How to Brine a Turkey

How to Brine a Turkey

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It’s that time of year again when everybody’s talking about turkey brine. “How much salt?” “How long for?” “Wet brine or dry brine?” I’ve been brining Poultry for many years now, tried many recipes, and different methods. This is how I like to do it.

When I first started making poultry brines, I got really carried away with flavours, especially at Christmas. Adding this herb, that herb, 3 different citrus zests, 4 different spices, onion, garlic, and so on. Ending up with a turkey that tasted like a perfume shop!

These days I prefer to make a simple brine with very few or sometimes no aromatics, and letting the flavour of the bird speak for itself.

For me, a whole turkey deserves a wet brine. For those who don’t know the difference, a wet brine is salt, sugar, and aromatics mixed with a liquid, that the meat or fish is submerged in. A dry brine is salt, sugar and aromatics mixed together and rubbed directly over the surface of the meat or fish.

Both methods achieve seasoning and flavouring throughout the meat, and although there is a chemical reaction during the dry brining that allows the meat to hold onto its moisture during cooking, it doesn’t take on any extra liquid. As opposed to wet brining which, through the process of osmosis, allows the meat to take on a lot of extra liquid, making for a much juicer end result. If you weigh a piece of meat before, and after wet brining, it will be a fair bit heavier. The same isn’t true with dry brining. Also, dry brining is not a great way of controlling salt content.

Some people complain that wet brining is too messy and awkward, and opt for the lazier dry brining option. Hopefully this wet brining guide will help you see how simple it is, with a few little tricks to keep things clean, and speed things up.

Basic Base Brine 5.5%

Per 1 litre of water/liquid:
55g salt
30g sugar. 
(As well as any aromatics)

Brine times:
Boneless chicken breast, 2 hours.
Approx. 1kg chicken, 4-6 hours.
1.5-2kg chicken, 8-12 hours.

Brine times:
Turkey breast, 12-18 hours.
Whole turkey 4-7kg, 24 hours.
Whole turkey over 7kg, 24-36 hours.

For the Bay and Black Pepper Turkey Brine recipe & guide below, I’ve used my Basic Base Brine and added a couple of aromatics. Fell free to adapt it by using different flavours. Just don’t over do it!
I’m using a small 4 Kg turkey here, you may have to make up more brine for larger birds.

How to Brine a Turkey

5 from 2 votes
Cuisine: American, BritishDifficulty: Pitapprentice


Prep time


Brine Time


Resting Time


Total time


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  • 4 Kg 4 Turkey (Whole)

  • 2 L 2 Water

  • 2 L 2 Ice & Water

  • 220 g 220 Sea Salt

  • 120 g 120 Light Soft Brown Sugar

  • 1 Tbsp 1 Black Peppercorns

  • 3 3 Bay Leaves


  • Roughly crack the black peppercorns in a pestle & mortar, then weigh out and gather all your dry ingredients.
  • Measure out the water, and add it to a large pan, along with the salt, sugar and your aromatics.
    Add the pan to a high heat.
  • Once the salt and sugar have totally dissolved and the water has begun to boil, remove from the heat, and let steep for 15-30 minutes.
    While the brine is steeping, measure out your ice & water. To do this, fill a measuring jug with ice, and then top it up to your mark with cold water. This way you’ll end up with the correct salt to liquid ratio, in this case 5.5%.
  • Now that your aromatics have had time to infuse into the brine, it’s time to cool it down.
    Cooling the brine properly is very important because putting raw poultry into a warm brine can encourage the growth of very nasty bacteria, which can make you and others very ill.
    There are 2 ways to cool the brine, either to let it cool to room temperature before placing into the fridge (the slow way), or, as we’re doing here, adding ice to the warm brine to cool it quickly.
    The brine must be at or below 4°C/40°F before adding the turkey. If it’s not, put it in the fridge and check every half hour or so with an instant read thermometer.
  • Now, this is my trick that I’ve been using for many years to wet brine turkey. This method keeps everything clean and tidy, and uses a lot less brine than bucket brining.
    Turkey Roasting Bags, I’ve never roasted a turkey in a bag in my life, lol. But these big turkey sized bags are perfect for brining.
    You need to find yourself a large container, large enough to hold your turkey. I’ve got a fairly small turkey here, that fits in a large stock pot, but you can use anything from a waste paper basket to a cardboard box. In fact, when I’ve brined bigger birds, I’ve used the box that the turkey came in from the butchers, which is always the perfect size.
    What ever container you find, place one of the turkey roasting bags inside another, and line your container with them.
  • When your brine has cooled to at or below 4°C/40°F, carefully place the turkey into the bags and pore in the brine.
    Bring the top of the bags together, push out the air, and twist. Fasten using the included tie (if it has one), or tie using some butchers twine.
    The brine should be covering every part of the bird. If it’s not, first try scrunching up some tea towels and carefully pushing them down between the bag and the container. This should squeeze more of the brine up to cover the bird.
    If you’re still struggling, then make up another litre of brine, don’t worry about the aromatics, just add 55g Sea salt and 30g sugar to 1 litre of cold water, and stir until dissolved, Then top up the bag so that the turkey if fully submerged.
  • Now your turkey is in the brine, it’s a good idea to take note of the time and maybe set a reminder to take it out.
    Place it in the fridge, or if it’s below 4°C/40°F outside and is likely to stay that way, you can store it out there. Make sure it’s well covered so no animals steel your dinner!
    Brine times as follows:
    Whole turkey 4-7kg 24 hours.
    Whole turkey over 7kg 24-36 hours.
  • Once the brining time has passed, lift the bag out of the container and into a clean, empty sink. Undo the bag and pull it down and off the turkey, while rinsing under cold water inside and out.
    When completely rinsed, transfer to a large dish and pat dry thoroughly with kitchen paper.
  • Before roasting the turkey it needs to rest, uncovered in the fridge,
    This does a couple of things. Firstly, it allows the skin to dry out after being submerged in liquid for so long. This will make for a beautifully golden, crisped up skin all over. Secondly, it allows the salty, sugary, aromatic brine to settle down, and evenly distribute itself throughout the meat.
    Place a couple of sheets of kitchen paper onto a large dish, then place the turkey on a wire rack on top of the dish, and place in the fridge for anywhere between 12 and 24 hours.

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