Easy Recipe to Brine a Turkey

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Looking for an easy recipe to brine a turkey?

I gots one for ya! (if you can’t wait, scroll to bottom of page for printable recipe)

Get ready for the easiest way to brine a turkey and one of the most delicious birds you’ll ever eat.

brining turkey in cooler

Years ago, Garry read about how to brine a turkey and he wanted to try one for the holidays.

We researched the method, made a few adjustments, and what follows is our happy experience.

We brine a turkey for Thanksgiving every year we host, with great success, and you can too!

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?

No!

Matter of fact, it’s 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’s practically foolproof!

Not that you’re a fool – YOU’RE NOT!

#2: Isn’t 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?

Easy cleanup!

#3: I don’t 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.

Yeah, no.

We tried that.

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

Can you smoke a brined turkey?

Yes!

Since we typically smoke ours for hours on the pit, brining seemed like the perfect companion.

Why?

It’s easy to dry out a smoked turkey that spends hours cooking (no matter what method you use).

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.

Why brine a turkey?

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.

Most people think that when you brine a turkey or chicken, that the end result will be an overly salty beast.

So. Not. True.

The opposite is true: when you brine poultry, the end result is tender moist deliciousness that most people would love to replicate.

Think of brining as internal basting.

I’m gonna show you how!

How To Brine a Turkey

GET REEEEEEADY TO BRINE!

TURKEY BRINING 101

The ratio of salt to water in brine can vary wildly, depending on your source.

Do a quick Google search and you’ll see what I mean.

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.

Turkey Brine Ratio:

* 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

That’s it. 

Nope, not kidding. 

Seriously…that’s it!

Step-by-step recipe for two 12-13 pound turkeys:

Use half the amounts in the following recipe for one bird. (we always do two birds, because it’s not much more work and there’s always room on the pit. we debone one for future meals and stick in the freezer!)

For those short on time: there’s a printable recipe at the end of this post, if that’s what yer heart desires.

1: Thaw the turkey and remove bagged giblets.

Fun story: When I was newly married, I called Butterball (after I had already stuck the turkey in the oven to roast), because they didn’t include the bag of goodies with my turkey.

How dare they!

Turns out, the bag was hidden under the flap.

#newb #soembarrassed #ithappensmoreoftenthanyouthink

2: Give the turkey a good rinse.

Then, pat dry.

No need to wash it with soap – don’t do that!

3: Pour 4 gallons of water into cooler. (MAKE SURE COOLER STOPPER IS IN POSITION TO PREVENT DRAINING!)

The easiest way to do this is to buy 4 gallons of water in one gallon jugs and empty those into the cooler.

I mean, you could do it the redneck way and use your hose, but…NOOOOO!

4: Add 2 cups of salt.  Stir well.

Kosher salt – always (there’s a note below as to why)

5: Add two cups of sugar. Stir Well.

White table sugar.

Don’t be afraid!

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

In the pics below, you can see it’s very simple seasonings.

Don’t let that slow you down.

Add what makes ya happy.

7: Submerge turkeys. 

Make sure they are fully covered by the brine.

See what I mean about using a cube cooler?

Perfection.

These two bad boys were covered by about 2-3 inches of liquid.

Brine a Turkey the Easy Way

8: Add enough ice to cover turkeys.

We used a 20 pound bad of ice, mainly because it was a warm evening.

If you live where the temps are cold at night, you don’t have to use so much.

The ice is to ensure the turkeys don’t spoil.

The Easy Way to Brine a Turkey

9: Securely close lid on cooler and leave for 24 hours. 

Again, the ice will keep everything safe and cool.

Check on them periodically to make sure the ice hasn’t melted.

And yes, it feels completely weird leaving the turkeys in a cooler outside for 24-hours.

10: Take out turkeys.

Rinse thoroughly, especially the inside cavity. 

Smoke.  Roast.  Grill.  Whatever rocks your socks.

Didn’t I tell ya it was going to be easy?!

This is truly an easy recipe to brine a turkey.

Turkey brine recipes:

Once you have mixed your perfect ratio of salt, sugar and water, then you have to decide what else to add to your brine recipe.

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

Can’t go wrong with simple spices.

When we brine for ourselves, we get more creative.

We’ve used lemons and herbs and anything that speaks to us from our spice pantry.

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

CALIENTE!

You really can’t go wrong.

Turkey Brining Tips:

Before ya go, here are the tips worth knowing.

~ A cube cooler is the way to go.

I know the 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.

Remember earlier, how I said there was a story about why I don’t recommend using a brining bag for a turkey? 

The first year we brined a turkey, we bought a turkey brining bag. When filled, it was flimsy and incredibly slippery and awkward to maneuver.

As we made our way to the garage fridge, where we planned on storing it overnight, we kept shouting to each other to BE CAREFUL!

The bag heard us and had the last laugh; it split open steps away from the fridge.

All we could do was stand there, dumbfounded, watching gallons of sticky brine form a mighty river, flowing through our garage, down the driveway and into the street.

It smelled delicious, but was a beast to clean up.

Sure, now we can laugh…

Trust me, a cooler works best.

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

You don’t want to invite salmonella to your next event.

~ 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.

I ain’t even kidding.

Anyone tastes your brined to perfection turkey (smoked or roasted to perfection) is gonna want to marry you.

This is truly the easy way to brine a turkey.

Now get to brining, mah babies!

Easy Recipe to Brine a Turkey

Easy Recipe to Brine a Turkey

Yield: 1-2 brined turkeys

Get ready for an easy recipe to brine a turkey. Once you brine, you'll never go back.

Ingredients

  • 2 12-13 pound turkeys

Brine:

  • 4 gallons of water
  • 10-20 pounds of ice
  • 2 cups Kosher salt
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup whole peppercorns
  • Various spices that you choose

Instructions

Remove bag of giblets and and organs from turkey/s cavity.

Wash and pat dry turkey/s.

Place water in cube cooler.

Add 2 cups of salt and stir well.

Add 2 cups sugar and stir well.

Add peppercorns. Stir well.

Submerge turkey/s, making sure there is 2-3 inches of liquid brine covering them.

Add ice to cover completely. Don't skimp!

Cover cooler tightly and let brine overnight.

In morning, check to make sure ice is still intact - add more if necessary.

After 24-hour period, take turkey out of brining liquid, rinse off, then pat dry.

You are now ready to cook!

Notes

* We use a ratio of 1 gallon of water to 1/2-1 cup of kosher salt.

* We use a ratio of 1 gallon of water to 1/2-1 cup of sugar.

* We've used lemons and herbs and anything that speaks to us from our spice pantry.

* You can also add other liquids like white wine or hot sauces. Go nuts!

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 32 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving:Calories: 405 Total Fat: 14g Saturated Fat: 4g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 9g Cholesterol: 201mg Sodium: 7286mg Carbohydrates: 15g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 13g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 53g
Since you will not be eating the brine as a "serving" the nutritional information is NOT accurate. Only some of the brine will make its way into the turkey muscle.

Original Post: December 13, 2013 ~ Updated Post: September 18, 2019

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Comments

  1. Interesting…I have never done this…thanks for the all this information!

  2. Gah! You’ve saved me (and my fridge)! I’ve used a stock pot and brining bag for a couple years and it’s a MESS, plus a pain in the patootie to get in and out of the fridge. I shall use a cooler this year… and give thanks for you sharing the smart idea!

  3. This was interesting, not that I like turkey but still it was interesting

  4. KC @ Average: More or Less says

    I’m gonna try this the very first time my daddy lets someone besides him cook the turkey.

    • We usually make a turkey for our house, even if Thanksgiving isn’t hosted by us because we love it so much! Once you make this, your daddy is gonna be all: tag! you’re it!

  5. Oh this is excellent! I have always wondered how to brine a turkey without having an extra refrigerator. Our fridge is always STUFFED at Thanksgiving and I never thought we could brine our turkey unless we had an extra fridge or had one of our relatives do it and bring it over early to cook. THANK YOU!

  6. I have always brined the turkey and those are the exact proportions of salt to water I use. Whole allspice berries really enhance the flavor, and the turkey is always tender and juicy. That being said, I must say that, I would have never have thought of using the ice and a cooler. The hardest one I ever did was a 24 pounder for the church potluck dinner last year. I wish I had known about the cooler then. Thanks a bunch.

  7. So, you dont cook this Brine at all. I’ve seen so many recipes but they all include bringing the brine to a boil, then adding cold water???

    • Nope, no cooking the brine. We basically add cold water to the cooler, add the seasonings, stir, then place turkey in the brine. Add ice. Cover. Wait customary bringing time. Done.

  8. I can attest to one of those flimsy brine bag messes! It totally sucks cleaning raw turkey juice off all the surfaces in your kitchen the night before Thanksgiving. Thanks for the tips!

  9. I am a long-time brine devotee. Now that my daughter-in-law hosts Thanksgiving, she depends on me to arrive a day early (she and my son live an airplane ride away), make the brine and plop the turkey in it. Last year, she found a pre-brined bird at Trader Joe’s. It was OK but not as good as the DIY version –tho a lot less messy. Hoping to return to the self-brine and maybe buy her a small cooler as a gift.

  10. This is a great breakdown! Brining is a go-to for us to have that perfect turkey every time. Now I’m ready for Thanksgiving dinner! (;

    -Jennifer
    jennifermaune.com

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