Homemade is Better—Turkey Brine

With Canadian Thanksgiving coming up this weekend, I thought I’d release a recipe for brining a turkey.  I use this recipe every year when I cook a turkey because it adds both flavour and moisture.  Brining is a great way to get some insurance of juiciness in your meats, and turkey isn’t the only thing that benefits.  Chicken, pork, and certain beef recipes also benefit from a quick brine.

So, why should we brine?  In simplistic terms, brining is a way to force more water into the muscles of the met your cooking.  In this instance, we are cooking a turkey, so we want to add as much moisture to the bird as we can because it’s going to lose some moisture when we roast it (if you’re roasting it).  We want to prevent our turkey from losing more moisture than it should, and brining is one way to do that.

Now, a brine in itself is a combination of salt and water.  It doesn’t have to be only those two ingredients, though; you can kick it up to get different flavours into the turkey.  For this recipe, I’m using a ratio of 1 ¼ cups of kosher salt to 4 litres of water (or in the US, it would be 1 ¼ cups to 1 gallon).  So, the more water you have, the more salt you’ll need. You’re also going to add some sugar, I know it’s a swear word to some, but the sugar will sweeten the meat and add colour to the skin.  The form of sugar is your choice, though, and honey is an excellent addition as it adds sweetness and flavour.  You can also add a few other ingredients to it, like bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves, allspice. It’s really about what you think will taste the best, and it can complement your dressing or other dishes.

To find out how much water you need you’ll need a pot or cooler large enough to hold the turkey.  I use a large beverage cooler; it’s about five gallons, and I know it will work.  If you’re not sure how much brine to add, then put your turkey into the brining container and fill it up with water until the turkey is just covered.  Once your container is filled, pull out the turkey, and measure out the water there.  If your container has a measurement on the side, it should be easy.  Round up or down if it’s within 1 -2 inches above or below the nearest number.  So, if you’re close to one gallon, then you know you only need 1.25 cups of kosher salt.  By the way, this method of checking the water level is called displacement.  You are using the product you need to cover as the item to displace the water, so you’d get an accurate-ish measurement.

If the temperature outside is hovering around 2-5C, you could put the brining turkey outside if you don’t have room in your refrigerator.  The fridge is the best choice for storage, though, because it will keep it cold.  You’ll have to make room, of course, but if your turkey isn’t massive it should be doable.  I usually make sure I use half the amount of water as ice to keep the brine cool enough.  If you have a probe thermometer with a corded end on it, you can also use that to keep an eye on your temperature.

You only want to brine the bird for about two hours for every kilogram of turkey (or one hour for every pound).   So, a 7 Kg turkey should brine around 14 hours, usually overnight and up until mid-morning.  You should start your brine mid-afternoon, let it cool, then add your turkey around 8 or 9 pm the night before you cook it (based on the 7kg or 15- 16-pound turkey).  The turkey will be done around noon, and then you can take it out, dry it off, and roast it at 350F until the breast meat reaches 160F.  Remove it from the oven, cover it loosely with tin foil, and let it rest for 30 minutes.

I hope you enjoy this recipe!

Brine for Turkey


2L water
2L ice
1¼ cup kosher salt
½ cup honey
½ cup brown sugar
1 tbsp black peppercorns
Three bay leaves

  • Mix the salt, sugar and water in a pot and
  • Heat over medium until the water is mostly clear.
  • Turn off the heat.
  • Add the honey and continue to stir.
  • Add in ice to cool the water.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients.
  • Put brine in a large pot or cooler
  • Remove the turkey from the package and remove other parts from the turkey.
  • Place turkey in cool or pot, refrigerate for 2 hours per Kilogram, or 1 hour per pound.
  • Remove after brining and rinse.
  • Dry off the bird before cooking.