Thanksgiving Turkey Brine

The Ingredients and Method for Brining a Tasty Turkey

Chef Sara Moulton explains how to safely prepare a turkey.
Difficulty: Easy
Cook Time: min

"This recipe makes 3 quarts of brine, enough for a 10 to 25 pound turkey. All of the spices and herbs in this recipe add great flavor, if you can't find one for some reason, don't worry, just leave it out."

-Sara Moulton

Recipe adapted from "The New Thanksgiving Table," Diane Morgan, Chronicle Books, 2009


  • 2/3 cup Diamond Crystal brand kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon juniper berries, crushed (see cook's note)
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed (see cook's note)
  • 2 teaspoons whole allspice berries, crushed (see cook's note)
  • 5 fresh sage leaves
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 cups hot water
  • 4 cups ice water
  • Plus:
  • 2 turkey size plastic oven bags or brining bags (see cook's note)
  • 1 large roasting pan (or a very large bowl)
  • 1 fresh or thawed frozen turkey (12 to 20 pounds)
  • Cook's note: The easiest way to crush whole spices is to use a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. If you do not have either of these kitchen tools, place the whole spices in a heavy lock-top plastic bag, seal the bag while pressing out all the air, and pound them with the bottom of a small, heavy saucepan until coarsely crushed.
  • Cooking Directions

    For the Brine:

    In a large saucepan, stir together the salt, sugar, cloves, juniper berries, peppercorns, and allspice. Add the sage leaves, thyme, and bay leaves along with the hot water. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Boil for 3 minutes, then remove from the heat. Add the ice water and stir to cool the mixture. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.

    The Method:

    Nest 1 plastic oven bag inside the other to create a double thickness (see cook's note below). Place the double bag mouth open wide and facing up, in the roasting pan (Sara's note: if your roasting pan will not fit in your refrigerator, use a very large bowl).

    Fold back the top one-third of the double bag to make a collar (this helps keep the bags open). Place the turkey inside the double bag. Unfold the collar of the double bag and pour the brine over the bird, then add 2 cups of cold water. Draw up the top of the inner bag, squeezing out as much air as possible, and secure it closed with a twist tie. Do the same with the outer bag. Turn the package so the turkey is breast side down in the roasting pan (or very large bowl) and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours. Turn the turkey 3 or 4 times while it is brining.

    Remove the turkey from the brine. Discard the bags, brine, and any cured herbs or spices remaining on the bird. Rinse the turkey under cold water and pat dry with paper towels (sanitize the sink afterwards). Place the turkey back in the roasting pan (or on a rimmed sheet pan that is large enough to hold the turkey) and refrigerate, making sure that it touches nothing else in the fridge, uncovered, for at least 6 hours or up to overnight. This resting period allows the skin of the turkey to dry a bit so it is crisp when roasted. The turkey is now ready to be roasted.

    Cook's note: Plastic oven bags (made by Reynolds) are found with other food storage bags at supermarkets. Buy the turkey-size bags. They are food-safe, plus they are big, strong, tear resistant, and come with twist ties. Do not use plastic garbage bags, as they are not intended for food storage. I use a double thickness of bags as a precautionary measure against leakage. For the same reason, I place bagged turkey in a roasting pan.

    Recipe Summary

    Main Ingredients: kosher salt, sugar, allspice, sage, thyme

    Course: Sauces and marinades, Dressing

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