How to Wet Brine Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving makes me giddy. A month before the big day, I sit down with my recipes and plan the most decadent meal.

Brinign a Turkey for Thanksgving locks in those juices |

What’s the item I strive ever year to improve? My turkey.

Each year, I try to make a more flavorful and moist bird than the last. Here is my tried and true recipe.

A few years ago, I was watching the food channel and saw one of the chefs talking about brining a bird. The main philosophy here is that you actually seal the outside with a concoction of sugar, salt and water, sealing in the moisture.

Wet Brining

When you decide to brine a turkey, make sure you have a large enough pot to fully submerge your bird. One year I didn’t have room for a large pot in my refrigerator so I actually put the turkey in a garbage bag, filled the bag with brine, put the entire bag in the roasting pot, and tied it to the top shelf of my fridge so the fowl was fully submerged.

You should keep the carcass in the brine for about 24 hours.

A Simple Brine Recipe:

  • 4 quarts water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 ½ cups kosher salt

Mix the ingredients together until dissolved.

Although these staples are the key ingredients to making effective brine, for a tastier recipe, I usually add several cloves of crushed garlic, whole peppercorns, a few chopped onions, and seasonings like rosemary, sage, and thyme. Adjust your brine according to your personal tastes.

Before adding to the brine, rinse your bird off in cold water and remove the innards. You can set these aside for later preparation (in a tasty gravy, for example) or throw them away.

Pat the body dry. Put the bird in the pot and pour the mixture over top of it, ensuring that the whole body is submerged.

When you remove the turkey from the brine before cooking, throw away the solution. It’s tempting to avoid wasting it, but it will be very salty.

Rinse off your bird again in cold water. Don’t worry – you won’t wash away the flavor. Pat it dry.

Are you working with pieces instead of a whole turkey? Check out the video above where Rod Grey brines chicken pieces with a Foodsaver.

Another technique exists for this process that removes the water from the process; it is called dry brining.


I always cover the entire carcass in a garlic butter mixture first. I melt about a cup of butter and add garlic, pepper, thyme, basil, and rosemary. Rub inside and out with this flavorful concoction.

Since I cook my turkey slowly at a lower temperature, I do not fill it with stuffing. Low and slow cooking often doesn’t reach high enough temperatures to kill harmful bacteria, so the juices that have dripped into your delicious dressing may not be cooked all the way through.

Instead I usually chop up an onion, a few cloves of garlic, and a few carrots, and stuff the center with fresh rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, and parsley. This creates an amazing aroma.

Tie the legs of your bird tightly together with kitchen string or twine, and place it in your roaster. I usually put a half-cup of water in the bottom of the pan so it moistens the bird throughout roasting, and add more as needed.

Roasting is a matter of personal taste. My method involves putting my turkey in an extremely hot oven at about 500°F for about ten minutes to sear the outside of the bird. I leave it uncovered at this time, so the skin turns a light brown color.

After about 10-15 minutes I turn the heat down to about 200°F and cover the turkey tightly with aluminum foil. If you are roasting a smaller turkey or a another form of fowl, one of the better counter-top convention ovens such as the Breville Smart Oven would do a fantastic job with this method (and would speed up the cook time as well).

Turkey is being baked in oven after brining | Foodal
Searing the Outside of the Bird

Since the skin is seared and the brine keeps the moisture in, I don’t have to baste the fowl frequently throughout the day. Not only does this give me time to concentrate on other dishes, but I can also keep the tinfoil wrapped tightly around the turkey, preventing moisture from escaping each time I would open the oven to baste.

This method takes a little longer to cook, but you will be left with a moist and flavorful bird. Since I first started slow cooking and brining, I’ve never been left with a dry turkey.

When the meat is done (180°F in the thigh or dark meat and 165°F in the white meat or breast) pull it out of the oven. Let it sit for about 20 minutes in the foil, preferably on a cutting board with a channel around the edge to catch any juices that leak out. This will give the meat time to reabsorb the moisture.

Any moisture that has escaped is very flavorful because of the brine mixture, the buttery garlic rub, and the fresh herbs inside the bird. To make delectable gravy, simply add a little flour and cook until it is at the thickness that you desire.

Last but not least – enjoy!

And if you’re wondering what to do with those leftovers, use up the meat in our budget-friendly turkey and white bean chili!

Photo credit: Shutterstock.

About Lynne Jaques

Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!

25 thoughts on “How to Wet Brine Your Thanksgiving Turkey”

  1. I live in Canada and we recently just had Thanksgiving about two weeks ago. Turkey was certainly one of the choices prepared for the food menu. This method using a mixture of water, sugar and salt to keep in the moisture is quite new to me though. Usually I just make sure the turkey is accompanied by all the gravy from the seasoning in its pot and frequently keep it moist with the liquid. Always turns out moist and great tasting.

  2. Ahh, good old Thanksgiving feasts. Both a chore to prepare, and a chore to finish everything on your plate 😛

    Any new recipes to make more delicious turkey is definitely welcome in my book, eating the same old turkey every year does get boring. I for one will try to brine my turkey (and maybe some ham as well) for this year’s feast!

  3. I have only brined a turkey once but it turned out really well. I will do it again this year. I like adding herbs to my brines as well. The only thing I don’t like about it is the space it takes up while brining. That’s alright though. I can’t wait for Thanksgiving. It is a favorite holiday!

  4. Down here in the south we deep fry our turkeys every year…but last year our good friend had a really serious fire/explosion while frying a turkey and we decided to swear away from that and try making it the old-fashioned way. I’ll admit I’ve never actually cooked a turkey myself but I’ve been put in charge of the Thanksgiving meal this year. I’m torn between doing it this way or just basting it every so often…and I think this way sounds more convenient. Thanks for the ideas!

    • I wanted to give a quick update since this comment I made….I recently purchased a turkey to try to do a “practice run” because I am in charge of the meal this year and I’ve never made turkey before. I was terrified. My father taught me how to clean out the bird and then I followed this guide. The bird brined for about 27 hours. When all was said and done, it came out marvelously! I did over-season it just a tad so I know to cut back on that for the real thing..I’m just so glad I saw this article because now I know that I can make delicious turkey to feed my family this Thanksgiving.

      • Mimsee,

        That sound really awesome. Don’t suppose you have any pictures that you could post? You can attached them down towards the bottom.


  5. This sounds like a really great idea. I’ve always been scared to deep fry a turkey because of the horror stories of fires/explosions, and knowing my luck I shouldn’t test it. We usually just baste it, but I feel like it’s still not very flavorful. I definitely want to try brining it this year, thank you for this suggestion!

  6. I am with mimsee on this one. As a Texan, if I am going to trick up a turkey, I am deep frying it in peanut oil.

    This looks like it would probably taste great, but it seems like a lot of work. My goal to upgrade my Thanksgiving presentation this year is to try out a fancy vegetable side dish.

  7. Thank goodness for this recipe!!! Thanksgiving is now less than a month away. And I’m already starting to sweat. My turkey always comes out dry and chewy. And so I promised everyone this holiday season, I’d cook a good one. So, I can’t wait to try your recipe. Thanks again.

  8. We don’t have Thanksgiving here in the UK but Christmas is fast approaching and I will be ordering a turkey soon for Christmas.
    I will pretty much follow most of your tips here this year, we have some traditions of our own but I can definitely use your tips.

  9. If you haven’t tried brining your turkey before you cook it you definitely should. We have a recipe that we use every year for Thanksgiving but I don’t think it called for sugar. Does the sugar give it a sweet taste when it is cooked?

  10. Hmmm bird! Brining is great — I did not know about moisture, but I remember reading that the flavour your meat is gonna absorb is mostly salt, whereas marinades will not penetrate as much. It also gives a nice crispy skin! Yumm!

  11. I’m so glad I spotted this article, because for the first time in about 15 years, I will be cooking a turkey for a very special family get together we have every year in mid-January. I was feeling a bit worried about how to keep the turkey from drying out, and brining seems to be the best option I’ve researched. Your brine recipe and instructions will be perfect for me, and I’m feeling much more confident about tackling the job now.

    I am also a fan of slow cooking things as I feel this not only gives better flavour, but I am usually able to choose cheaper cuts of meat that are much tastier anyway. Slow cooking gives amazing results, and I will definitely be slow cooking this turkey next week.

  12. I had no idea that soaking the bird in a salt solution could produce results like this. I have always just used roasting bags in the past. I would assume you would need a pretty big pan to soak the turkey in though!

  13. Today I was shopping for Easter dinner & I noticed they had a package of turkey with a brine already inside & I thought to myself, ‘This seems like a lot of waste’. How difficult is it really to make your own brine? Is it just the word itself that detours people or sheer laziness? Seemed ridiculous.

  14. Phew! wiping my brow here…just reading that article got me the hibbie jibbies, now am beginning to wonder whether i can hack that…from point A-Z on turkey brining and preparation, i need more than an A game for this 😉 …i guess am scared because am wondering what i’d do with a huge bird all by myself…maybe with company it’ll get easier 🙂
    Thanks Foodal, i’ll know where to stop by if a dead turkey lands on my kitchen counter 😀

  15. It’s that time of year again! O.k., maybe not quite yet, but if you have a freezer, are in the U.S., and plan on having a Thanksgiving turkey, maybe it’s time to buy one or two, and drop them in the deep freeze, since some predict price increases and shortages, due to the Avian Flu outbreak in at least 4 states.

    I watched a television chef brine a turkey one time, which was helpful, but I also need information in front of me that I can read as I go through the process. I love the little tips y’all put in your articles, because they make the process easier, so this will be very helpful if I choose to prepare my turkey this way in the fall.

  16. This has always been on my “must try” list.
    Never really found the motivation to get it done the day before.
    Now I must! I love all the positive comments this must be a better way forward.

  17. While “brine” isn’t the best sounding word, I’m sure this bird will taste delicious! I’ll keep this one bookmarked just in case of special occasions. Turkey may not be my favourite, but perhaps I just haven’t been making it right!

  18. I botched the Turkey I made for Thanksgiving last year, so i am glad to see this recipe. I’m not in charge of doing it this year (I only made it for myself and my roommate last year), however, I will try to get my mother to try this method. She is a great cook, but sometimes misses out on small additions that could make for a better overall meal. (Hope she never sees this!)

    I know brining does wonders for bnls/sknls chicken breasts too, and it absolutely necessary if you are going to grill them.

  19. A few years ago, a friend of mine told me about brining a turkey. I had never tried it before, so I decided to go out on a limb. LOL I got a huge plastic bucket, and some Italian herbs. I added them to the bucket with salt and garlic. The end result was absolutely delicious! We’ve done a variation of seasonings every year since.

  20. What a wonderful idea! We haven’t had turkey in years, usually preferring goose or even salmon for Christmas, largely because every turkey I’ve ever eaten (or cooked alas) was really rather dry. Back in 1953 food columnist William Connor said of turkey “The texture is like wet sawdust and the whole vast feathered swindle has the piquancy of a boiled mattress.”
    I’d be prepared to bet that the one he had wasn’t cooked this way. Thank you so much – I shall try it your way.

  21. Turkey is one of my all time favorite meat dishes. I can’t wait for Thanksgiving. I’m even one of those people who enjoys the leftovers.

    We are planning to fry ours. I wonder if brining would still be a good choice even with frying. I’ve heard it does wonders, so I’ve always wanted to try it out. I’m just not sure about doing it before cooking it this way. Oh, well, I guess I’ll just have to make another one soon, so I can try this method out. Any excuse is a good one for me.

  22. I hate that turkey takes so long to prepare, I have to wake up early in the morning to start cooking it and it only gets cooked after a long period of time. The process is worth it though, turkey has the best meat you can find on the market. 😀
    Brining is not the easiest thing to do, I’ve seen people do it too much or too little, you have to find the sweetspot.

  23. This is a good post. Has anyone ever tried brining a turkey in wine? That time a few years ago when Hanukkah fell on the same day as Thanksgiving, I heard about brining a turkey in Manischewitz. The author said that it gave it a bit of a sweet, unique flavor. The meat obviously came out with a dark red tinge from the wine, but it sounded good. Has anyone ever tried this?


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