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:
(As well as any aromatics)
Boneless chicken breast, 2 hours.
Approx. 1kg chicken, 4-6 hours.
1.5-2kg chicken, 8-12 hours.
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.