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This simple turkey brine is infused with sage and citrus and makes a super moist, flavorful Thanksgiving turkey! Brine for 12 to 24 hours before cooking.

I started brining my Thanksgiving turkey a few years ago and haven’t looked back. It’s my Thanksgiving insurance policy: If I get distracted as I’m making dinner and the turkey overcooks, I know I can still count on the turkey turning out moist and flavorful.

WHAT IS BRINING?

Brining means making a salt water solution and submerging the turkey for about 24 hours before roasting. This spa treatment helps the turkey retain more moisture during roasting and prevents it from drying out.

A brine also gives me a chance to season the turkey with herbs and spices, especially the skin! Sage and citrus is one of my favorite combinations. It’s so festive and makes the house smell amazing.

This technique is called wet brining. But you can also dry-brine your turkey. For this method, instead of submerging your turkey in a brine solution, you basically rub the outside with salt and let it sit for a day or so. If you’re interested in that technique check out this post!

  • How to Dry Brine and Roast a Turkey

Tips for Brining a Turkey

Brining a turkey is a pretty straightforward process, but there are a few key things to keep in mind.

  • First of all, make sure your turkey hasn’t already been brined or injected with a saline solution (water is ok). If it has, it should say so right on the packaging. Organic turkeys are usually a safe bet; turkeys labeled “kosher,” “enhanced,” or “self-basting,” are usually already brined.
  • It’s fine if your turkey is still partially frozen when it goes into the brine. It will continue to thaw in the brine solution in the fridge.
  • Also, make sure to clear some fridge space and find a big enough container to hold your turkey. You might need to rearrange some fridge shelves to make space. Disposable brining bags are also very handy; I’ve had friends who use brining bags and then store their turkeys in a crisper drawer to save space!

The Basic Brining Ratio

The basic brine is a mixture of 4 quarts of water and 1 cup of kosher salt. To this, you can add any herbs, spices, or other seasonings that you like.

Ways to Season Your Brine

I love the combination of sage and citrus in this brine, though you could swap in any aromatic herbs or spices you like. The flavor they give the meat is fairly subtle, but I feel like the real impact is in the skin. A good, well-seasoned brine gives you some of the best turkey skin you’ve ever had.

How to Make the Turkey Brine

Make your brine by bringing 1 quart of water to a boil, dissolving the salt and then adding in the sage, citrus, and other seasonings.

Let this cool slightly, then stir in the rest of the water to bring the brine down to room temperature. Lukewarm is also fine. You just don’t want the brine to be piping hot when you pour it over the turkey.

If you don’t have quite enough brine solution to cover your turkey, just make more at a ratio of 1 quart water to 1/4 cup kosher salt. Let it cool before pouring it over the turkey.

How Long to Brine Turkey?

Brine your turkey for 12 to 24 hours. The longer the better, but honestly, even a quick brine does wonders for the turkey. If you only have a few hours before it needs to go in the oven, then it’s still worth doing.

Be sure to keep your turkey covered and refrigerated while brining.

How to Cook a Brined Turkey

Once brined, cook the turkey as usual— just pat it dry and carry on with your recipe! Two notes:

  • Brined Turkeys Cook Quicker: I find that brined turkeys tend to cook a little more quickly than regular turkeys, so start checking the temperature of the breast and thigh meat halfway through your estimated cooking time.
  • Stuffing a Brined Turkey: Yes, you can stuff a brined turkey if you so desire! This will increase the overall cooking time. Be sure to check that the internal temperature of the stuffing is at 165°F before removing the turkey from the oven.

Use this brine for these recipes!

While this recipe is intended for a whole turkey, you can also use it to brine turkey breasts, turkey legs, or even whole chicken. You only need enough brine to cover the meat. Stick to the basic ratio of 4 quarts of water and 1 cup of kosher salt and scale it up or down as needed.

  • Mom’s Roast Turkey
  • Chard and Prosciutto Stuffed Turkey Breast—brine the turkey breast before stuffing
  • Turkey Breast with Roasted Garlic Gravy
  • Turkey Breast Stuffed with Bacon, Cranberry, and Breadcrumb Stuffing—brine the turkey breast before stuffing
  • Roast Chicken with Carrots

Updated November 4, 2019 : We spiffed up this post to make it sparkle! No changes to the original recipe.

Easiest Turkey Brine Recipe

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," usually have already been brined.

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.

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!)

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.

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.

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.

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

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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Brining is a scientific process that adds moisture and sometimes other flavors to the turkey and keeps it from drying out when it’s roasted or fried. As the name implies, brining also adds a tremendous amount of salt to the turkey and not good for people on salt-restricted diets.

I have been roasting and frying turkeys for the past 10 years and I had my first try at brining a turkey this past Thanksgiving, and I must say there is a really big difference in taste and texture. If you enjoy eating Turkey with your family for the holidays or whenever then I will suggest that you definitely find a good Turkey Brine Recipe and incorporate the Brining process for your Turkey. You won’t regret it!

There are many different ways to prepare the perfect turkey but in my opinion, the best method is brining. Planning in advance to brine your turkey is a must but it’s an easy process that will turn out the most flavorful and satisfying results. Brining is very similar to baking.

It is a scientific process, so it is very important to prepare the correct ratio of salt to sugar to water. Basically, the salt concoction unwinds meat proteins to form a hollow tube. The brine solutions get in the protein, carrying the flavors of the herbs and the other ingredients.

The solutions are trapped inside, creating a deliciously juicy turkey that is hard to resist. So take a look around here at Turkey Brine Recipes and discover good tips and some delicious recipes to spice up your holiday turkey.


People usually have three main objections to brining a turkey:

I get it. I thought of each and everyone of these objections when Garry said we should try brining.

#1: Is brining a turkey hard to do?

Matter of fact, it&rsquos one of the easiest methods to guarantee you a bird that is tender, moist (every time!), and packed full of flavor.

Brining is the opposite of hard it&rsquos practically foolproof!

Not that you&rsquore a fool &ndash YOU&rsquoRE NOT!

#2: Isn&rsquot brining a turkey messy?

Not the way we do it (in a cooler).

The messiest part, if you can call it that, is cleaning the cooler afterwards to make sure none of the bacteria remains from the turkey.

Gotta hose, dishwashing soap, and a backyard?

#3: I don&rsquot have room to brine a turkey.

Folks usually think of using a turkey brine bag, then placing the turkey in the fridge.

The fridge that is already stuffed to the gills with other holiday food.

There&rsquos a story at the end of the post as to why we decided on a cooler.


Ingredients

  • 8 cups water
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 tbsp whole peppercorns
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 8-9 pound turkey breast

Right Before Roasting

Instructions

Tried this recipe? Let us know how it was!

My turkey breast fell over during the first hour, so it didn’t brown evenly. For the second hour, I placed the turkey breast on an apple and it stays straight.

Please let it rest at least an hour before slicing. It will still be quite warm in the middle! And really, isn’t that what gravy is for?

You can add root vegetables in the pan while baking the turkey. If your turkey breast seems to be getting too dark, you can tent after the first hour with foil – shiny side up. If you missed it, my butternut squash twice baked potatoes recipe can be found here. My scalloped zucchini will be posted soon!

If you like turkey, try out my thanksgiving meatballs – same taste without the fuss!


A turkey that’s been marinating in a brine does actually cook faster. Because it contains more moisture, it cooks faster than if it had not been brined. I typically cook mine for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, however this time could fluctuate a little depending on your oven. To ensure your turkey is cooked to perfection, check the temperature ever so often with a meat thermometer (insert it in the thickest part of the thigh). It will be cooked through when the temperature reaches 180°F.

Sure, just make sure to cook it a little longer. Turkeys that are stuffed take about 30 minutes longer to cook through than ones that aren’t. The stuffing soaks in some of the heat and moisture, which causes a difference in how the heat circulates throughout the turkey. I would just tack on an additional 30 minutes to the cooking time, so about 3 to 3 1/2 hours.


Variations

Citrus brine– Use citrus like lemons, limes, grapefruits and oranges.

Apple cider brine– Use half apple cider and half water for more flavor.

Smoked brine– Add liquid smoke to the solution.

Buttermilk brine– Add buttermilk to the solution for another acid to tenderize the meat.

Beer brine– Add your favorite beer to the solution for a flavor twist.

Add other spices– Such as bay leaves, juniper berries, whole star anise, allspice, cinnamon sticks, or nutmeg.

Make an Asian flavor– Add candied ginger, all spice, star anise, brown sugar, and a little soy sauce.


Salting and Wet Brining

What is a wet brine? Wet brining refers to a basic high concentration of salt and water solution. This process allows the salt to penetrate and tenderize the poultry resulting in tender, juicy meat that’s seasoned well. Because lean meat dries out easily a salt brine works by locking in moisture and makes the turkey taste juicier.

Short Brine Vs Overnight Brine

Equally important to salt to water ratio is the length of brining. Longer brines result in more juicy meat and any brining length is better than none at all. A short brine time will work but it’s not as good as a longer brine such as overnight. However, brining a turkey too long can result in over salty meat. Stick to the salt to water ratio and adjust the time accordingly. Additionally, if you’re brining a turkey overnight you’ll need to adjust the salt to water ratio. If you’re not ready to cook the bird right after brining, it should be removed from the solution then covered and placed in the refrigerator up to 24 hours. This is perfectly safe and some chefs swear by it. More on brine ratios and time at the end of the post.

Basic Salt and Water Brine Ratios

The key to creating the perfect Thanksgiving turkey is to use the correct salt to water ratio and chilling time.

TABLE SALT: For a quick turkey brine using table salt, use the ratio of 1 cup salt per gallon of water. For an overnight brine, use the ratio of 1/2 cups salt per gallon of water. Note that the longer the brine, the less salt it needs.

KOSHER SALT: Substitute 1.5 to 2 cups kosher salt for 1 cup of table salt. For a quick 4 hour brine using kosher salt, use the ratio of 1.5 – 2 cups salt per gallon of water.


What Does Brining Do To Turkey?

Soaking poultry in brine does three things that improve the overall dining experience.

  1. Brining seasons the meat all the way through , not just on the surface, for the best possible flavor.
  2. Brining locks in moisture, plumps the poultry, and lightens the color of the meat, for the most tender juicy bite.
  3. The salt alters the skin quality, so it bakes to a crispy golden brown.

Pretty good results, don’t you think?


Easy Turkey Brine

  • 3 cups water
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 3, 2x3-inch orange zest peels
  • 6-8 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 6 whole cloves
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • &frac13 cup bourbon
  • 1 quart ice
  • 1 split bone-in turkey breast (3.5-4.5 pounds)

Roast Turkey Breast

  • 1 large onion, cut into 1-inch wedges
  • 1 large orange, cut into 1-inch wedges
  • 6-7 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
  • pinch salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

Basic Turkey Brine

When Thanksgiving approaches, there's no shortage of discussions about the best way to roast a turkey because a dry one is a big disappointment. Time and time again, brining comes up as a key way to help ensure a juicier, tastier holiday turkey. Water, salt, sugar, garlic, and herbs make up this quick turkey brine for a 12 -to 15-pound bird. (Dry brines are different altogether and don't involve submerging the turkey in salty, herbed water.)

Once the brine has come together, let it cool. Some people like to put the turkey in an extra-large resealable plastic bag inside a cooler loaded with ice, which makes it easier to pour the brine in and even easier to move the turkey around it also doesn't take up precious space in your refrigerator at a time of year when space is at a premium. You can use a cooler or simply add the turkey and the brine to a large plastic container, then place a plate and a large can on top of the container to hold the turkey down and prevent it from floating around. You want the turkey to stay in contact with the liquid.



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