How to Brine a Turkey

Turkey brining photo by Knile

You can use a brined turkey for just about any Thanksgiving recipes for turkey. If you want to know how to brine a turkey, follow along. First of all, you might be wondering why anyone would want to brine a turkey. In the South, this process is often called “drawing” instead of “brining.” Just to e consistent, I’ll stick with the term “brining.” Brining helps make a turkey juicy and more flavorful. How does that work? I know it seems that soaking something in salty water would dry it out instead of making it moister, right? It doesn’t work that way with turkey. I won’t go into all the science mumbo-jumbo, but it all has to do with osmosis.

People use all different sorts of flavors in their brining liquids. Of course the two chief ingredients are water and salt, with kosher salt being preferred. Other additions to add flavor might include brown sugar, white sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, cane syrup, fruit juices, and a wide range of herbs and spices. Following is a turkey brine recipe I’ve used several times with great results.

If you don’t have room in your refrigerator for a 5-gallon bucket, you can cover the bucket and place it in your garage if the weather is cool enough. The turkey and brining solution need to remain at 40 degrees throughout the brining process. The turkey should remain in the brine for about one hour per pound. You can leave the bird in for a little less time, but you don’t want to go over this time guideline. Also, don’t brine a pre-seasoned, kosher, or self-basting turkey. The results will be much too salty.

Holle’s Brine for Turkey recipe

What you’ll need:

  • Thawed turkey
  • Clean 5-gallon bucket
  • Water (about 2 gallons)
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup black peppercorns
  • ¼ cup dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 bay leaves


Directions:  Be sure turkey has completely thawed. Remove neck and giblets and rinse bird well.

Combine about a quart of water, salt, brown sugar, and molasses in a large stock pot. Heat until sugar and salt dissolve, but be careful not to boil. Remove from heat and cool liquid for 20-30 minutes.

Pour liquid in bucket and stir in remaining ingredients.

Place turkey in bucket breast-down, making sure bird is completely submerged. Place a heavy plate or other weight on the turkey if you have to. If you need more liquid, add more apple juice.

Calculate brining time. About halfway through, turn turkey over.