Are you in charge of cooking the Thanksgiving turkey this year? We all know what a challenge that can be! Full of sweet and savory flavors, this easy brine recipe will teach you how to brine a turkey to keep your turkey moist, delicious, and juicy.
Best Brine Recipe for Turkey
There is an ongoing debate on whether or not you should brine your turkey. I prefer to brine my turkey so that it stays juicy and delicious. There is nothing worse than a dry turkey on Thanksgiving!
Brining is what brings out the delicious flavors in your turkey before you roast it. I know it can seem kind of intimidating at first, but don’t worry. This easy brine recipe will have you cooking a perfect turkey in no time.
Nothing brings the family together more than the love of food. Add a unique twist to this holiday dinner by combining Fall ingredients with Butternut Squash Cranberry Quinoa Salad, Vegetarian Cornbread Stuffing, or Green Beans with Bacon.
Easy Turkey Brine Ingredients
- Kosher salt and brown sugar: both ingredients are the base for your brine solution. The salt allows the muscle proteins of the turkey to break down, making for a juicy meat. The sugar adds a bit of sweetness to your brine.
- Garlic, onion, carrot, and celery: these ingredients will bring a delicious savory flavor to your brine. This is when your mouth will start watering because of the aroma from your pot!
- Fresh herbs and seasonings: these add extra flavor to your brine. I recommend adding fresh sage leaves, thyme, and rosemary sprigs – because they are fresh, they add additional flavor than dried herbs.
- Turkey: this recipe calls for a 13-16 pound turkey. You can find a whole fresh turkey in the meat department at your local grocery store. If you cannot find a thawed turkey, feel free to grab frozen turkey from the frozen section. Make sure to thaw your whole bird for about 48 hours before you start brining.
How to Brine a Turkey
1. Prepare the turkey for brining. Remove the turkey from its packaging, also remove the neck and any gizzards or giblets inside the bird. Rise with cold water and set aside. I recommend placing your turkey on paper towels for an easier clean up.
2. Boil brine ingredients. In a large pot bring the salt, brown sugar and 2 quarts of stock or water to a boil. Cook until salt and sugar dissolve then add in the garlic, onion, carrot and celery. Remove the pot from the heat and add the remaining ingredients and cold water to bring to room temperature, approximately 15 minutes.
3. Brine the turkey. Place the turkey in the brining bag and place the bagged turkey into a baking dish. Pour the cooled brining mixture over the turkey. Remove as much air as possible from the bag and tie it tightly to seal it. Place in the pan in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours but no longer than 20 hours turning it over occasionally.
4. Rinse the turkey and cook. Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it off well with cool water and place it in a roasting pan and cook as desired. I recommend making my Herb Roasted Turkey recipe after brining.
Do You Rinse Turkey After Brining?
Rinsing your turkey after brining allows it to eliminate any excess salt that has sunk into the skin and surface meat. It helps decrease the flavor of salt in the turkey drippings. It also helps keep your turkey breast from drying up while your turkey cooks.
Some people like to rinse the brine off, and some don’t. For this recipe, we will rinse the brine off before cooking.
When you’re rinsing your brine, using cold water, allowing it to run all over the turkey and into the cavity, you can use your hand to make it easier to rub off.
Be careful when rinsing off your turkey, as raw meat and poultry can put you at risk for a food-borne illness. Raw poultry can contain salmonella bacteria, which gets destroyed after your poultry has been cooked thoroughly.
But no need to worry – there are four easy steps to drastically reduce the chance of that happening.
Best Turkey Brine Safety tips
- Rinse all vegetables or fruit in your sink before you rinse off your turkey. It’s easy to drop vegetables in the sink while washing them, which will spread bacteria if it touches raw turkey.
- Be sure to use cold water; if you use warm water, it can bring your turkey up to room temperature, which allows any bacteria to multiply or spread quickly.
- Wash your hands with hot soapy water for at least 15-20 seconds.
- Sanitize your sink and the counter around the sink using paper towels after rinsing your turkey – this is very important!
How Long Should You Brine a Turkey?
For this recipe, I recommend brining your whole turkey for about 12 hours. Only wet brine your turkey for up to 20 hours. As a rule of thumb, you should brine your turkey for about 50-60 minutes per pound.
During the brining process, it absorbs extra moisture. The salt allows the turkey’s protein to break down, causing it to become more tender while cooking. While the turkey is soaking, it absorbs all the delicious brine flavor and seasonings.
While you’re brining your turkey, keep it in your refrigerator and make sure it stays under 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Can You Brine Turkey at Room Temperature!
No! Brining your turkey does NOT preserve the meat, so the entire turkey and brine must be refrigerated.
Do not leave your turkey sitting out on the counter overnight. It must stay in the refrigerator to keep from spoiling.
The tricky part is making sure that it will fit in your fridge. Be sure that the container you’re brining it in is either a food-grade plastic roasting pan, stainless steel, or a brining bag.
If you don’t have enough fridge space, you can always use a large cooler. Be sure to sanitize your cooler before and after use! Keep an eye on the cooler while brining in it to make sure it stays under 40 degrees.
Make sure your container will fit in the fridge before you start brining it.
How long to cook a brined turkey
A brined turkey can take less time to cook than an unbrined turkey.
No one likes a dry turkey! Make sure you check the internal temperature frequently until it hits 165 degrees F.
A good rule of thumb, cook your large turkey for about 13-15 minutes per pound. So a stuffed turkey that is 15 pounds will cook for about 3 hours and 45 minutes. But since we brined our turkey, I would start checking the internal temperature for around 2 hours to gauge how fast your turkey is cooking.
Best Turkey Brine Recipe FAQs
Brine other meats: You can use the brine to marinate and flavor other meats, like chicken, pork, or fish. Just make sure the meat you’re brining is suitable for the flavors of the turkey brine.
Flavor soups and stews: Add a splash of the turkey brine to soups, stews, or sauces to infuse them with a rich, savory flavor.
Brine vegetables: Try brining vegetables like cucumbers or onions to create tangy pickles with a unique twist.
Gravy enhancer: If you’re making gravy with your leftover turkey, consider adding a bit of the brine for extra flavor.
You’ll want to add 1 tablespoon of salt for every cup of water you use and mix until the salt is completely dissolved. For example, if you are using 1 gallon (16 cups) of water, add 16 tablespoons (1 cup) of salt.
You don’t have to cook the turkey immediately, but you don’t want to over brine it either. I recommend brining the turkey no more than 24 hours before cooking. Make sure you store the turkey in the refrigerator!
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Best Easy Brine Recipe for Turkey
- Remove the turkey from its packaging, also remove the neck and any gizzards or giblets inside the bird. Rise with cold water and set aside.
- In a large pot bring the salt, brown sugar and 2 quarts of stock or water to a boil. Cook until salt and sugar dissolve then add in the garlic, onion, carrot and celery. Remove the pot from the heat and add the remaining ingredients and cold water to bring to room temperature, approximately 15 minutes.
- Place the turkey in the brining bag and place the bagged turkey into a baking dish. Pour the cooled brining mixture over the turkey. Remove as much air as possible from the bag and tie it tightly to seal it. Place in the pan in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours but no longer than 20 hours turning it over occasionally.
- Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it off well with cool water and place it in a roasting pan and cook as desired. I recommend making my Herb Roasted Turkey recipe after brining.