Brining a Turkey is a game-changer when it comes to producing a juicy, flavorful turkey. This turkey brine recipe is the EASIEST method for producing the most flavorful Roasted Turkey you have ever had! With these step-by-step directions for how to brine a turkey, you will be a rock star at your holiday meal with very little effort on your part.
I don't believe we can talk about Thanksgiving or Roasted Turkey without talking about Alton Brown.
That man is a genius. I mean seriously, is there any recipe he has not mastered?!
When I am looking for a hands-down winner, I turn to Alton's techniques.
So, therefore, when I was faced to cook a turkey the first time on my own, I turned to Alton Brown's method to brine a turkey before roasting.
Why Brine a Turkey?
Brining is the process of soaking meat in a salt water solution before cooking.
As the meat sits in the brine, it soaks up the salt water, which flavors the meat and adds moisture to the piece of meat.
As you know, turkey has a reputation for being on the dry side and even lacking a bit of flavor on its own. However, when you brine a turkey, it soaks up the flavor and stays nice and moist. In fact, a brined turkey is so juicy and so flavorful it does not even need gravy!
How to Brine a Turkey
Alton Brown is a genius, but his recipes tend to be complex or require special equipment.
I took his turkey brine recipe and changed it up for the average home cook. My method for preparing a turkey brine produces just as delicious roast turkey as Alton Brown's method but saves you tons of money as there is no need for any special or expensive ingredients.
Ingredients Needed for Turkey Brine
- Vegetable and Fruit Scraps: In the weeks leading up to the time when I plan to brine a turkey, I store my vegetable and fruit scraps, along with wilted herbs in a large freezer-safe bag in the freezer. Carrot peels, onion peels, ends of celery, garlic peels, orange peels, apple cores/peels, stems of rosemary and thyme are all perfect to use for flavoring your turkey brine. Simply add the herbs/peels as you have them to the bag stored in the freezer and you will be ready to use them for the turkey brine. If you don't want to take the effort to save your scraps, plan to use onions, garlic, apples, celery, and fresh herbs to prepare the brining liquid for the turkey.
- Brown Sugar: Brown sugar dissolves in the brine perfectly to add a bit of sweetness to the turkey.
- Kosher salt: Lots of salt--that is what flavors and tenderizes the meat. It is key!
- Spices: I recommend using peppercorns, fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, and dried bay leaves, as they all pair well with the natural flavors of the turkey.
- Water: You can use either water, apple juice, chicken broth, turkey broth, or vegetable broth, for your turkey brine. I find the difference in flavor to be negligible so I stick with water.
- Turkey: Before you proceed with preparing your turkey brine, keep in mind that this works best on a fresh turkey. A frozen turkey has been injected with a sodium solution and the turkey will not be able to fully absorb the brine. That said, I have brined a frozen turkey before and it still tastes better than NOT brining a turkey.
- Stock Pan: You will need a large pot to prepare the turkey brine. If your pan is large enough to fit your turkey and brine AND fit in your refrigerator, you will not need an additional bag for brining.
- An Extra Large Ziploc Big Bag or Brining Bag: Some people use brining bags to brine their turkeys but they can be expensive and/or hard to find around the holidays. Others use a large cooler and place the turkey outside to keep cold overnight while it is in the brine. But if you live in the south, like me, it may be too warm for that bird to sit outside safely all night. Instead, I purchase an extra large ziploc bag that holds the turkey in the brine and is easy to find and inexpensive.
How to Make Turkey Brine
- Place salt, sugar, herbs, vegetable and fruit scraps in a large stock pan.
- Cover with cold, filtered water or chicken/turkey stock.
- Bring brine to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, or until sugar and salt have dissolved in water.
- Strain the brine liquid of solids (if desired--or just discard with brining bag after removing the turkey from brine.)
- Remove from heat and cool for 30 minutes, before storing in the refrigerator to cool the remaining way.
- If you did not plan in advance and are making your brine immediately before brining your turkey, add 10 cups of ice cubes to the brine to cool down immediately. You NEVER EVER want to pour a hot brine solution over a cold turkey, as that will begin to cook the turkey and can cause bacteria growth.
Steps to Brining a Turkey
- Three to four days before you are planning to cook your turkey, begin thawing your turkey in the refrigerator, if you are using a frozen turkey--but remember a fresh turkey is best when it comes to using a brine.
- Two days before roasting your turkey, make your turkey brine. This will give the brine time to cool fully and save you time the night before your holiday.
- On the night before you plan to roast your turkey, place your thawed and cleaned out turkey into the large Ziploc Bag, brining bag, or large stock pan.
- Pour the chilled brining liquid over the turkey.
- Pour enough cold water into the container or bag to submerge the turkey completely in the brining solution. This is about 1 gallon of cold water.
- Seal the brining bag securely or place a lid on your large stock pan.
- Refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, remove the turkey from the brine and rinse the turkey to remove excess brine. If you did not do so already, strain off the brine and discard the solids in the trash--you don't want those solids going down your kitchen drain!
- Place the brined turkey onto a large roasting pan and pat the turkey dry with a paper towels. This will help the turkey skin to brown evenly.
- Sanitize your sink and counters with bleach to prevent food poisoning.
How to Roast a Brined Turkey
- Preheat your oven to 500 degrees F.
- Roast the turkey on the lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes.
- Insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
- Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. A 14 to 16-pound turkey should require a total of 2 to 2 ½ hours of roasting.
- Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil for 15 minutes before carving.
Pro Tips for Brining a Turkey
- Remember it is best to use a fresh turkey for brining. A frozen turkey has been injected with a sodium solution and the turkey will not be able to fully absorb the brine. That said, I have brined a frozen turkey before and it still tastes better than NOT brining a turkey.
- I prefer to place the turkey and brining bag in an empty produce drawer in my fridge. That way in case anything leaks from the brine, everything else in your fridge is safe from raw turkey juices.
- I also recommend pouring the brine over the turkey in the fridge (place turkey in brining bag and place in the produce drawer, then pour brine and remaining water over turkey and seal.) This is much easier than carrying the brine and turkey to the fridge.
- On the morning of roasting your turkey, remove the drawer the brining bag is in (you may need 2 people to carry the drawer depending on how often you lift weights!!) and place next to your sink. Ensuring that everything is removed from your sink and nearby areas (so no turkey juice is splattered on something that is meant to be eaten)
- Be sure to bleach the heck out of everything around the sink and wash up!! You don't want to experience food poisoning!
- If you need to make your turkey brine the day of brining your turkey, prepare brine as directed. Place ten cups of ice in the brine to cool completely before placing the turkey into the brine.
Side Dishes to Serve with Brined Turkey
- Green Bean Casserole from Scratch
- Homemade Citrus Spiked Cranberry Sauce
- Green Beans Almondine
- Sweet Potato Casserole
- Twice Baked Butternut Squash
If you tried this turkey brine recipe, I would love for you to leave a comment and review below
The Best Turkey Brine
- 1 cup kosher salt
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1-3 sprigs rosemary
- 1-3 sprigs thyme
- 2-4 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon peppercorns
- 1 cup carrot peels or 2-3 large carrots
- 2 cups onion pieces or 2 chopped onions
- 1 cup celery pieces or 6 stalks of celery
- 1 cup apple peels or 1 apple sliced
- 10-12 cups water
Turkey Brine Recipe
- Place the salt, sugar, herbs, peppercorns, carrots, onions, celery, and apples into a large stock pan.
- Cover with cold, filtered water or chicken/turkey stock.
- Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, or until sugar and salt have dissolved in water into the brine.
- Remove from the heat and cool for 30 minutes, before storing in the refrigerator to cool the remaining way.
- At this point, you can strain off the solids from your brine. I typically leave them in the brine and then discard with the brining bag in the morning after removing the turkey from the brine.
How to Brine Turkey
- On the night before you plan to roast your turkey, place your thawed and cleaned out turkey into the large Ziploc Bag or brining bag.
- Pour the brining liquid over the into the bag.
- Pour cold water in to cover the bird completely in liquid–this is about 1 gallon of cold water.
- Seal the brining bag and refrigerate the turkey in the brine overnight--for at least 8 hours or up to 18 hours.
- Before roasting the turkey, remove the turkey from the brine and rinse off the excess salt on the turkey. Blot the turkey dry with paper towels.
- Preheat your oven to 500 degrees F.
- Roast the turkey on the lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. A 14 to 16-pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 ½ hours of roasting.
- Remove the turkey from the oven after it reaches the desired temperature and let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil for 15 minutes before carving.
- This recipe is for a 10-14 pound turkey. Double for a larger turkey or cut in half for a turkey breast.
- It is best to brine a fresh turkey that has not been injected with a sodium solution.
- Instead of veggie and fruit scraps, you can use 2 chopped onions, 6 stalks of celery, 1 chopped apple, and 2 large carrots.
- Feel free to use more or less vegetables (the salt is the most important part of the turkey brine.)
- Use water, stock, broth, or apple juice for the brining liquid.
This post was published originally in 2017 but has been updated with new tips in November 2019.