What is a Turkey Brine?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A turkey brine is a brine in which a turkey is soaked prior to cooking. Brining imparts more flavor to the turkey, and can also be used with other white meats such as chicken and pork, in addition to birds such as goose. Brining is often recommended for meats which tend to overcook, as a way of keeping the meat moist while adding flavor. While a turkey brine can take several days to prepare, some cooks feel that the results are worth it.

A roast turkey.
A roast turkey.

The brine itself needs to contain one cup salt (180 grams) and one cup sugar (190 grams) to every gallon (3.8 liters) of water. In addition, most people add spices which are intended to enrich the flavor. Some people use apple juice, cider, or even beer as the liquid in a turkey bring for extra flavor. Enough liquid must be prepared for the bird to be fully submerged.

A turkey.
A turkey.

The brine ingredients need to be cooked together and refrigerated for at least eight hours before a refrigerated bird is slipped into the turkey brine. Then, the mixture should be refrigerated, or packed into a cooler or bucket with ice and stored in a cool place. Many people like to start the turkey brine the night before they plan to cook, or even the morning of the cooking, depending on when the bird is slated to go to the oven, with at least four hours of brining being needed, and more than 12 being potentially problematic.

Turkey brine should include one cup of salt per gallon of water.
Turkey brine should include one cup of salt per gallon of water.

During the brining process, the brine penetrates deeply into the turkey, carrying flavors along with it. It also denatures the proteins in the meat, which helps them to hold moisture. When the bird is cooked, it will stay moist and tender, and areas which often dry out, such as the breast, will stay moist even if they are a little overcooked. This benefit of turkey brine makes the turkey more likely to be a success. In addition, a turkey brine will cut down on cooking time by around half an hour.

The major drawback to a turkey brine is that the skin does not crackle up during cooking, and in the case of deep fried birds, the skin can blacken. Fortunately, people can get the best of both worlds if they start the turkey brine the morning before they cook, and then pull the turkey out in the evening and let it sit uncovered under refrigeration overnight. This will allow the skin to crisp up nicely during the cooking process. Simply patting the bird dry after brining can also help.

Gravy made from a brined turkey may be too salty.
Gravy made from a brined turkey may be too salty.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


When choosing a brine recipe for a turkey, is there a right and a wrong way to choose? I guess what I'm asking is, are there some brines that are more suitable for certain types of turkeys (larger, smaller, breast, dark meat, etc) and some that are not?

I had heard that there was actually something called a smoked turkey brine that could give your turkey a smoked taste, and of course there's good old salt turkey brine, but which one should I choose?

I am planning on brining our Christmas turkey for the first time this year, and need all the help I can get!

Thanks, y'all.


If you really want to get a kick out of your turkey, then use a bourbon turkey brine. My grandmother is an old-time Southern lady, so she is all into putting alcohol in food. It really does give that turkey a really complex taste, and something about the alcohol makes the meat extra tender too.

It's really easy -- here's Grandma Sims best bourbon turkey brine recipe:

Take a pound of salt, two pounds of brown sugar, one and a half cups of bourbon, a gallon or so of ice water, a fourth a cup of cloves, and a fourth a cup of peppercorn, and mix it all together in a big old brining bag.

Let that sit in your refrigerator overnight, and in the morning, you will have the best "drunk turkey" you could possibly imagine.


Brining the turkey with a really good salt turkey brine recipe really does make a huge difference. If you want to get truly tender, flavorful meat then it's really the only way to go.

Just remember to give your turkey enough time to brine -- that is the number one mistake that inexperienced turkey briners make, taking the turkey out of the brine too soon, or trying to rush the brining process.

So plan your Thanksgiving day well, and make sure you leave enough time for that brine to soak all the way into the meat. A little forethought there will really make a lot of difference.

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