How to Brine a Turkey

Have you ever ordered roast turkey when dining in a really good restaurant with a great chef? If you have, then you’ve probably wondered how they manage to keep the meat so tender and moist. Is it a secret ingredient, or perhaps some amazing piece of hugely expensive, professional cooking equipment? Actually, it’s neither. It’s all done by brining––a simple and inexpensive process of marinating the bird in a salt solution infused with aromatic herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables. Brining encourages very deep, cellular-level moisture penetration, which results in less drying out in the oven, and a moister bird on the table. This article demonstrates how to brine your turkey.


  • 9 to 11 lb (4-5kg) turkey
  • 5 quarts (6 litres) cold water
  • 1/2 cup (125g) Kosher salt
  • 1 cup (200g) light brown sugar
  • 2 cups boiling water


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    Make the brining solution two days before roasting. Dissolve the salt and brown sugar in 2 cups of boiling water. Allow to cool and then refrigerate overnight.
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    Add spices and seasonings. Mix the brine solution, cold water, and any other brine ingredients you want to use, in a large container. You can add spices and seasonings according to your own preferences and availability. You can even substitute some of the water with cold tea, fruit or vegetable juices, stock, cider, wine or light beer. Changing the brine liquid is part of the fun of experimenting!
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    Untie and remove any string or trussing. Check that the wings and legs are not squashed against the body; rather, they should be free to soak in the brine.
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    Wash the bird inside and out under cold water. Rinse thoroughly.
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    Dunk the turkey. Sink the bird into the liquid, adding more water if necessary to completely submerge it. If the turkey keeps floating up, find a way to weigh it down, such as a tray with something heavy placed on top of it.
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    Try this as an alternative. Take two clean, fresh roasting bags or kitchen trash bags just off the roll or out of the box:
    • Put one inside the other to make a double bag.
    • Put the turkey (without innards) inside the double bag and pour in the brine.
    • Squeeze the double bag until all the air is expelled.
    • Tie off the top so it won't leak.
    • Now, no matter which way you lay the turkey down, it will be covered with brine. It will fit anywhere and you won't have to worry about turning it halfway through the process in the middle of the night. Just be careful when lifting it to pick it up from the bottom.
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    Keep cool. Refrigerate the bird in its brine, or put into a cool place (no more than 40°F/4.4ºC) and leave it for at least ten hours.
    • Ideally, the turkey should be kept refrigerated during the brining. If that isn't possible, keep the container (like a cooler box) somewhere cool, such as in a basement.
    • Ice packs or reusable gel packs may be used to maintain the temperature, but do not put ice directly into the brine as this will dilute the solution. The turkey and brine solution must be kept below 40°F/4°C at all times.
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    Turn the bird. About halfway through the brining process, turn the bird over to ensure even brining throughout.
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    Remove the turkey from the brine. Rinse inside and out under cold water, and dry thoroughly using kitchen towel. Allow to come up to room temperature for an hour before you plan to roast. This helps to ensure proper and safe heat penetration.


  • One way of telling if you have enough salt in your brine is that a raw egg will float in it.
  • Do not use a self-basting or Kosher turkey as both already have salt added.
  • If you are using a frozen turkey, it must be fully defrosted before the brining process begins. See How to Defrost a Turkey
  • You will need a container large enough to hold the turkey with enough brine to cover it.
  • Here are some ideas for adding more flavor to your brine:
    • Vegetable stock instead of some of the water
    • Black peppercorns
    • Allspice berries
    • Candied or fresh ginger
    • Thyme
    • Rosemary
    • Bay leaves.
  • Begin the process the day or night before as the turkey needs to soak for at least 10 hours.


  • Always use good hygiene practices when handling raw poultry.

Things You'll Need

  • Large container
  • Cup measure
  • Scissors to cut string/trussing
  • Something to weigh down turkey if needed, such as a tray
  • Roasting/kitchen bags if using alternative method (optional)
  • Refrigeration or ice packs

Sources and Citations

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