapefruit.  
  • Feeling festive? Go with rosemary and cranberries.  
bowl of brown sugar, bowl of salt, bowl of black pepper, herbs, garlic, lemons orange
My go-to brine ingredients.

The nice thing about a brine is that the recipe is pretty forgiving.  Even though the brine liquid itself is strong, it soaks into the meat smoothly, adding those subtleties and nuances that make for a great bite of turkey.

I used this brine recipe for my pellet grill turkey recipe.

Pros and cons of brining 

The brine is like turkey spa day before hitting the heat.  It should moisten the meat all the way through, preventing those easily overcooked areas from becoming dry. 

Now, there are some negatives to brining:

  • You have to get the balance of salt right.  Too little, and you will just have a wet bird.  Too much and your guests will be rushing for water.
  • Time and effort.  A good brine should last from 8-24 hours, any longer and the texture of the skin can deteriorate.
  • general messiness and hassle of making the brine and finding a suitable vessel for the bird to sit in.

Also, note that the time and the strength of the brine should correlate, just like with a marinade.  Use a stronger brine for less time and vice versa.  

What’s the best vessel to brine in? 

Depending on the size of your turkey, you may have some trouble finding a container large enough to hold the turkey and brine in. If you have a small enough turkey, a brine bag works great, just put the turkey and brine in the bag, tie it closed and refrigerate. 

A food-safe 5-gallon bucket or container may also be a good option if you can find room in your fridge to house something that tall or wide. 

My personal favorite for bining turkey is in a cooler.

With a cooler, I have plenty of space for any size turkey and with some ice on top, I can leave it there overnight, leaving room in my fridge for other thanksgiving necessities 

bag of ice sitting on turkey in cooler
TIP. Sit a bag of ice on your turkey to ensure it’s submerged and keep the temp cool.

How to make a brine

Making a brine could not be any easier. Heat two gallons of water and place all of the ingredients into the same pot. I use salt, sugar, citrus, herbs, and garlic. It’s a brine that fits the occasion of Thanksgiving and one my family uses year after year.

brine ingredients in a pot of the stovetop

Make sure to stir well to let the sugars and salt fully dissolve. Once the brine comes to room temp you can add your turkey.

If you don’t let the brine cool down, the heat will start cooking the meat. You don’t want boiled turkey for Thanksgiving! 

If you plan on using ice to cool down your brine, it will dilute it some, so make sure you start with less water or increase the ingredients in the brine mix to make it more concentrated. 

Do you need to rinse brined turkey before cooking?

When you are ready to cook the turkey, you should remove it from the brine liquid and wipe it dry with a few paper towels. There is no need to wash the meat before cooking.

In fact, washing the turkey has been proven to spread bacteria to other surfaces in your kitchen.

Recipes to use this brine with

You can use this brine on any of our whole turkey recipes or use it to add extra flavor to wings, breasts or legs.

turkey submerged in brine

The BEST Turkey Brine Recipe for Juicy and Flavorful turkey

Season your turkey all the way through with a hint of the brine flavorings of citrus, herbs, and garlic
5 from 18 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 1 whole brined turkey
Author: Jordan Hanger

Ingredients

  • 2 gallons water
  • cups Kosher salt
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp black pepper
  • 3 oranges cut into wedges
  • 3 lemons cut into wedges
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 4 tbsp fresh rosemary
  • 4 tbsp fresh thyme

Instructions

  • Heat one gallon of water.
  • Place all ingredients into water and stir until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
  • Pour in the other gallon of cold water to help cool down the brine to room temperature. If it's still hot you can add ice to cool down faster.
  • Add turkey to brine and refrigerate for 24 hours.
  • Remove turkey from brine and pat dry. There is no need to rinse the turkey.
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19 Comments

  1. Can I use this brine mixture on a 13 Lb turkey and cook it in the traditional way in the oven?

      1. 22 pd turkey will work for this amount?

        1. Jordan Hanger says:

          should be good to go!

      2. Bonesmoker says:

        I do the brining as shown, but I add a cup and a half of my rub I make. Then at room temp 2 bars of butter and a bunch of fresh sage dosing it under the skin in the thigh area, yum.

        1. Do you use your rub after the 24 hour soak or do you add it to the brine at the beginning

  2. How much brine for just a single turkey breast

    1. You just need enough brine liquid to cover the breast, so will depend on the size of the container as well.

  3. Do you use Morton’s or Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt?
    I have read that due to the way they make their salt, that a tablespoon of one weighs more than the other.

  4. ROBERT CARROLL says:

    Can you use the bake turkey drippings for gravy ?

  5. David paffett says:

    Where can you get kosher s alt from or can you use normal salt

    1. You can use normal salt. Should be able buy Kosher salt from most grocery stores though, or Amazon.

  6. I accidentallly heated two gallons with everything in it. It is going to come out okay?

  7. I accidentally used two gallons to heat everything. Is It going to ruin it?

    1. Jordan Hanger says:

      Should be fine!

    2. It’s fine, it will just take a bit longer for the liquid to cool before you would want to put the turkey in it.

  8. 5 stars
    So I made my brine the night before and it cooled overnight. I also injected my turkey and used Fire and Smoke Poultry season on my turkey after rubbing it down with melted butter. Used cherry pellets to smoke it, Best turkey I’ve ever cooked!

    1. Jordan Hanger says:

      Sounds like a winning combo!

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