Simple Brine For Turkey

5 from 4 votes
15 minutes
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This simple brine for turkey of salt, sugar, and fresh herbs is super simple and versatile–you can also use it with pork or chicken. It’s perfectly scaled for a turkey breast or two but can be easily adapted to a whole turkey. Best of all, with this recipe, you won’t be throwing a lot of extra ingredients away because each ingredient serves a real purpose. Read on for lots more brining tips!

Turkey breast half in Easy Turkey Brine in stainless steel bowl.

Why This Recipe is a Keeper!

Because my personal chef clients entrust me with their money, I must be highly conscious of wasting ingredients.

Many brine recipes involve a lot of extra spices and aromatics like onions, carrots, garlic and fruit such as citrus. According to Serious Eats, those extra ingredients make your brine smell good but do little to flavor the meat past the skin. In a brine solution, the salt does all the work. All those other ingredients that don’t have much impact on flavor will just get thrown away in the end.

This simple brine for turkey has added flavor with fresh herbs, but dried herbs may also be used, making this simple turkey brine recipe very economical.

This simple turkey brine recipe can also be used for pork or chicken, and it’s scaled perfectly for one or two turkey breasts but can be doubled or tripled for a large turkey.

How to Make a Simple Brine for Turkey:

Recipe Ingredients:

Here’s everything you’ll need to make this simple turkey brine recipe, along with how to prep. See the recipe card below for the exact quantities.

Ingredients for Easy Turkey Brine.

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions:

  • Hot Tap Water: If you can get your tap water hot enough, there’s no need to boil your brine. When I’m at the home of one of my personal chef clients, I don’t have a lot of time, so boiling water and then cooling it with ice cubes they may not have, or I would have to purchase, is out of the question. >>You should never pour hot brine over a raw turkey because it promotes bacteria growth, and you can start to “cook” the turkey.
  • Sugar: I use regular granulated sugar because it’s inexpensive, but you could also use light brown sugar, turbinado or coconut sugar in this simple brine for turkey.
  • Kosher Salt: Kosher salt is ideal in brines because it’s generally very pure and has no additives–nutritional or otherwise. Regular table salt often has iodine, and sea salt is more expensive. The added iodine is not a big deal, but keep in mind table salt has smaller granules/crystals, so it’s a good idea to use 1/3 less.
  • Black Peppercorns and Fresh Herbs: According to the Serious Eats argument that aromatics do little to impact the flavor of the meat, they do help flavor the skin. Therefore, if you still have them in your herb garden or don’t mind purchasing them, a few aromatics do serve a purpose.

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  • Start with hot tap water. Run your faucet until the water gets as hot as it will get, then measure 8 cups into a large bowl. Eight cups is also two quarts, four pints, or 1/2 gallon.
Water in stainless steel bowl.
  • Add the salt and sugar. (The water will be very cloudy.)
Sugar and salt added to hot water in stainless steel bowl.
  • Then start whisking!
  • Keep whisking until the water clears and the salt and sugar have dissolved.
  • Before adding the herbs and black peppercorns, grab your rolling pin and vigorously crush them to release their flavor. They should become very aromatic.
  • Toss the herbs and peppercorns into the turkey brine solution.
Easy Turkey Brine in stainless steel bowl.
  • Slip the turkey breast into the brine and refrigerate covered or uncovered for up to 4 hours. An average boneless turkey breast half will be between two and three pounds. The general rule of thumb for how long to brine a turkey depends on the weight, but it’s generally one hour per pound. I usually go a little longer on a breast because white meat can be so dry.
Turkey breast half in Easy Turkey Brine in stainless steel bowl.
  • That’s it! Blot the turkey breast dry before cooking it or storing it.
  • If you want crispy skin, let the turkey breast sit in the refrigerator uncovered overnight.

More turkey brining tips and tricks:

  • Plastic containers with a cover that you can find in the home storage area of most home improvement or department stores such as Target or Walmart are great for brining whole turkeys. They may even fit in your dishwasher to clean and sanitize them when you’re done brining the turkey.
  • Avoid using a cooler to brine a whole turkey unless you are SURE you can keep the temperature at a safe temperature BELOW 41 degrees. The danger zone for bacterial growth is between 41 and 135 degrees.
Turkey breast half in Easy Turkey Brine in stainless steel bowl.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why brine a turkey?

Because turkey is so lean, it needs help to keep it from drying out. Brining a turkey is a simple process that helps it stay juicy and moist.

Scientifically, a low-concentration salt solution increases protein solubility, triggering its ability to become altered. The brine helps dissolve some of the muscle fibers, which helps reduce the meat’s toughness. During brining, the moisture is slowly drawn into the protein. After brining, the turkey starts with more liquid than when it started, so the result is more juicy and moist.

Because the turkey absorbs some of the salt, brining also works to season it deeply.

IMPORTANT! Ensure the turkey you’re using has not been injected with brine or other flavoring solution.

What’s the difference between a marinade and a brine?

Brining is meant for moisture, while a marinade is meant for flavor. Marinades generally contain an acid, while salt does all the work in a brine.

Why does brine contain sugar?

Sugar does not do a lot to flavor the meat but promotes better skin browning.

How long should I brine a turkey?

The general rule of thumb for how long to brine a turkey depends on the weight, but it’s generally one hour per pound. Therefore, a 12-pound turkey would need 12 hours. An 18-pound turkey would need 18 hours, etc.

Can I use dried herbs instead?

Yes. You can use dried herbs, but if using dried, you’ll need to apply some heat to get their flavoring ability started. Place them in a cup of water in a small saucepan on the stove and bring it to a boil. Alternatively, place in some water and heat in the microwave.

What is the right salt-to-water ratio for brine?

Generally, you want four tablespoons of salt (1/4 cup) for each quart (4 cups) of water.

Try this brine with these turkey recipes!

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Turkey breast half in Easy Turkey Brine in stainless steel bowl.

Simple Brine for Turkey

5 from 4 votes

Click to Rate!

By: Carol | From A Chef’s Kitchen
This simple brine for turkey of salt, sugar and fresh herbs is super simple and versatile–you can also use it with pork or chicken. It's the perfect amount for a turkey but it's easily adaptable to a whole turkey. Best of all with this recipe, you won't be throwing a lot of extra ingredients away because each ingredient serves a real purpose.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Course Chicken and Turkey
Cuisine American
Servings 6
Calories 422 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 8 cups hot tap water - (1/2 gallon)
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 small bunch fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 1 sprig fresh sage leaves
  • 1 (2-3 pound) boneless turkey breast half

Instructions
 

  • Run the tap to get the water as hot as it will get. Measure 8 cups into a stainless steel bowl.
  • Add the kosher salt and granulated sugar and whisk until the salt and sugar have dissolved and the water clears.
  • Place the herb sprigs and peppercorns on a cutting board and crush them with a rolling pin until they're well-bruised and fragrant. Add to the water.
  • Slip the turkey breast into the brine and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
  • Pat dry to cook or pat dry and place in the refrigerator uncovered overnight to dry out the skin then proceed with your recipe.

Notes

SUBSTITUTION:  You can use dried herbs but if using dried, you’ll need to apply some heat to get their flavoring ability started. Place them in a cup of water in a small saucepan on the stove and bring it to a boil. Alternatively, place in some water and heat in the microwave.
The general rule of thumb for how long to brine a turkey depends on the weight but it’s generally one hour per pound. Therefore, a 12-pound turkey would need 12 hours. An 18-pound turkey would need 18 hours, etc.
This simple brine for turkey recipe is easily doubled or tripled.  Keep in mind the ratio of salt to the water.  Generally, you want 4 tablespoons of salt (1/4 cup) for each quart (4 cups) of water.
 

Nutrition

Serving: 1 | Calories: 422kcal | Carbohydrates: 108g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 56686mg | Potassium: 199mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 100g | Vitamin A: 362IU | Vitamin C: 7mg | Calcium: 169mg | Iron: 3mg

These are estimated values generated from a nutritional database using unbranded products. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.

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Recipe Rating




4 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This is the best brine recipe! I did add a few lemon peels using a vegetable peeler, otherwise I followed the recipe exactly as written! I’ll definitely be using this recipe again!

    1. Hi, Diana, Thanks so much and so glad this worked out for you! I really feel simple is the way to go since the salt really does all the work, but if you found an enhancement that you like and that worked for you, no problem in that. Thanks again!

    1. Hi, Melissa, So sorry about that; I’m looking into the issue. The recipe as published should be adequate for that size turkey breast. Place the whole breast in the brine upside down so the bone side is up. Adjust the brining time as needed. Thanks again!