Whether you plan to roast, grill or smoke your turkey, you may be wondering whether taking time to brine your bird is a necessary step. While we love to be the authority on all things turkey, we asked grilling professional Robyn Lindars, a.k.a. GrillGirl, for her expert opinion:

“The answer is YES! Brining is your chance to take your bird to the spa and let it hang out in a saltwater bath, which will help retain moisture (and flavor!) during the cooking process.”

Brining isn’t a new technique. Dating back centuries, brining began as a method of preserving meat long before the days of perfectly climate-controlled meat cases. But we assume you’re not here for a history lesson!

Rosemary Turkey Brine in pot
Rosemary Orange Turkey Brine by GrillGirl

Today, brining really has one main goal: keeping the turkey tender and extra juicy while it cooks. In its simplest form, the salt mixture penetrates the turkey meat, helping it retain moisture while cooking. However, you can also add herbs and spices to the brine help to boost the turkey’s flavor profile.

There are two types of brines: wet and dry. One uses liquid and, you guessed it, the other uses dry ingredients. We’ve broken each brining type down to help you make the best choice for your turkey.

Wet Brine

Making a wet brine at home is easy as 1, 2, 3, using just a few simple ingredients. The most basic brine recipe is just water and kosher salt at a ratio of one cup of salt to one gallon of water.

Develop additional flavor for your turkey by adding fresh herbs, seasonings, citrus or even apple juice to the brine.

honey glazed brined turkey breast on a plate
Honey Glazed Smoke Turkey Breast by Salt Pepper Skillet

Here are some of our favorite wet turkey brine recipes to get you started:

Note: Some whole turkeys and turkey breasts are already injected with a solution including water and salt. If using one of these products, consider reducing your brine time. Just make sure to read the label on your turkey or ask your grocery store’s meat department.

Dry Brine

brined smoked Turkey Breast sliced on a cutting board
Wolf’s Revenge Granch Champion Turkey Breast

Dry brining, a.k.a. salting, involves rubbing salt, seasonings and/or sugar directly onto the meat and skin before letting your turkey rest in the refrigerator. During this process, the salt draws out the juices through osmosis. We’re not scientists, but trust us, it works!

To allow this reaction to work its magic, it’s recommended to allow 24-36 additional hours of brine time if opting to use a dry mixture. The optimum ratio of kosher salt is 1 tablespoon per 5 pounds of turkey.

That said, it’s incredibly simple – just combine the salt and spices and rub the mixture into the meat, cavity and skin. Voila! Cover the turkey, place it in the refrigerator and let the spices do their thing until it’s time to cook.

If you’re up to the task, here are some dry turkey brine recipes worth a try:

Additional Brining Tips

When wet brining your turkey, the only other essential is a large container for submerging the turkey that can fit in the refrigerator or stay iced down. We recommend a food-safe bucket, Cambro container with a lid, large stockpot or a sealable brine bag. Make sure your brining container is large enough for your cut of turkey and the liquid. No need to cry over spilt turkey brine!

smoked turkey brine
Smoked Turkey Brine by Salt Pepper Skillet

Place a heavy plate or a gallon-sized Ziploc bag of ice over top of your turkey to keep it submerged in the brining liquid.

Kosher salt is preferable to finer salt. Table salt will result in a bird that’s too salty.

Food safety is key, so keep your turkey chilled throughout the brining process. Brining time will vary based on the brine and size of the turkey.

Don’t wash your turkey after brining. Washing raw poultry increases the risk of spreading harmful bacteria around your kitchen.  If necessary, pat the turkey with a wet paper towel to remove excess salt.

Do wash your hands and sanitize surfaces after handling raw turkey.

Once finished, discard the brine.

Now that you have the knowledge to brine, it’s up to you to wield this new power wisely. Just remember to save us a bite!