How to Brine a Turkey for Smoking? A Step-By-Step Guide

How to Brine a Turkey for Smoking? A Step-By-Step Guide

Thanksgiving knocks on your door every year, and it's a joyous moment to get together and serve great food. It's time to be thankful.

It is only appropriate that we treat the Thanksgiving bird properly.

Brining is a gentle and easy way to bring a moist, tender, and flavorful turkey on your table. This method requires submerging your whole turkey in a liquid solution to marinate.

Even if you are short on cooking skills or aren't confident about your roasting skill, we have an alternate and straightforward way to make sure your turkey is the best highlight on the table as it should be.

In the time of festivities, the question that floats in your mind is- how do you brine a turkey? Well, there's an easy answer waiting for you.


What Does Brining Mean?

Brining is the method of soaking the meat in a liquid mixture for an extended period.

It improves the flavor of the meat as well as the moisture content of the lean cut of meats. Turkey is one of the leanest meats available.

You submerge your whole turkey in a solution of water and salt for several hours. However, it can be stock and other seasonings as well.

This is another marinate to get flavors into your meat. Although, this process makes sure your turkey stays juicy, tender, and toothsome.

Why Brine a Turkey?

In the case of turkey, brining is the ideal method to add flavorings and moisture.

Naturally, turkey is a lean kind of meat that can dry out quickly while it's cooking. Moreover, it has less fat, which does not help in keeping the meat moist.

However, it is still a popular poultry dish consumed by millions at the time of festivals.

Therefore, when you place the turkey in the brine, it absorbs the brining solution. Since the solution consists of salt, it helps to break down the muscles in the protein.

As a result, the meat becomes tender with continuous moisture absorption. Even if your turkey is overcooked, it still comes out juicy.

Besides, the brine seasons the meat all the way through from inside, which makes it more intense in flavor.

An important reminder: you should check to see if the turkey is brined or not. Thus, if you brine once again, it becomes quite salty. Make sure your bird is a natural one.

So, when a turkey is labeled as natural, it means no other ingredients are added into it.

How to Brine a Turkey Step-by-Step?

It might seem like heavy work but have no fear. This is an easy work to do, which you will find out by going through these next steps.

We will provide you with the necessary steps and brining recipe to make you a rockstar in roasting a mouthwatering turkey.

1. What You Need

Firstly, you will need some appropriate utensils for brining. Either one is fine.

  • A sizeable non-reactive container such as glass, stainless steel or plastic
  • Large food-safe sealable bags such as Ziploc storage bag or Reynolds Oven Roasting bag

You need to place the bag you choose in a large stockpot. This way, it keeps everything in one place and, more specifically, it makes cleaning up quite easy for you.

However, you must remember while using a container that metal ones are not preferable for brining. Metal can react with the brining solution, which can give a metallic taste to the turkey.

Secondly, you will need the ingredients for your brining solution.

  • Plenty of water, salt or sugar
  • Herbs and spices of your choice

When you are using salt in the brine, make sure it does not include iodine. It can ruin the flavor of your meat.

2. Measure the Water

You can measure the water by following the steps below –

  • At first, you need to keep the turkey in its packaging.
  • Then take a container large enough to place the turkey.
  • Next, fill the container with water.
  • After it's filled, remove the turkey.
  • At last, measure the water in the container.

Remember, the turkey is hollow, so you must add extra cups of water after it's unwrapped.

  • For a turkey over 16 pounds, you need to add three extra cups of water.
  • For a turkey under 16 pounds, you need to add two extra cups of water.

Once you complete the measurement, you should note it down for future brining. Next, you can figure out the amount of sugar and salt based on the measured water for adding into the brine.

3. Ingredients for the Turkey Brine

In order to create accurate brine for your turkey, you need precise elements.

  • For 1 cup of water, you need one tablespoon of salt. If you are working with a larger volume, you need 1 cup of salt per gallon of water — i.e., 16 cups in a gallon, 16 tablespoons in a cup.
  • In the case of kosher salt, you need to add double the amount of regular salt since kosher salt is lighter by volume as well as larger in crystal size.
  • For accuracy, you need to weight the salt as well. Thus, for 1 gallon of water, you need 10 ounces of salt.
  • Adding sugar is not necessary; however, it balances out the taste of salt. Moreover, it adds a different flavor to the turkey. There's no need for accuracy, although you can add 1 cup of sugar per gallon.
  • Additional flavors: apple cider, citrus fruits, garlic, rosemary, bay leaves, peppercorns, oregano, etc. The flavoring of your brine depends on your preference. You can use any herbs and spices.

4. Dissolve the Salt

It is important to note that the brine needs to be cold while the turkey is in it. But first, you need to make the brine.

  • Firstly, bring the water to a near boil.
  • Add 1 cup of the boiled water to the sugar.
  • Next, add the rest of the boiled water to the salt.
  • Make sure all elements are dissolved in the water.

Salt must dissolve in the water to prevent any leftover crystals remaining at the bottom of the container. If this happens, the salt will not penetrate the turkey. As a result, the turkey will remain unseasoned.

For an alternate method, you can mix all the ingredients in a large pot to make your brine.

When the mixture is boiled, you need to cool it down before putting the turkey in as the hot brine can spoil the meat. It is a lengthy process because you need to wait for the brine to get colder before brining.

5. Make a Mixture for Brine

Once the sugar and salt dissolve, you need to get started on making your flavor mixture for the brine. 

  • First, you need to pour the salt mixture and measured water into a container or a bag.
  • Then, combine the flavorings of your choice to make a mixture. With the suggested additional ingredients, you can come up with a delicious combination of flavors.
  • When all elements are in one pot, you must stir continuously. Also, scrape along the bottom just in case there are any remaining salt crystals present.
  • The constant circular motion can help in dissolving the salt completely. Once it's done, move along to the final step.
  • At last, you need to make sure your brine is cold enough so that you can add the turkey into the mixture.

Side Note: 

  • Making the brine in advance will give the additional seasonings time to blend and give more flavor to the brine.
  • Stir the mixture before placing the turkey as it will settle the brine.

6. Add Turkey

There are some critical points in this step, but let's make this easy for you.

  • At first, slowly lower the turkey into your brine.
  • Make sure the turkey is being placed the neck in first.

The neck must go in first as the brine will easily flow into the turkey body. Since the brine needs to have full contact with every inch of the bird, it needs to be fully submerged.

There should not be any air bubbles in the turkey, or else the maximum effect of the brine will not come forth.

  • Once the turkey is submerged, turn it a couple of times to combine all the surrounding ingredients.
  • As turkeys tend to float, you need to have a higher water level by an inch or two in the pot.
  • Push down the turkey if it still comes up.

If none works, you can always pour additional brine. Make sure to follow the same measurement of 1 tablespoon of salt with 1 cup of water. In the case of kosher salt, make it two tablespoons of salt.

If you are brining in a bag, you need to seal it completely. It is essential to remove air so that the turkey is entirely in touch with the liquid mixture.

7. Put an Ice Pack Over Your Turkey

It does not matter if you are using a container or a bag.

Since you need to make sure the turkey is completely immersed in the brine, it is better to put a heavy thing over the turkey.

In this case, you need to try an ice bag. This equipment will hold down the turkey inside the brine as well as help in cooling the brine solution.

However, if there is enough space in your refrigerator, you can always put the whole container in it.

On Thanksgiving, most of the time, turkey is not the only dish cooking. There can be many dishes stored in the refrigerator. So, if you do not have any, you can try other options.

Even a cooler is useful for this step. All you need to make sure is that your brine is getting colder.

However, you need to keep a constant eye on it from time to time as we only intend for it to be cool and not freeze.

8. Accurate Timing for Brining

The timing depends on the weight of the turkey as well as the amount of salt in the brine.

Thus, you need to remember that the soaking time will be shorter if the brine mixture is saltier.

  • Usually, a turkey can be brined for at least 1 hour per pound
  • So, if the turkey is 20-pound, brine for at least 20 hours
  • However, the whole turkey can be brined for 6 hours as well

If you are brining a turkey for the first time, you can brine on the low end of the time range to see the result of your brining.

Just in case it does not meet your preference, you can brine longer next time.

9. Rinse Turkey

When the turkey is finished brining, there will be a good amount of salt settled on the surface of the turkey.

Remember, do not put the turkey in the oven, smoker or fryer directly; it will make the meat taste very salty.

simple brine for turkey
  • At first, you need to rinse the whole turkey thoroughly, both inside and out.
  • Then submerge the turkey in the cold water.
  • Do not add any salt after it's rinsed, not even in a spice rub or separately. It does not need any.

Tips for Turkey Brine

  • It is better to use kosher salt instead of any other type of salt. Regular salt is denser and cannot be measured in the same way.
  • You have free reign on the selection of herbs. So, take advantage of it and use different herbs in the same brine such as parsley, marjoram, thyme.
  • Make sure you pat dry your turkey before roasting in the over so that you get a crispy, golden skin on the turkey.
  • Never put the turkey in warm or hot brine. Always make sure your brine is cold.

That's All for Today.

Gatherings can be tricky, especially when you are the cook! At the end of the day, all you want is to feed your guests delicious food.

Brining is a great and easy first step for cooking a delicious turkey, no matter your cooking style.

If you are precise in all your steps, you won’t have a hard time brining, and everyone will surely appreciate your efforts for serving a tasty meal.

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Theresa Lori

Hi, I'm Theresa. My passion for grilling delicacy gradually built during the time I was living with my parents. My family members especially my mother was a great fan of grilled dishes to and from the love of food. I started preparing smoked food with my mom. This bonding helped me to know more and more about to smoke, grill what always I share on So, in two words you can call me a BBQ lover.

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