pot of stock with chopped onions and a bay leaf


Home » Recipes » Meaty Mains » BRINE FOR THE TURKEY

If you’re a fan of extra flavour in your food, then brining turkey before cooking it should be a no brainer. And if you’re looking for the Best Turkey Brine Recipe that not only gives you flavour but promises moist and juicy results every single time, look no further than this!

I don’t know about you, but in our house, Thanksgiving is as big of a holiday as Christmas. For years (more like decades), the tradition was to gather at my uncle’s house with enough cousins and aunts and uncles to fill the room. The extra long table put in place specifically for that day and the real feeling of gratitude as literally every inch of it was covered in delicious homemade food. The toasts (with homemade wine, to boot) while we still had Nonno and Nonna with us will always have a special place in my heart. But long gone are the days. And now, living across the country and away from any sort of family, Thanksgiving dinner, right down to the turkey, is the sole responsibility of moi.

pot of stock with chopped onions and a bay leaf

Of course, since it’s only the two of us, some years I have opted to opt out of Thanksgiving altogether since living on the West Coast. But some years, when it rolls around and I see the fresh cranberries stocked up on the shelves and the fresh turkeys taking over the butchers and markets, I shift back to the memories of Thanksgiving at my uncle’s. There’s just something about the smell of it cooking up in the oven all morning that my mind subconsciously still longs for. Or maybe it’s trying to find room for the turkey on piled up plates amongst everything from my uncle’s famous stuffing, rapini and sausages, creamy mashed potatoes, the best gravy, roasted veggies and salad. Yeah, one of the days of the year where literally stuffing your face is the only real way to do it. You feel me?

I was lucky enough not to be one of the ones haunted her entire life by a dry turkey. Both my uncle and parents (the odd time they were the hosts) know how to cook a turkey that is anything but dry (thank God). But I can definitely see how having dry turkey all your life would make you hate it. The good news is that even if you are the victim of either cooking up dry turkey yourself or being served dry turkey at your uncle’s Thanksgiving dinner, your saving grace has arrived. Consider this brine for the turkey the only weapon you’ll ever need to say goodbye to dry turkey for life.

And, if you need to, feel free to *discreetly* slip this recipe into your uncle’s recipe box 😉


raw turkey on a parchment lined sheet tray next to several bowls of spices, chopped onions and water
Complete list of ingredients and amounts can be found in the recipe card below.

This homemade turkey brine is heavy on the spices and aromatics meaning it’s big on flavour. However, all of the ingredients are pretty basic and probably ones you already have on hand. If you really wanted to, you can use the brine as a base for your turkey and change up the seasoning to go with your desired flavours. Let’s discuss exactly what you’ll need in a little bit more detail down below:

  • Salt: A common ingredient in a basic brining solution. Salt not only adds flavour but it helps the turkey retain moisture during cooking. The salt in the brine alters the protein structure of the meat, making it more water-absorbent. The result? A more juicy and tender turkey. I like using fine ground sea salt for this recipe since it easily dissolves in water. However, you can use any ground salt you have on hand.
  • Sugar: Adds another layer of flavour and bit of sweetness to the brine (which nicely balances out the saltiness). I specifically like using brown sugar for this recipe as it adds a sweet, caramel-like flavour to the turkey and helps with browning. However, you can use white sugar instead, if you prefer.
  • Paprika: Adds flavour, vibrancy and colour. For a diverse array of flavours, we use both smoked and sweet paprika in this recipe.
  • Dry Mustard: Adds a pungent, slightly spicy and tangy flavour to the turkey brine.
  • Cajun: Adds a combination of spicy and smoky flavours to the turkey brine.
  • Cayenne: Adds a bit of heat to the turkey seasoning and brine. Add more for extra spicy or omit completely for none at all. If you don’t have any cayenne on hand but are still looking to add that kick, try using chili flakes instead.
  • Pepper: Adds balance and flavour and makes the rest of the spices pop. For different layers of flavour, we use both ground peppercorns and whole peppercorns in this brine for the turkey.
  • Bay Leaf: Adds a subtle, aromatic and Earthy flavour to the turkey.
  • Onions: Adds flavour and a natural sweetness to the turkey. Chopped white onions work best in this recipe.
  • Garlic: Adds flavour and balance to this homemade turkey brine recipe. For maximum flavour, we use both whole (smashed) garlic cloves as well as garlic powder in this recipe.
  • Lemon Zest: Adds citrusy notes and flavour to the turkey brine and seasoning. Also provides a refreshingly nice balance between the heat and smokiness of the other ingredients.
  • Water: Our primary brining liquid which carries all of the other ingredients. Water helps the turkey retain moisture while cooking and helps balance the concentration of sugar and salt.
side view of turkey brine in a pot with a large raw turkey in the background


spoonful of turkey brine with bay leaf, peppercorns and onions over a pot of the rest of it

You can find full instructions for how to make brine for the turkey in the recipe card down below, but here are a few quick tips to keep in mind:

  • Depending on the size of your turkey or the pot you choose to brine it in, use your judgement to scale the recipe up or down. Adjust the ingredients to your taste and size of the turkey. The turkey should be fully submerged in the brine throughout the entire brining process for maximum flavour and best results. EXTRA TIP: If you notice your turkey having a hard time staying underneath the brine, use a heavy object (such as a weighed down plate or a cutting board) to apply pressure to the turkey and keep it submerged in the brine at all times.
  • Pat the turkey dry with clean paper towels before and after submerging it in the brine. It may seem a bit pointless to do this since the brine is wet but it’s important for several reasons. First, excess moisture on the surface of the turkey dilutes the brine. By patting the turkey dry, you ensure that the brine remains at the intended concentration, which is crucial for proper seasoning and moisture retention. Second, it prevents bacteria from the turkey spreading into the brine and allows the brine to adhere to the turkey more effectively. Finally, if you’re roasting the turkey after brining, a dry skin promotes crispier and browner skin.
  • Make sure the salt and sugar are dissolved in the water before adding the turkey to the brine. This ensures an even distribution of flavours throughout and maintains the consistency of the brine. When undissolved granules of salt and sugar remain, it can lead to making some parts of the meat too salty or too sweet.
  • Allow the brining solution to cool off or come to room temperature for at least an hour before adding your bird. This helps control the spread of bacteria and helps with maintaining the texture and moisture in the meat.
  • Don’t over-brine your turkey or it could end up too salty. The ideal brining time for a turkey depends on its size and the strength of the brining solution. See the section down below for a general guideline on how long to brine a turkey. EXTRA TIP: Once the brining time is complete, rinse the turkey thoroughly to remove excess salt. Don’t forget to pat it dry before hitting it with the seasoning.
hands holding a pot of turkey brine with onions and a bay leaf


The ideal brining time for a turkey depends on how big it is and how concentrated your brining solution is. Here is a general guideline to follow when it comes to brining turkey:

  1. Small Turkey (12 pounds or less): Brine for 12-24 hours.
  2. Medium Turkey (12-16 pounds): Brine 18-24 hours.
  3. Large Turkey (16 pounds or more): Brine for 24-48 hours.

It’s crucial to make sure you don’t over-brine, as this can lead to an overly salty turkey. Remember to keep the turkey refrigerated while brining to ensure it stays at a safe temperature throughout the entire process.


The actual brine for the turkey consists of water, sugar, salt and a few other aromatics and flavour enhancing ingredients such as spices, onions, garlic and lemon zest. Use a large pot or food grade container big enough to hold your turkey. The turkey should be fully submerged in the brine at all times and refrigerated throughout the entire process.


The basic formula for brine typically includes water, salt and sugar. Here’s a standard ratio for a basic brine: For every 1 gallon (or 16 cups) of water, you will need 1 cup of salt and 1/2 cup of sugar. However, you can adjust the amounts based on your taste preferences and size of your bird. In this recipe for homemade turkey brine, I add additional seasonings and aromatics to customize it.


Yes! It is important to rinse the brine off the turkey to ensure you remove any excess layers of salt which could make the meat overly salty if not rinsed off. Rinsing also helps cleanse the bird and remove any brine residue or aromatics that may have adhered to the turkey.

When rinsing, place the turkey under cold running water to flow through the cavities and over the entire turkey. Gently pat it dry with paper towels to remove any excess moisture from the surface before cooking.

pot of stock, onions and a bay leaf with a wooden spoon in it, next to another jar of stock and a raw turkey
pot of stock with chopped onions and a bay leaf


Yield: 1 Brining Solution
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Brine Time: 1 day 1 hour
Total Time: 1 day 1 hour 20 minutes

If you're a fan of extra flavour in your food, then brining turkey before cooking it should be a no brainer. And if you're looking for the Best Turkey Brine Recipe that not only gives you flavour but promises moist and juicy results every single time, look no further than this!


For the Seasoning

  • 1 tbsp Sweet Paprika
  • 1 tbsp Smoked Paprika
  • 1 tbsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 tbsp Cajun
  • 1 tbsp Dry Mustard
  • 1 tbsp Cracked Black Peppercorn
  • 1/2 tsp Cayenne
  • Zest of 1 Lemon

For the Brine

  • 1 Gallon (or 16 cups) Water
  • 1 cup Salt
  • 1/2 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1 tbsp Seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp Whole Black Peppercorns
  • 1 White Onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 Cloves Garlic, smashed


  1. Add all of the ingredients for the seasoning into a small bowl. Whisk until well combined.
    spices and lemon zest unmixed in a bowl
  2. In a large stock pot over medium heat, add all the ingredients for the brine. Stir frequently, until the sugar and salt fully dissolve. Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for at least an hour.
    chopped onions, spiced and stock in a large pot
    chopped onions, stock and spices in a pot
  3. When ready to brine: Pat the turkey dry with clean paper towel. Fully submerge the turkey in the brine for 12-48 hours (see notes for details). Use a plate or some other heavy object to weigh it down if you need to. Always keep it refrigerated throughout this process.
    large raw turkey in a pot
    brine with chopped onions being poured on top of a raw turkey in a large pot
    turkey submerged in brine topped with chopped onions
  4. When ready to cook: Remove the turkey from the brine. Rinse it under cold running water and pat it dry with clean paper towels. Rub the remaining seasoning all over and under the skin and in every crevice. Fill the cavity with fresh herbs and halved lemons, if desired. Cook the turkey however you like but my go-to method is roasting it in a 350° oven for 13 minutes per pound. I cover it tightly with foil for majority of the roasting time then remove the foil in the last half hour or so of cooking. Say helllo to moist and juicy turkey!


It's essential to have enough brine to fully submerge the turkey, so the exact amount of water may vary based on the turkey's size and the shape and depth of your brining container. Adjust the water quantity accordingly and with it, be sure to maintain the proper ratio of salt, sugar and other seasonings.

This turkey comes out a little spicy, a little smokey with tender and juicy insides. Feel free to use the brine as a base then make your own seasoning for the outside of the bird depending on your taste preference and the flavour profile you're going for.

Turkey Brining Time Guidelines:

  1. Small Turkey (12 pounds or less): Brine for 12-24 hours.
  2. Medium Turkey (12-16 pounds): Brine 18-24 hours.
  3. Large Turkey (16 pounds or more): Brine for 24-48 hours.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 1 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 560Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 117782mgCarbohydrates: 134gFiber: 14gSugar: 97gProtein: 9g

Nutrition is only an estimate and calculated using Nutritionix.

Did you make this recipe? I love seeing your creations!

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