How to Brine a Turkey
Intimidated by brining? Don’t be! Brining your Thanksgiving turkey is the simplest way to ensure a juicy and flavorful bird, and we’ve included the answers to any questions that may arise below. For a quick demonstration on how to brine a turkey, watch our instructional video. Happy brining!
What will you need?
- Turkey (up to 25 pounds), fresh or thawed
- Brine mix – try The Spice Hunter Original Turkey Brine or NEW! The Spice Hunter Lemon, Garlic & Herb Turkey Brine
- Brining bag – included with The Spice Hunter Turkey Brine
- 2 gallons water, divided
How long will it take?
- Up to 24 hours brining a fresh turkey
- If you’re using a frozen turkey, thaw it first and brine for no longer than 12 hours
How to brine a turkey up to 25 pounds:
- Prepare brine: Stir brine mix into 1 gallon of boiling water until salt is dissolved, remove from heat. Cool brine thoroughly and refrigerate until the brine is fully chilled.
- Add brine: Place turkey in brining bag (included with both flavors of The Spice Hunter Turkey Brine) or in a large container such as a cooler. Add chilled brine and add 1 additional gallon of cool water. Make sure the turkey is fully submerged in the brine; add a few cups of additional water if the turkey is not submerged.
- Refrigerate: Keep refrigerated or on ice in a large cooler for 12-24 hours. We recommend fresh, but if using a frozen turkey (thawed), brine for no longer than 12 hours.
- Rinse: Rinse turkey with cold water, pat dry, and cook as desired. Note: brined meats cook faster. If you’re used to cooking an unbrined turkey or chicken for a certain length of time, start checking the internal temperature about ⅔ of the way through the normal cooking process.
For frequently asked questions, see below.
- What is brining?
Brining is a method of soaking meat in a water-based salt mixture before cooking to lock in moisture. Brines are typically a blend of salt and other ingredients for infusing flavor – this can be anything from sugar, herbs, spices, and pepper to dried fruits – into your meat.
- Why should I brine my turkey?
Brining increases meats’ water capacity, so brined meat is incredibly moist. An additional advantage for busy Thanksgiving hosts is that brining eliminates the need for basting to keep the turkey moist, allowing for time and attention to be devoted to preparing other parts of the traditional feast.
- How does brining make meat more flavorful?
The salt in a brine interacts with the muscle proteins in meat to actually dissolve part of the muscle filaments, which increases the water-holding capacity of the muscle protein cells. The cells retain this extra water throughout cooking, therefore reducing water loss. Brining works on any poultry, and is also good on pork.
- Won’t all that salt make my turkey too salty?
No. The dissolved salt helps the turkey absorb water, so the bird retains more moisture than it does salty taste. Additionally, any extra brine is rinsed off the turkey before it is roasted.
- Why can't I brine my thawed, frozen turkey for 24 hours?
A turkey that has been frozen has already been injected with a saline solution, so brining (after thawing) should be no longer than 12 hours. Some fresh turkeys are also injected with a saline solution. They typically include a clear callout on the packaging, and should be brined for 12 hours maximum.
- Can’t I just make a brine myself?
Yes, you can make your own brine. The salt is the key to expanding meats’ water-holding capacity, which is how the brine keeps meat moist throughout cooking. Therefore, any brine must contain a heavy salt base. The other ingredients can be selected based on flavor preference, but The Spice Hunter recommends using fruits, herbs, and spices with a little sugar to counteract the saltiness of a brine base. Because you’ll want to include several different ingredients, it is likely more cost-effective to select our gourmet brine blend which is comprised of sea salt, brown sugar, cranberries, apples, garlic, orange peel, juniper berries, Malabar black peppercorns, thyme, rosemary, and sage. It has a great balance of fruit and herb flavors to complement the salt in the brine. We source our ingredients from the best growing regions worldwide so the flavors are sure to be strong and fresh.
- What does The Spice Hunter Original Turkey Brine taste like?
Original Turkey Brine is a savory blend of fruit and rosemary.
- What does The Spice Hunter Lemon, Garlic & Herb Turkey Brine taste like?
Lemon, Garlic & Herb Turkey Brine is a bright blend of citrus and garlic.
Preparing Your Bird
- What kind of turkey is best for brining?
Brining works well on both farm-fresh and store-bought turkeys. Make sure to fully de-feather and clean any bird before brining. If buying your turkey, make sure the bird is not pre-brined or self-basting as the end result will be overly salty.
- What size turkey works with this brine?
Turkeys up to 25 pounds work best with The Spice Hunter Turkey Brine.
- How much brine should I use for my bird?
For birds over 12 pounds, make the full brine recipe. For birds 4 pounds to 12 pounds, make half the brine recipe and refrigerate while brining for 12-24 hours. For birds under 4 pounds, make a quarter of the recipe.
- How far in advance of cooking my turkey can I brine it?
Brining within the 24 hours before cooking the bird is recommended, but you can brine your bird up to 2 days prior to cooking it as long as you rinse it well, pat it dry, and store it in a cooler or fridge.
- Can I stuff my bird after brining it?
Yes, you may stuff a bird that’s been brined. After the brine is rinsed off the bird, stuff then cook until done. The brown sugar and dried fruit in our brine will perfectly complement a sweet stuffing with cinnamon, apples, apricots, and chopped nuts, like our New England Apple Nut Stuffing, which is actually prepared separately for an even simpler option.
- Can I deep fry my bird after brining it?
Yes. You can prepare a brined turkey by any cooking method you choose. Be sure to carefully follow all the safety precautions for deep frying a turkey.
Storing Your Bird
- Do I need a special container to brine?
No. The Spice Hunter Turkey Brine pouch (available in Original and Lemon, Garlic & Herb flavors) comes with a brining bag that can fit a 25-pound turkey. Any container big enough to hold your turkey and the brine will work in a pinch – we recommend a (clean!) bucket, an ice chest or picnic cooler, or a garbage bag.
- Where do I store a turkey that is being brined?
Store your turkey in the refrigerator or on ice overnight, making sure the temperature does not exceed 40°F. If your turkey doesn’t fit in the refrigerator, store it in an ice chest or picnic cooler with ice, which will keep its temperature even.
Common Brining Issues
- My turkey is still frozen – can I brine it while it thaws in the refrigerator?
No. You will want to completely thaw your turkey before brining to make sure the proteins in the meat are able to fully absorb the brine.
- I left my turkey in the brine for more than 24 hours. Is it ruined?
While the bird will be safe to eat, your turkey may taste too salty. If it only brined for slightly longer than 24 hours, it will probably taste fine. Rinsing the brine off the bird for an extended time with cold water may also help.
- I poured hot brine liquid over my raw turkey. Should I be worried?
Unfortunately, the hot brine can begin to cook your turkey, which can make it susceptible to growing bacteria. In this case, we cannot guarantee the safety of your turkey and recommend that you start over so as not to risk contamination.
- I forgot to rinse off the brine before I baked my turkey. How will my turkey taste?
Your turkey will taste slightly or moderately salty, depending on how long it was in the brine. The majority of the salt will be in the juices that cook out, so if you’re planning to use the juices to make gravy be sure to taste and dilute accordingly.
- I didn’t brine for the full time listed. Will my turkey still be flavorful and moist?
Your turkey will have some additional flavor and moisture; how much depends on the length of time it was in the brine. Although less brining time will not negatively affect your turkey, it will not be as moist and flavorful as a bird brined for our recommended time of 12-24 hours.
- I didn’t add the second gallon of water when I placed my turkey in the chilled brine. What will this do to my turkey?
While the bird will be safe to eat, your turkey may taste too salty. If only a short time has passed, add the remaining water as soon as you remember. If it has already been more than a short time, your turkey may be salty. You can remove your turkey from the concentrated brine, rinse well, and keep refrigerated until ready to cook to reduce the effects of the concentrated brine.
- I forgot to refrigerate my turkey while brining. Can I still cook it?
Unfortunately, your turkey is unsafe to cook and eat. Meats need to be kept under 40°F at all times, even when brining.
- I cannot fit my brining turkey into the refrigerator. What can I do?
Place your brining container (bag, bucket, pail) in a large ice chest or other large container. Pour ice around the brining container and make sure the turkey stays under 40°F. Replace ice as needed to keep cold. Place the large container in a cool, dark place in your home (such as your basement or garage) to keep the ice frozen longer.
- What are some alternative uses for The Spice Hunter Turkey Brine?
Brining works well with any poultry as well as pork, so don’t limit yourself to turkey alone. Try the brine on whole chicken or pork roast for a crowd-pleasing main course. To brine 4 to 12 pounds of pork or poultry, make half the turkey brine recipe. For below 4 pounds, make one quarter of the recipe. Refrigerate while brining the meat according to the following times:
- Whole chicken: 6-12 hours
- Chicken pieces and pork roast: 4-8 hours
- Pork chops: 2-4 hours
- Can I use the brine on small birds like capons, Cornish game hens, or guinea hens?
Yes, just be sure to adjust the proportions accordingly. To brine up to 9 pounds of any whole small poultry, use half of our 11-ounce pouch and follow the turkey brine recipe, then brine for 4-8 hours.
- Can I brine a turducken?
We must admit that we have not tested our brine on a turducken. The technique of brining should work just fine, but we can’t tell you exactly how long you should leave it in the brine.
- Can turkey brine be used as a dry rub?
Unfortunately, there is too much salt in the brine to use it as a dry rub.
Health & Safety Information
- Is The Spice Hunter Turkey Brine kosher?
Yes, The Spice Hunter Turkey Brine is certified kosher by the Orthodox Union (OU) and carries the kosher symbol on the label.
- When does The Spice Hunter Turkey Brine expire?
The Spice Hunter Turkey Brine will retain its full flavor for up to 36 months after purchase.
- I didn’t use all of my brine. Can I save the rest for next Thanksgiving?
Absolutely. When dry, The Spice Hunter Turkey Brine will retain its full flavor for up to 36 months after purchase. Keep in mind you can also use this same brine to make moist and delicious pork and poultry anytime throughout the year.