There are two ways to brine a turkey, using either a wet brine or a dry brine. A wet brine allows the turkey to soak up a saltwater solution overnight, resulting in an incredibly flavorful and moist turkey. A dry brine, which is much easier to do than a wet brine, involves covering the turkey in salt and letting it process in the refrigerator overnight. Dry brining also gives you the extra crispy skin that so many people favor. With either type of brine, however, the use of fresh herbs and spices between the turkey breast and skin can add even more flavoring.
How it works: For a wet brine, when you immerse a raw turkey in a salt solution overnight, the protein in the turkey absorbs the salt water, but it also retains more water as it cooks. This offsets the loss of moisture during roasting, resulting in a very moist cooked bird.
How it works: The salt in a dry brine draws the juices out of the turkey, then the salt dissolves into the turkey juices, which are then reabsorbed back into the turkey’s meat, breaking down proteins and producing an extremely tender, moist meat that’s seasoned throughout.
Unlike wet-brined turkeys, dry-brined birds don't absorb additional liquid—the dry brine just helps the turkey to hold onto the moisture it has. So you may want to add an extra cup or two of liquid to your roasting pan to make sure your drippings don't burn.
Here are a few flavor variations using a brine technique to help you cook your best turkey feast yet!
Turkey Brine Recipes
Wet-Brined Roast Turkey
For the brine:
- 1 1/2 cups kosher salt
- 5 lemons, cut in half
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 bunch thyme
- 1 bunch parsley
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 garlic heads, sliced in half crosswise
- 3 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
- 6 quarts ice water
- 18- to 20-pound turkey, thawed if frozen
For the turkey:
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut in pieces
- 4 medium yellow onions, peeled and cut into 2-inch wedges
- 6 medium carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 4 celery ribs, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 bunch rosemary
- 1 bunch thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 garlic head, sliced in half crosswise
- 20-quart food-safe container (or a 20-quart pot)
- Large roasting pan with rack
- Kitchen twine
Make the brine:
Two days before serving, combine 4 quarts of water in the pot with the salt, lemon, honey, thyme, parsley, bay leaves, garlic, and peppercorns. Cover and bring to a boil. Stir until salt is dissolved, then remove from the heat and add 6 quarts of ice water. Let cool completely.
Lower the turkey into the brine and refrigerate for 24 hours. After 24 hours, remove the turkey from the brine, pat dry, and place on a rimmed baking sheet, breast-side up, to air dry for a minimum of 24 hours in the refrigerator. Once the turkey is dried, it is ready to roast.
Roast the turkey:
Preheat the oven to 450°F with the rack in the lower third of the oven. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Remove and let stand 3 minutes. Skim off the froth and discard. Slowly pour butter into a medium bowl, leaving milky solids behind in the pot. Discard solids and reserve clarified butter in bowl.
Place the vegetables in the roasting pan and toss with oil. Place roasting rack on top of vegetables. Stuff the cavity of the bird with the rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, and garlic, and tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Place the air-dried turkey on the roasting rack, breast side up.
Brush the turkey skin with the clarified butter and season the skin generously with salt. Roast the turkey for 1 hour. Rotate the pan and cook until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reaches an internal temperature of 165°F, 1 to 1 1/2 hours more. Allow the turkey to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before carving.
Basic Dry-Brined Turkey
- 1 12- to 16-pound turkey
- Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 10 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley
- 2 small onions, halved
- 2 small apples, cored and halved
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups white wine*
1. Two days before serving, rinse turkey and pat dry. Rub all over with kosher salt, slipping salt under skin where possible and rubbing some into cavities. Use about 1 tablespoon per 4 pounds of bird.
2. Wrap bird in a large plastic bag and place in refrigerator. On second night, turn turkey over. A couple of hours before cooking, remove turkey from bag and pat dry. (There is no need to rinse it first.) Place in roasting pan and allow to come to room temperature.
3. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle half the pepper into main cavity of turkey; add thyme, parsley, half the onions and half the apples. Truss legs with kitchen twine. Put remaining apples and onions in neck opening and tuck neck skin under bird. Rub butter under breast skin and onto thigh meat. Sprinkle bird with remaining pepper.
4. Roast for 30 minutes. Remove turkey from oven, reduce heat to 350 degrees and cover breast of bird and wing tips with foil. Add 1 1/2 cups white wine to bottom of roasting pan and roast bird for another two hours, depending on size; figure 12 minutes a pound for an unstuffed bird. Remove foil in last half-hour so breast browns.
5. When turkey has roasted for 2 hours, begin to test for doneness by inserting a meat thermometer into two places in thigh, making sure not to touch bone. It should be at 165 degrees.
6. When roasting is done, tip turkey so interior juices run back into pan. Remove turkey to a separate baking sheet or serving platter, cover with foil and then a damp kitchen towel and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes.
7. Pour fat and drippings from pan into a measuring cup. Deglaze pan with 1/2 cup white wine and pour that into same measuring cup. Fat and drippings can then be used to make gravy.
*You may substitute water in Step 5 (in the roasting pan), and broth in Step 7 (to deglaze the pan).
Dry Brined Herb-Roasted Turkey with Variations
- 3 tablespoons Kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons rubbed sage
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 (12- to 14-lb.) whole fresh or frozen turkey, thawed
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- Wooden picks
- Kitchen string
- Vegetable cooking spray
Stir together first 6 ingredients to make brine mixture. Remove giblets and neck from turkey; pat turkey dry. Sprinkle 1 tbsp. brine mixture into cavity; rub into cavity. Reserve 1 tbsp. brine, and sprinkle outside of turkey with remaining brine; rub into skin. Chill turkey 10 to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 350°. Stir together butter and reserved 1 tbsp. brine. Loosen skin from turkey breast without totally detaching skin; spread butter mixture under skin. Replace skin, securing with wooden picks. Tie ends of legs together with string; tuck wing tips under. Place turkey, breast side up, on a lightly greased rack in a large roasting pan.
Bake at 350° for 2 hours and 30 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in thickest portion of turkey thigh registers 165°. Remove from oven; let stand 30 minutes before carving.
Turkey Brine Variations
Cajun Brine Roasted Turkey: Prepare recipe as directed, substituting paprika for sage, dried oregano for dried thyme, and 2 tsp. ground red pepper for black pepper.
Provence Roasted Turkey: Prepare recipe as directed, substituting marjoram for sage and tarragon for garlic powder and adding 1 tsp. dried lavender flowers to brine mixture.
Five Spice Brine Roasted Turkey: Prepare recipe as directed, substituting Chinese Five Spice for sage and ground ginger for thyme.