Brining a Whole Turkey

Chef's notes:

Typically, poultry and pork are the most popular target meats for brining. But a marinade is another form of a brine. So you may have been brining meat for years, and you never knew it. How trendy of you.

There are so many things that you can do with brine. This basic recipe and method are good starting points, but you can add just about anything you can imagine to the brine. Some will be delicious. Some will be horrible failures. Just keep track and try improving upon your recipe in small increments. But taste, try and adjust. That is the best way to perfect your own recipe.


  • 11-16 lb. turkey
  • 1 ½ C kosher salt
  • ½ C sugar
  • 6 oz frozen juice concentrate
  • 1 gallon warm water
  • Cool water as needed
  • 5 pounds ice cubes

Whole Turkey Brined in a Solution of Kosher Salt, Sugar, and Frozen Citrus Juice Concentrate

  1. First, you must make sure you have the tools required to brine a turkey. The process is going to require a large container to hold the brine and the turkey. A cooler works the best, but I have seen other plastic tubs and buckets used. The cooler works well because it keeps the turkey cool the longest. But if you use enough ice, anything will work.
  2. Next, you need to procure a turkey that will fit into your brining vessel. The turkey, depending on its size, may take two full days to thaw in the fridge. Refrigerator thawing is the safest way to thaw meat. The other realistic way to thaw a turkey is to thaw it in cool running water. But that is wasteful.
  3. Next, you will be preparing the brine for the turkey. The basic recipe for brine is salt, sugar and water. The recipe I have chosen for this bird is as follows: 1 ½ C salt, ½ C sugar, one 6 oz container of frozen lemonade concentrate, and one gallon warm water. It is not necessary to cook this mixture; just stir until everything is dissolved.
  4. Put the turkey into the cooler and pour the brine over it. Make sure to get the brine in the cavities. You can add more water if the turkey isn’t fully covered. The recipe should not be diluted beyond a total of two gallons water. Add five pounds ice to the turkey brine. The ice will keep the turkey cool, since you won’t be able to fit this in the fridge.
  5. Brine the turkey for 6 – 36 hours, depending on how you like your turkey. The longer the turkey sits in the soak, the saltier and juicier it will become. But it probably won’t reach peak saltiness until day 2. After you take the turkey out of the brine, dry it with paper towels before cooking. Enjoy.

Tips & Tricks

  • Those cheap, disposable Styrofoam coolers have a tendency to leak. So skip all that and just get a real cooler, but make sure to clean it really well before and after you brine your turkey in it.
  • Also, do not attempt to use a zipper-locking style bag to brine an 11-pound turkey in. I know it seems like you could use a two-gallon bag and put it inside a tall pot in the fridge. But those bags just aren’t built to stand up to the kind of pressure that much weight provides. Believe me: I already tried.
  • If you live in a cool environment, you can put the turkey outside while it brines, but remember to put it somewhere out of reach of animals. Also, the water will get below freezing, so don’t put your bare hands in it.