If you’re looking for an easy way to add flavor and moisture to your Thanksgiving turkey, look no further than this easy turkey brine recipe. There are two options: a dry brine and a wet brine. Both methods are simple and produce delicious results. So choose the option that fits your schedule and get ready to enjoy a juicy, flavorful turkey on Thanksgiving Day!
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Here’s the deal, if you’ve never used a brined turkey for your Thanksgiving feast… you’re missing out. Here’s a step by step guide for an easy turkey brine recipe to get the most delicious juicy turkey you’ll ever eat!
Who here has brined a turkey before?! If you haven’t, prepare for your life to change. It’s everything and this year’s recipe is beyond. It’s loaded with all sorts of aromatics that will infuse the bird with even more flavor.
Why should you brine a turkey and is it worth it?
Good question. Brining your turkey is a key step to keeping it moist once it’s cooked. Turkeys are mostly lean meat, which means there isn’t a lot of fat to help it from drying out. And really there’s nothing more disappointing than a dry piece of turkey at the Thanksgiving table.
How do you make a wet turkey brine?
During the brining process, you soak the turkey in a salt and water mixture (with other aromatics if you want to get jazzy) and the turkey absorbs that extra moisture from the liquid. (note: you’ll need a large vessel to store the turkey and liquid in) This process helps it stay moist and juicy during cooking! Which then means it’s still moist and juicy once you carve it and serve.
Brining also helps season the turkey from the inside out so no matter what piece you get, it’ll be delicious!
How do you make a dry turkey brine?
Alternatively, you can make a dry brine which is a salt and spice mixture that is slathered on the bird and then wiped off before roasting. If you don’t have room for the large vessel as mentioned above, a dry brine is the easier way to go. The mixture gets slathered on the bird and then permeates the turkey for about 24 hours. Then pat it dry and proceed with my favorite turkey recipe!
What is a turkey brine and what does it do to a turkey?
It’s basically just salt and different aromatics and maybe some water. I like to add brown sugar to give it a little hint of sweetness, some red pepper flakes, sage and lots of garlic. The whole mixture will just give the bird that extra subtle flavor everyone is looking for on Thanksgiving. And it helps the bird make incredible drippings for gravy.
What kind of bird should you use for this turkey brine recipe?
This is super important!! You basically just want a plain old turkey. Don’t get one with any other “enhanced” or “self-basting” descriptors on the package. Those mean that the turkey has already been brined or treated and I’d rather do it myself so I have full control over what is going into my bird and brine.
How long should you brine a turkey for?
I recommend that you should let the turkey brine for roughly 24-72 hours. Trust me, its worth it.
Can you over brine a frozen turkey / should you brine a turkey before roasting?
Absolutely! I do almost every year. This process will also help thaw the bird out before cooking.
Can you over brine a turkey?
You don’t want to brine a bird for more than 3 days in my opinion. 72 hours is just the right amount of time for the turkey to soak up those flavors without getting too salty.
What do you do after you brine the turkey?
Treat it like you could a normal bird. Most of the dry brine will fall off and you can remove a lot of that excess spice/salt from the bottom of the baking dish. Pat it dry, season it accordingly and then roast! This is my favorite recipe for a cooked bird! The herb butter makes for the best drippings which make the gravy out of this world!
What should I brine my turkey in?
- For the wet brine you should use any container just large enough to hold the turkey comfortably.
- For the dry brine you can use a wire cooling rack on a baking sheet.
Do I need to rinse a brined turkey before cooking?
No. In fact you really shouldn’t rinse any meat before cooking. According to the Center for Disease Control, you should never wash raw meat or poultry before cooking it! Washing it can spread bacteria to surfaces like your kitchen countertop, all over the sink, utensils, and nearby foods. The USDA agrees.
So all that’s left is to decide if you’re going wet or dry turkey brine. If wet: grab a large vessel that will fit 1: the liquid brine mixture 2: and the bird and 3: will fit into your fridge. If you have an extra fridge in your garage, that’s the perfect place to store this as it won’t be in your way when you’re stocking your fridge with the rest of the Thanksgiving ingredients.
If you choose the dry brine: combine all the seasonings and slather the bird with the herbs. Then let it take a chill in the fridge for 24-72 hours.
Get ready guys… THANKSGIVING this year is going to be mega delish.
So, now that you know all about turkey brines, it’s time to choose your preferred method and get ready to enjoy the most delicious turkey ever. Whether you go with a wet or dry brine, the key is to give yourself plenty of time for the flavors to penetrate deep into the meat. And don’t forget to let your bird rest after roasting for the juiciest, most succulent results.
PS – Check out the full What’s Gaby Cooking menu here along with the master prep schedule to keep things organized and on track!
And if you need more Thanksgiving Ideas check out this roundup of 80+ Thanksgiving Recipes and Ideas
Easy Turkey Brine (wet brine or dry brine directions )
For the Wet Brine
- 16 cups water divided
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon dried red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon dried sage
- 1 bunch fresh thyme
- 2 heads garlic sliced in half
- 14 to 18- pound turkey cleaned, innards removed
For the Dry Brine
- 8 tablespoons kosher salt
- 4-8 tablespoons freshly cracked black peppercorns
- 4 tablespoons dried oregano
- 4 tablespoons garlic powder
- 3 tablespoons dried basil
- 2 tablespoons dried thyme
- 2 tablespoons paprika
For the Wet Brine
- Combine 8 cups of the water, salt, dark brown sugar, red pepper flakes, sage, thyme and garlic in a large pot and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes until everything is evenly combined and the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Stir in remaining water and cool completely.
- Pour the brine into a container just large enough to hold the turkey comfortably. Add the turkey; adding more water if needed to cover the bird entirely. Turn bird a few times and then leave breast-side down in the water. Chill for at least 8 hours, and up to 72 hours. Remove bird from brine, discard brine and roast as needed.
For the Dry Brine
- Combine all the seasonings together. Set a wire cooling rack on a baking sheet and place the turkey on the rack. Rub ½ cup of the dry brine on the back side of the turkey, ½ cup on the legs and 1 cup on the breast. Transfer the turkey, uncovered to the fridge and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, and up to 72 hours.
- After the brine period, pat the bird dry and proceed with my Herb Roasted Turkey recipe. Remove any excess dry brine that is in the bottom of the roasting pan
Photo by Matt Armendariz / Food Styling by Adam Pearson / Recipe from What’s Gaby Cooking
I used the dry brine recipe as written for my 13lb turkey… are these measurements okay for that size? Now I’m scared if I used too much it’s going to turn out too salty! Plan on making your herb butter turkey. We made it years ago and it was insanely delicious, but this is the first year I’ve tried brining the turkey myself.
It’ll be perf!!
Hi nervous about using 1T of red pepper flakes in the wet brine…will this make it too spicy??
nope – but if it makes you nervous you can omit
I only have Pink Sea Salt-should I use the same amount of that as The Kosher salt called for in the recipe (dry brine)? TIA
I accidentally got some dry brine on the inside of my turkey. Should I rinse it out? It seems like a lot and just a pat it dry or rub off the dry brine the excess
just brush it out tomorrow before roasting
I followed your measurements for the dry brine but I think it seems like too much salt. I used sea salt , Will my turkey taste too salty?
We smoked our Thanksgiving bird on a grill with various flavored woods and this was, hands down the best recipe ever! Caused a few sneezes as the mixture is quite strong but it was worth it! Will use every year moving forward.
We used the dry brine recipe this year! Hands down, the best turkey I have ever eaten for Thanksgiving!! So good!!
Any recommendations for seasoning or coating the turkey after a wet brine? I will be smoking the turkey on a traeger. Or is it not needed?
pat it dry – very very dry! then do a seasoning blend on top for sure! Depending on the size of your bird I’d do a combo of some sorts of pepper, garlic powder, paprika. oregano and thyme
Now that I have the Brine figured out, how long and at what temperature do I bake it?
Perhaps 250 degrees for How long per pound?
Bird is 12 LBS
check my herb roasted turkey recipe for all the details on how to do the bird once brined
If all I have is normal table salt and normal cracked black pepper, how much should I use for the dry brine? Happy holidays and thanks in advance! 🙂