How To Brine a Turkey Safely Best Way To Prevent Bacteria and Cross-Contamination Using This Recipe

how to brine a turkey safely

Giving a bath in salt water isn’t complicated but we recommend you follow this process for safety and best flavor.

Why Should You Brine a Turkey?

Because turkey is lean, cooking the dark meat to temperature often results in dry white meat. Nobody likes that. Brining can help. Basically, brining is soaking your turkey in a saline solution before cooking. This helps it take in extra moisture that can counteract the drying out problem.

A brined turkey needs to be rinsed afterward to remove the salty solution, so it’s a slightly safer means of “washing” your raw turkey. See the dangers of washing a raw turkey in our article here.

The key to success is planning ahead. Brining is a time-consuming process and since it needs to be done an hour before you start roasting, planning your time and process is essential.

Brining takes from 8 to 18 hours but it also takes time to create the brine to use. At its most basic, brine is dissolved salt and water — a lot of water.

You want the salt to completely dissolve in the brine. The best way to make it dissolve is to heat the water and simmer until the salt is completely absorbed. Then it is critical to cool the brine to room temperature. Pouring hot or warm brine over a raw turkey is dangerous because it can cause bacteria growth.

Be sure to set a timer to take the turkey out of the brine. Otherwise ,your turkey will taste overly salty and become spongy.

If you’re not ready to cook the turkey, remove it from the brine and rinse it (carefully to avoid spreading bacteria), pat it dry, and refrigerate. See the dangers of washing a raw turkey in our article here to familiarize yourself with safety tips. Try to avoid leaving it for more than two days.

Enhancing The Brine To Improve Flavor

You can also add to the brine to improve flavor. Aromatics can improve flavor and add an additional dimension to the seasoning of the bird.

Vegetables like carrots and celery, your favorite herbs like rosemary, sage, and thyme, fresh garlic, and even citrus fruits like lemon and orange are popular. And you can experiment with another turkey in advance, or keep notes for next year’s process.

Sample Recipe For a Great Brine

  • 7 quarts of water (28 cups) — may need more for large bird
  • 1-1/2 cups of coarse salt — don’t waste good salt
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seed
  • 1 tablespoon dried juniper berries
  • 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
  • 1 18-to-20 pound turkey patted dry
  • 1 bottle dry Riesling (a second bottle for sipping, LOL)
  • 2 medium onions thinly sliced — I recommend yellow or white
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme

Reserve the neck and giblets for stock and keep the liver for your stuffing.

You’ll need a 5-gallon tub or stockpot or bucket to brine in. Include a large brining or oven roasting bag for easier cleanup. You’re going to want to refrigerate the turkey during brining and if you don’t have fridge space, use a big cooler that can hold the bird and enough ice to keep the temperature at 40 degrees.


  1. Create brine the day before roasting the turkey so there is time to create the brine and brine the bird. Bring quart of water, salt, and other spices to a simmer and stir until the salt is completely dissolved. Then you want to cool the mixture for 5 minutes.
  2. Add your salt mixture, the rest of the water, and other ingredients.
  3. If it isn’t submerged, it is best to weight it down with a large plate.
  4. Refrigerate your turkey for 24 hours, flipping the turkey once half way through. If you’re using a cooler, be sure to keep the surrounding ice at a constant 40 degree and replenish enough times to keep it there.
  5. Remove it from brine an hour before roasting.
  6. Pat it dry — both inside and out — and rinse carefully.
  7. See our article about dangers of washing a raw turkey for important tips.


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