Turkey Brine Basics

brined turkey with herbs in pot


Turkey Smoke Team

You’ve heard of brines, but why use one? Brining isn’t a new technique. In fact, it’s an age-old method of preserving meat using salt. Think pre-refrigeration, before the days of perfectly climate-controlled meat cases.

For our purposes, brining really has one main goal: keeping the turkey tender and extra juicy while it cooks. Plus, herbs and spices added to the brine help to boost the flavor profile of your bird. The idea behind brining is that salt penetrates the turkey meat, helping it retain moisture while cooking on the smoker or grill.

Now is probably the time to tell you that there are actually two types of brines–wet and dry. One uses liquid and, you guessed it, the other uses dry ingredients only. We’re going to focus on wet brines for your turkey.

Turkey Brine Recipes

If you’ve searched for brine recipes, you know weeding through the results can be a little bit overwhelming. The fact of the matter is that a brine can be as simple or complex as you want! There’s nothing wrong with keeping it basic.

Sure, you can buy a brine mix. There are some great options on the market. But you can also make one at home with just a few simple ingredients. After all, brining itself is a simple concept. The most basic brine recipe is just water and salt at a ratio of one cup of salt to one gallon of water, but we can do better than that. Develop additional flavor for your turkey by adding fresh herbs, seasonings, citrus or even apple juice to the brine.

Here are some of our favorite grilled and smoked turkey brine recipes to get your creative juices flowing:

Pro Turkey Tip: Some whole turkeys and turkey breasts are already injected with a solution including water and salt. If you’re using one of these products, you may want to consider reducing your brine time. Just make sure to read the label on your turkey or ask your grocery store’s meat department.

Brining Tips

Besides your turkey and brine ingredients, the only other essential you will need for a successful turkey brining adventure is a large container for submerging the turkey that can fit in the refrigerator or stay iced down.

We recommend using a food-safe bucket, a Cambro container with a lid, a large stockpot or a sealable brine bag. You’ll need to keep the turkey completely submerged. Make sure your brining container is large enough for your cut of turkey and the liquid. No need to cry over spilt turkey brine.

Food safety is key, so keep your turkey chilled throughout the brining process. Brining time will vary based on the brine and size of the turkey. Generally speaking, overnight is sufficient.

Pro Turkey Tip: Place a heavy plate or a gallon-sized Ziploc bag of ice over top of your turkey to keep it submerged in the brining liquid.

Once finished, discard the brine. You may hear that you should wash your turkey after brining. But take it from the turkey experts, don’t wash the turkey. That only spreads bacteria. All you need to do is pat it with a wet paper towel to remove excess salt.

Well, that’s that. You’ve mastered the brine basics and one of the secrets to tender, flavorful turkey. Now, on to the smoker or grill!