10 Foolproof Steps to Brine a Turkey

Years ago, Husband wanted to brine a turkey for Thanksgiving.

Since we typically smoke ours for hours on the pit, brining seemed like a perfect companion because it’s easy to dry out a smoked turkey.

Smoked birds and tenderness aren’t words that usually go together, but throw in brining and you have a winner.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to smoke your turkey to benefit from brining; roasting a brined bird is just as delicious.

Brining used with any cooking method helps to retain moisture in the muscles and lends an unbelievable tenderness to the finished product.

Doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced cook or a newbie, brining is a simple technique any cook can utilize.

How To Brine a Turkey

Brining 101

Ratio of salt to water varies wildly depending on your source.

I’ll tell you how we did it and leave you to do some research on your own to determine what will work for your tastes.

* We use a ratio of 1 gallon of water to 1/2-1 cup of kosher salt. (salt makes the meat juicy by allowing the muscles to take in and retain water)

* We use a ratio of 1 gallon of water to 1/2-1 cup of sugar. (sugar acts as a browning agent)

* Herbs and other ingredient added to taste. (herbs and other spices act as the yum factor)

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* A cube cooler to immerse the turkey.

* Ice

BAM!  That’s it.

Here’s our step-by-step for two 12-13 pound turkeys.

You can half the amounts for one bird:

1) Thaw the turkey and remove bagged giblets.

2) Give the turkey a good rinse.

3) Pour 4 gallons of water into cooler (MAKE SURE STOPPER IS IN POSITION!).

4) Add 2 cups of salt.  Stir well.

5) Add two cups of sugar. Stir Well.

6) Add 1/2-1 cup uncrushed peppercorns and any other seasonings you want to try.

7) Submerge turkeys.  Make sure they are fully covered by the brine:

10 Foolproof Steps to Brine a Turkey

8) Add enough ice to cover turkeys:

10 Foolproof Steps to Brine a Turkey

9) Securely close lid on cooler and leave for 24 hours.  The ice will keep everything safe and cool.

10) Take out turkeys. Rinse thoroughly, especially the inside cavity.  Smoke.

When we’re preparing a brined turkey to share with others, we tend to use a very basic recipe like the one above.

When we brine for ourselves, we get more creative.

We’ve used lemons and herbs and basically anything we like from our spice pantry.

You can also add other liquids like white wine or hot sauces.


You really can’t go wrong.  Especially if you stick with the general ratios.

Bonus Tips:

~ I know the cooler idea may seem odd to many, but over the years we have discovered that this method works best.

If you use a flimsy brining bag, prepare to clean up spills.

One year we literally had 2-4 gallons that broke free from the bag, causing a mighty river to flow through our garage, down the driveway and into the street.

Sure, now we can laugh…so, trust me, a cooler works best.

You just need to remember to clean it thoroughly after using it to brine raw poultry.

~ Use Kosher salt.

There is a significant weight difference between table salt and Kosher salt and the two are not interchangeable here.

When you see the brine measurements of salt versus water, you can safely assume kosher salt is used.

~ Do not be afraid of the amount of salt in the brine.

In order to transfer the magic brine into the turkey, you need these amounts, otherwise your turkey is just bathing in salt water and that’s totally weird.

~ Humbly accept the praise heaped upon your head after all partake of your masterpiece.

Brining. Is. That. Simple.

Now get to it!

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  1. Shelly Bailey says

    You are FABULOUS, my friend!

    • I am laughing SO HARD right now! Thanks for the compliment. Wish it came with a ribbon, cause I’d wear it EVERYWHERE today! Then, I’d add jazz hands! ~I blame the holiday crazies~

  2. Okay, I don’t know why this intimidates me, but it does! Even with your directions which seem simple enough…Haha. Maybe I could brine something smaller. Can you brine a chicken?

    • Please, please, please don’t be intimidated. Try it once and you’ll wonder what frightened you. Yes, you can do a chicken. One gallon of water ought to do the trick and you can put it in a big pot, cover it, and put in fridge overnight (you wouldn’t need the ice if you place in fridge.). BE BRAVE, ASHLEY!

  3. I love your step by step directions, Mrs. Tucker, and I think I’m going to give this a try. I’ve been reading for so long that brining makes such a difference and you have laid it all out beautifully. Thanks so much. I found you at DIY Vintage Chic and will be a new follower. Great blog.

  4. Very helpful! I always brine my birds but I also always struggle to get it to fit in my fridge! I have heard of the cooler method but wasn’t sure how sanitary that would be. Thanks for helping it all make sense. 🙂 (Found you on Making Monday)

  5. The cooler is such a great idea! We tried this before but didn’t think to use something as big as a cooler. Thanks for linking this to Think Tank Thursday. I hope to see you again today. http://saving4six.com/2014/01/welcome-to-think-tank-thursday-62.html

    • Mrs. Tucker says

      The cooler idea was a great moment for us…especially after the fiasco of the bag. The great part is , other than not having to foll with a bag, is that it keeps the turkesy out of the fridge and at the perfect temp. Hope you try it. So easy!

  6. Definitely going to try this for New Years. As I live in Ottawa where the outdoor temp in winter can vary from 10 degrees above freezing to 25 degrees below freezing, I’m thinking about leaving it outside as long as it remains above the freezing mark. In any case the bird is 17 LBS and I’m wondering if the brining will affect the cooking time?

    Cheers, while I take another sip of my Pinot Grigio.

    • Brining does not affect cooking times. Once brined, cook as usual. Also, I have heard of folks keeping the bird outside if the temps stay within a safe range. Let me know what you think if you brine that bad boy! Also, the Pinot Grigio? Mmmmmm! Cheers, Gordon.

  7. My family has always used the cooler too, but to avoid any poultry contamination, we put the turkey and brine juices inside of the black trash bag, and add ice to the outside with salt and water too. This way we can rotate the ice adn water outside the bag, and the turkey brine measurements are not diluted… My grandmother taught me this and we do a 2-3 day brine… but its usually a 25# turkey at least!

  8. Thanks! I just moved and was looking for the brining recipe I have and today is the day to brine, I found this just in time. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!

  9. Added bonus, the cooler is zero waste!! I’ve been brining in a food safe 5 gallon bucket, but I like your cooler idea much better!!

  10. We are giving this a try this year. We got a 5 gallon bucket with a lid. We will see how is goes.

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