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How to Brine Your Thanksgiving Turkey


How to Brine Your Thanksgiving Turkey

It’s that time of year again, and I feel my mission in life is to spread the word about brining your turkey.  Do you brine? Are you asking yourself what in the world “brining a turkey” is anyway? Brining is simply soaking the turkey – marinating if you will – in a salty solution before you cook it.  It’s suggested that you soak the turkey in brine 12-24 hours, so you’ll need to plan ahead. Don’t worry, this won’t make it taste salty, and for goodness sakes, don’t TASTE the brine! It’s to soak the turkey in, not eat. 😉

Why brine?  Someone on my local Freecycle cafe told me about brining a few years ago. I decided to try it, and let me say this as eloquently as possible: “Once you Brine, you’ll NEVER go back!” The salt solution breaks down the turkey’s molecular structure, acting as an extreme meat tenderizer.  I’ve never had a more moist, tasty and tender turkey. It is really amazing!

While you’re in planning mode, check out Butterball’s conversion charts which include:

*** And don’t miss all our fantastic Thanksgiving (and other) recipes at

Gimmie’s Brine Recipe for Thanksgiving Turkey

What you’ll need:

  • A day. It’s suggested that you soak the turkey in brine 1 hour per pound* before cooking. You’ll want to brine a non-frozen turkey. If you can buy it that way, all the better since frozen turkeys are often treated with a salt solution.
  • Brining container.  They sell brining bags [] [Bed Bath & Beyond] [Williams Sonoma]. Technically, you can use any large food-grade bag (they don’t recommend trash bags, especially those that are scented or treated with chemicals). Or, use a tub, a bucket, a large pot, even a cooler – something that will house your turkey and the liquid brine, AND fit inside your refrigerator. I got mine at my local crash n dent store for $1!
  • Room in the fridge. Refrigerator space is prime real estate the day before Thanksgiving, so plan ahead that you’ll need to soak your bird in a cool spot for a day ahead.  Some use a cooler and pack it with ice. If you’re in a cold weather state, you may be able to keep it outdoors as long as it’s contained inside something critters can’t get to it.


  • 2 cups kosher salt
  • 2 cups sugar (white or brown)
  • 2 gallons water (orange juice or apple cider can be substituted for some of the water)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup of dried herbs and spices (whatever you like: sage, oregano, thyme, basil, cloves, cinnamon, etc.)
  • Orange peels or slices (and/or lemon peels or slices)
  • 1 Tablespoon cracked black peppercorn
  • lemon or orange slices
  • crushed garlic cloves


  1. In large stockpot over high heat, combine half the water, salt, sugar and optional herbs/spices. Stir until sugar and salt have dissolved but don’t let it boil. Remove from heat and let cool.
  2. Put turkey in brining bag or container of choice, breast side down, cover turkey with cooled brine and add the rest of the water/juice/cider and orange or lemon slices or peels. You can add ice to cool it down more. Then seal the bag, removing as much air as possible. Keep turkey at 40 degrees Farenheit with either ice or by refrigerating for one hour per pound.*  Don’t over brine or your turkey will be salty.
  3. Remove from brine, scoop out herbs, spices and peels and spread on skin. Brush turkey with oil or melted butter and cook as desired (roasted, smoked, baked, etc.) until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Farenheit. Remaining brine can be discarded.
  4. Roast as you usually would

* Brine for one hour per pound.  e.g. a 15 pound bird will soak in brine for 15 hours before cooking.

TIPS: You can store a brined turkey for up to a day before cooking it. Don’t leave it in the brine longer than 1 hour per pound.

An alternative to making your own brine is using a prepackaged brine (which includes a brining bag!), such as Fire & Flavor, which I’m trying out for the first time this year. Check out their how-to video!