How to brine a turkey

If you have never brined a turkey or other poultry, you do not know what you are missing!

Moist meat, full of flavor all the way through, with a shorter cooking time.

Would you like meat with your salt water?

Many store bought poultry and meat items  are industrially brined or otherwise enhanced… but this is not for the purchaser’s benefit.

A brine is just another name for a salt-water mixture. Store bought birds are injected with salt water to make them moister and to add weight so that people pay… for salt water.

How much of the bird is salt-water? A recent USDA study found around forty percent!

That almost doubles the price per pound of what the almost meat actually costs.

Good deal for industrial poultry producers and processors – salt and water is cheap.

Bad deal for the buyers, you are getting low quality salt and water instead of the almost meat they paid for at checkout.

Real poultry from local farmers is never industrially injected with icky stuff, so not only are you getting a nutritional deal (pastured birds are far healthier and more nutritious than industrial birds), you are also getting a clear, fair price.

Why brine?

Brining has three main benefits.

First, it helps ensure your turkey will be moist. Nothing is as sad as a bad Thanksgiving bird. We have all had them – dry, listless, lifeless, flavorless.

Second, brining helps drive flavors deep into the meat. We have all had meals where the flavors are stuck on the outside but as you dig down, these become blander and blander.

A proper brine helps ensure more even flavor all the way through.

Third, brining produces extra liquid for making a lovely reduction sauce to go with your meal.
At least for our family, we never have enough drippings to make sufficient sauces! Every little bit more is appreciated.

If you overcook the turkey, brining may just save your neck… turkey neck, that is.

A few years ago, my wife overcooked our turkey by well over thirty minutes… and the bird was still tender and extremely moist.

Just be careful if you brine your bird outside.

What you will need –

A large stock pot or five gallon food grade pail/bucket
A good turkey, preferable free-range, pastured bird from a local farm
Good quality salt (1-2 cups)
Various herbs and spices
Chicken or turkey stock, 2-4 cups

What you will do –


We will remove our turkey (15-20lbs range) from our freezer on Monday afternoon and place in the fridge to thaw. Smaller turkeys can be done Monday night, larger ones Monday morning.
Once thawed, we will remove the organs/giblets/innards and reserve.


On Tuesday night, we will make the brine and add the turkey.

Dissolve the salt in warm water. In the large stock pot, add the brine (salt-water), spices, and turkey to the pot. Add water until the turkey is covered (or, if the turkey is too big for your pot, just rotate the bird every 6 hours or so).

For the spices, we enjoy using garlic, onion, thyme, rosemary, sage, and pepper, but the options are endless.

For a 2 gallon stock pot we use a teaspoon to a tablespoon or so of each spice, but feel free to experiment.

Place the pot in the fridge (or outside if the weather is cold enough, but not below freezing) and allow the turkey to brine for 24 to 36 hours.

The larger the turkey the longer you want it to sit in the brine.


About 3 hours before you want to eat, remove the turkey from the brining mixture so that the bird’s exterior dries before cooking.

Reserve at least half a gallon of the brining liquid or more.

Rub the turkey with oil, rosemary, and sage (use coconut ghee, ghee, lard, palm shortening, or another good quality cooking fat) and set it into a roasting pan, large cast iron skillet, or whatever else you use to cook your turkey on or in.

Bake at 325 degrees – brined turkeys cook much faster than their unbrined counterparts but stay far more moist and tender.
Cook the bird until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

If desired, you can cut up various vegetables (green beans, carrots, onions, mushrooms, peppers), coat and mix with oil, and place these down around the turkey along with a cup to two cups of the brining mixture.

While the turkey is cooking, occasionally stir the vegetables.


About an hour before your meal, remove the roasting pan from the oven. Either transfer the turkey to another roasting pan along with the vegetables or otherwise remove all the drippings from around the vegetables and turkey.

Place the turkey and vegetables back into the oven to finish cooking.

On the stove top, take the drippings from the turkey and vegetables and combine with 1-2 cups of the brine and 2 cups of turkey or chicken stock.

Reduce over high heat until a thick sauce forms. If necessary or desired, you can add some good quality gelatin or other thickener.

At first, stir occasionally. As the sauce reduces, stir more and more often.

Near the end, you will need to stir often, almost continuously, but only for 1-2 minutes as the sauce finishes and thickens.

Be careful near the end of the reduction not to burn the sauce to the pan.


We hope each of you has a thankful, restful, and joyful Thanksgiving.


7 Reader Comments

  1. Sheena on

    Darn I cooked my beautiful pastured turkey last week and it was dry to put it nicely. I’ll save this post in my recipe book for next year. Can I link this to my blog It’s just an informational blog. I’m not selling anything.

  2. jmoody on

    Always feel free to link to, facebook, and share any way you see fit. The goal is to help others with good information about yummy food.

    Appreciate you stopping by!


  3. Emily Brown on

    Thanks, John! I appreciate this!

  4. Elizabeth on

    Thank you. Excited about making a pastured turkey this go around that is less dry.

  5. Three Turkey Tips: How To Pick, How To Cook, & A Great Thanksgiving Recipe : Real Food University on

    […] I was going to do a full run-down on how to do a wet-brine for your turkey, but my friend John beat me to the punch. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I’ll just send you over to his post about it: How to Wet-brine a Turkey […]

  6. Want Some Turkey With Your Salt Water? | My Blog on

    […] And finally, brine your turkey yourself! If you’ve bought a pastured hen, this is roughly guaranteed to be a necessity. Pastured ornithology tends to be some-more dry than required ornithology unless we know how to prepare it right. John Moody of a newly-created Food Clubs Co-Ops site has a good educational on how to brine your turkey. […]

  7. Want Some Turkey With Your Salt Water? | Food Renegade on

    […] And finally, brine your turkey yourself! If you’ve bought a pastured hen, this is almost guaranteed to be a necessity. Pastured poultry tends to be more dry than conventional poultry unless you know how to cook it right. John Moody of the newly-created Food Clubs & Co-Ops site has a nice tutorial on how to brine your turkey. […]

Feel free to leave a comment below... and as always please keep it in good taste. Comment spamming ONLY to promote your website is NOT allowed. So please use your real name in the field below otherwise it may be edited or removed. Constructive discussion is always welcome, personal attacks or useless bickering is not. Not all comments may be answered directly by editors/writers.