How to Brine a Turkey Two Ways

Prepare your holiday main event by locking in moisture.

September 02, 2022

By Leah Brickley and Marge Perry for Food Network Kitchen

Leah and Marge are contributing writers at Food Network.

Want to set turkey up for success? Then consider brining your bird for more flavorful and extra-moist meat. With minimal planning and some extra space and time, you'll need just a few pantry ingredients to achieve turkey success.

What Is Brine?

A traditional water-based brine is a mixture of water, salt, sugar and aromatics — like herbs, spices and citrus peel — that infuses turkey with moisture, seasoning and flavor. That mixture is brought to a boil and then cooled before you plunge your bird in to take a bath in it (usually for no more than 24 hours). For more info on brining and its many uses, head over to our story What Is Brining?.

What Does Brine Do for a Turkey?

The theory is that both the skin and meat take on extra flavor, and the additional water can make the meat moister. Brining is in the eye of the beholder (or mouth of the taster), and many feel that it's an unncessary step that involves too much effort for not enough payoff. But if you think it makes a difference then go for it.

How Long Should I Brine My Turkey?

When it comes to bringing, more isn't necessarily better. If your bird sits in that salt-and-sugar mixture for too long, the protein can begin to break down, which can mean mushy meat. A good brining range is eight to 24 hours.

Types of Turkey Brines and the Benefits of Each

A dry brine, which is rubbed on the surface of the bird, is left on longer. It penetrates the meat more slowly - which means you have less risk of it becoming mealy - and results in a very crisp skin and moist meat.

A wet brine, in which the bird is submerged, also delivers moist, succulent meat, but the skin tends to be less crisp. It does its magic more quickly than a dry brine - in just 12-24 hours - but requires a lot of dedicated refrigerator space.

How to Dry Brine a Turkey, Step-By-Step

Photo by: Marge Perry

Marge Perry

Step 1: Dry the Turkey

Thoroughly pat the turkey dry with paper towels. (The less moisture there is on the skin, the more crisp it will be.)

Photo by: Marge Perry

Marge Perry

Step 2: Make Your Seasoning Blend

Make your seasoning blend, which should include 1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking powder per pound of turkey (the baking powder helps crisp the skin).

Photo by: Marge Perry

Marge Perry

Step 3: Season the Entire Bird

Season the entire bird, including the cavity. Be sure to pat seasoning on the bottom, underneath the wings and under the drumsticks. Tuck in the wings and truss the bird, if desired.

Photo by: Marge Perry

Marge Perry

Step 4: Refrigerate the Bird

Refrigerate, uncovered, 24 to 72 hours.

Photo by: Marge Perry

Marge Perry

Step 5: Butter the Bird

Before roasting, brush the entire surface of the turkey with melted butter.

How to Wet Brine a Turkey, Step-By-Step

Photo by: Marge Perry

Marge Perry

Step 1: Make the Brine

Combine the brining mixture, which should include 1 tablespoon of kosher salt per quart of liquid, in a pot or container large enough to hold the liquid and the turkey. Make sure the salt (and sugar, if using) are fully dissolved. Add the brine to a container large enough to submerge the turkey. A large stock pot in a mostly empty fridge works, as does a brining bag, which take up less space. Some enthusiasts dunk their turkeys in insulated coolers and let them sit outside in the cold — it's important that the internal temperature in the cooler be less than 41 F for food-safety reasons.

Photo by: Marge Perry

Marge Perry

Step 2: Submerge the Turkey and Refrigerate

Add the turkey and be sure it is submerged. Refrigerate 12 to 24 hours.

Photo by: Marge Perry

Marge Perry

Step 3: Dry the Turkey and Let It Sit Uncovered

Remove the turkey from the brine (discard the brine). Pat the turkey dry and allow it to stand at room temperature 1 hour. Alternatively, you may place the bird on a roasting pan, uncovered, in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours after brining to increase the crisping of the skin when it roasts.

Photo by: Marge Perry

Marge Perry

Step 4: Butter the Bird

Rub the surface of the turkey with softened butter.

Do I Need to Season a Brined Turkey?

If you follow a balanced brine recipe like our best turkey brine or dry-brined turkey with classic herb butter, then there is no need to season with additional salt. This is especially true if you plan to make gravy with the pan drippings — it could end up too salty. Feel free to rub your bird down with butter and proceed with roasting as you would normally.

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