How to Brine a Turkey (for the Best Thanksgiving Meal Ever)

Katie Wells Avatar

Reading Time: 5 minutes

This post contains affiliate links.

Read my affiliate policy.

Wellness Mama » Blog » Recipes » Poultry Recipes » How to Brine a Turkey (for the Best Thanksgiving Meal Ever)

I love Thanksgiving and how it gives us a day together as a family to pause and reflect on all the things we’re thankful for each year. In fact, it’s not long into the Fall before I start thinking about Thanksgiving and start working on my meal plan for the big day.

I don’t start this far in advance just because I’m into planning (ok, maybe I am a little) but also because I want to have time to brine my turkey before roasting it.

If you’ve never heard of brining a turkey or skipped this step in the past, make this the year to try it! This one simple step makes the traditional turkey meal at least twice as delicious.

Why Brine a Turkey Before Roasting?

Brining involves soaking a turkey in a salt and liquid solution for at least a day prior to roasting, grilling, or frying. Brining adds flavor and moisture and helps the turkey retain flavor during cooking.

This is especially helpful if you use a pastured organic turkey from a local farm (more on that below) since they are not pre-brined like a conventional store-bought turkeys. (With a soy vegetable protein solution … no thank you!)

Brining takes a little planning ahead but really very little hands-on time, and the result is so worth it!

Ingredients for Brining a Turkey

The essential elements of brining a turkey are:

  • Liquid of some kind: Water works but I like to add apple cider and bone broth for added flavor.
  • Salt: The common amount is 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup per gallon of water. I personally like to use 2 gallons of liquid and 1.5 cups of salt.
  • Spices: Add any spices of choice. I like to add minced garlic, cracked pepper, and thyme. I also like to add two lemons and one orange, both zested and sliced.

You can customize these elements to suit your own taste. In a pinch, just use water, salt and any spices you like.

How to Make the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey (By Giving It a Bath!)

If you’re aiming to make the the turkey the star of the show this year, great news … it takes less effort to brine a turkey than to roast one! It’s the truth!

In fact brining makes the roasting process faster and results in a juicy, moist turkey with a whole lot of flavor … not like the dry, bland turkey so many of us grew up eating at holidays.

There are several ways to brine but the main thing is to use a big airtight container that maintains a cold temperature. The two ways I have accomplished this are:

  1. In a large stock pot in the fridge – This only works if you have room in the fridge, and I often don’t this close to Thanksgiving. The best and easiest way I’ve ever done this was the year I did have room in the fridge and I put a frozen turkey in the brine in the fridge two days before Thanksgiving in a 5-gallon food grade bucket. It defrosted and brined in those two days and the results were great.
  2. In a large cooler with replenished ice – A little more work refilling with ice but gives the same results if you don’t have fridge space. Basically, put the turkey in a large air-tight bag or container of some kind and pack ice around it. Check it to make sure that it is maintaining a temperature above freezing but below 40 degrees.

No Time? Still Brine!

Extra bonus: Brining not only makes turkey moist but it also defrosts the turkey quickly! So even a still-frozen turkey only a day or two before Thanksgiving has a hope for being ready on time and seasoned to perfection. The brine actually defrosts the turkey more quickly and infuses flavor as it does.

My Favorite Turkey Brine Recipe

This is my go-to recipe and the one I am prepping for this year…


How to Brine a Turkey (and Why You Should)

Make this simple and flavorful brine for your turkey this year and be amazed at how much flavor and moisture it adds to the finished meal!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Author Katie Wells


2 gallons


  • 1 gal water (warm)
  • cups salt
  • 3 qt apple cider
  • 1 qt chicken broth (or more apple cider)
  • 6 sprigs thyme (or 1 TBSP dried)
  • 8 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 2 lemons (zested and sliced)
  • 1 orange (zested and sliced)
  • 1 tsp whole cloves (optional)


  • Dissolve the salt in the warm water.
  • Add the apple cider, broth, thyme, garlic, lemons and orange and stir to combine.
  • Place the turkey in whatever container you will use for brining (stockpot, 5-gallon bucket, or bag) and add brine.
  • Cover or seal tightly and leave at least 24 hours but no more than 48 before your planned cook time. TIP: Place breast side down and make sure brine is touching all sides, if possible.
  • Before cooking, rinse well and pat dry. I recommend rubbing skin with butter and adding spices before roasting.
  • TIP: Roast breast side down and stuff with 1 apple, 1 lemon, 1 orange and 1 onion (all quartered). I roast uncovered at 450 for 45 minutes and then cover and reduce to 325 until done.

Like this recipe? Check out my new cookbook, or get all my recipes (over 500!) in a personalized weekly meal planner here!

where to find organic and free range turkeys for thanksgiving

Where to Find Organic Free Range Turkeys

I’ve gotten a lot of questions asking the best place to find organic, free-range turkeys for Thanksgiving. There are several options and I’m listing them in order of my preference:

Find a Local One from a Farmer

This is by far my favorite option and what we do whenever possible. The only problem is that it is often difficult to find a farmer with truly free range turkeys and they often have already pre-sold them by this time of year. Also, most farmers ask customers to pre-order in the spring when they hatch the turkeys so for most, it is too late to buy one. If you can find one this way, it is definitely preferable though.

Buy One from a Local Grocery Store

If you can’t get one from a local farmer  in your area, sometimes regular grocery stores carry them. I’ve seen a couple here at different times, though the prices can sometimes be incredibly high. This is probably the second easiest option if your store has them. The only caution here is that many organic turkeys labeled organic have just been fed organic feed but are not truly free range. Still a better option, but no where near the nutrients of truly free range turkeys.

Order One Online

I have done this in the past from companies I trust and have been impressed with them. Butcher Box occasionally has some great quality turkeys and U.S. Wellness Meats currently has some in stock as well.

Are you excited for Thanksgiving this year? Have you ever brined your turkey? Share your favorite recipes or Thanksgiving memories below!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


49 responses to “How to Brine a Turkey (for the Best Thanksgiving Meal Ever)”

  1. Cindy Atkinson Avatar
    Cindy Atkinson

    Will this brining method be appropriate for frozen store-bought turkey, which is not organic?

  2. Maribel Rodriguez Avatar
    Maribel Rodriguez

    Do I stuff and peel the apples, lemons and oranges in the turkey?? Is that what you mean????

  3. Erik Helgestad Avatar
    Erik Helgestad

    I like your idea of submerging the frozen turkey in the brine, killing one bird with two stones! Have you grilled the Turkey on a smoker grill? It’s the only way to go for me now for the last 4 years. It’s so juicy from the brine and tasty from the seasoning and the smoke flavor!

  4. Dulce Roman Avatar
    Dulce Roman

    Should you brine a turkey breast that has already been injected with turkey broth, salt and sugar?

  5. Ann Avatar

    5 stars
    11/23/2018–I brined (just salt water) my turkey the night before cooking last year and loved how it tasted. I use a 5-gallon pail and a 20-pound turkey. This year the change we made was to use 2 quarts of apple cider instead of some of the water. For the next turkey, I would like to add sliced lemons and oranges to the brine and apple cider. YUM

  6. Carherine Avatar

    I tried this brine recipe with a frozen turkey in the brine for 48 hours and the turkey is STILL completely frozen. Complete failure.

    1. Ann Miss Avatar
      Ann Miss

      Hi Catherine
      Did you use 1/2 – 3/4 Cup salt to each gallon of water?
      I use 1/2 cup (because we use minimal salt even though most of the salt stays in the brine)
      for each gallon of liquid (I use apple cider for 2 quarts of the liquid).
      I also let the turkey sit on the counter/in the sink all day ao it begins thawing and it
      is not so much work to unwrap and get the giblets out. In the evening I put it in the
      5-gallon pail with brine and it is thawed overnight.
      The pail (covered) sits in the kitchen overnight.

  7. Marie Avatar

    Hi Katie, I so much appreciate your sharing all of your research and work to help us all be healthier. My question on the turkey brining is do you know how it affects the overall sodium content of the turkey? I have family members with heart issues that have to watch their sodium intake.

  8. Beth Avatar

    What type of roasting pan do you cook the turkey in? Does it have a lid? If not, do you cover the turkey & if so, with what?

    We haven’t used aluminum foil in years & want to continue avoiding it. We haven’t hosted holidays in years where we needed to make turkey. Last time we did, we used a granite roaster as at that time research I had done indicated it was safer than our expensive, Teflon coated toaster we registered for our wedding.

  9. Lise Avatar

    I am bringing my frozen 27 lb local raised turkey in a cooler on the porch, ( live in NH and it’s cold) and was just reading that it should not be brined for more than 48 hrs. I started Sunday afternoon and am now concerned that it will be too salty and the meat mushy It is almost completely thawed. Should I take it out of the brine after 48 hrs rinse and leave in the fridge till Thursday? Or should I keep adding ice and deleting the brine?

  10. Melanie Avatar

    I have a 21 and a half lb turkey frozen. I am putting it in now for a 48 hr brine. It is too big for a 5 gallon bucket so I have to use a 6 1/2 or 7 gal. Do I need enough liquid to submerge it in the bucket or do you keep regularly turning it upside up down? Should I just keep making more brine to cover it?
    Help! Thanks!

  11. Dawn Avatar

    5 stars
    When I was cooking for all of my family, I always brined my turkey – now that it is only four (4) of us, I just make a boneless turkey breast, but, I still brine it. My father complains if it is not “browned” so I sear all sides to “brown” it.

    Brining does make it better 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating