Turkey is the star of your Thanksgiving table. With wet brine turkey, the bird becomes infused with flavor, and you’ll have the juiciest meat with crispy skin. My guests have told me this was the best turkey they had ever had! This easy turkey brine recipe needs to be added to your Thanksgiving menu.
What does it mean to do wet brining?
A wet brine is when you submerge the turkey in a salted liquid overnight. The turkey’s proteins absorb the salt overnight, which in turn helps the turkey retain moisture while roasting.
When you plain roast a turkey, most of its juices will release while cooking, but by wet brining, it retains that additional moisture leaving you with a juicy bird infused with the flavors you brine them with.
You can also check out my dry brine recipe!
Turkey wet brine ingredients
In its simplest form, wet brining is water and salt. With wet brine turkey, you can really infuse great flavors with added ingredients in the brine.
- Salt: Enhances all the other flavors.
- Molasses and honey: Gives the skin a nice golden brown and crispy texture once roasted.
- Soy sauce: Helps with the brining process but also injects flavor into the bird while being absorbed.
- Red pepper flakes: Adds natural heat to the bird.
- Herbs and aromatics: Sage, thyme, and garlic all give the brine iconic flavors.
Herb butter ingredients
You’ll also need some herb butter to smear under the skin to infuse more flavors and fats into the meat.
- Butter: Unsalted butter helps you control how much sodium you use.
- Lemons: Use fresh lemons so you can zest them and extract as much flavor as possible.
- Fresh herbs: Sage and thyme will give you the classic turkey flavors you love.
Make sure you submerge the turkey breast side down and that you allow the cavity to fill with water. If you’re using a brining bag, push all the air out prior to closing. Then it’s time for the brine to work its magic!
How to bake a brined turkey
Remove the turkey from the brine. Remember, the body is filled with water, so carefully pour it out before putting it on the rack.
Dry the whole turkey with paper towels, including the inside.
Next comes the good stuff – the herb butter!
Combine the butter, fresh sage, fresh thyme, and lemon zest. Mix it up and start stuffing! This herb butter will flavor the turkey’s skin while roasting.
Add the herb butter under the skin. I also rubbed some on the outside after.
Herb butter tip:
Sometimes it’s hard to get under the skin, so before coming at it with the butter, use your fingers or carefully use a spoon to loosen the skin.
Below are some frequently asked questions about baking a wet brine turkey. If you don’t see your question in this list, please leave it in the comments.
How long do you thaw a turkey?
Thaw turkey based on weight. Use the following ranges as a guide:
- 4-12 pounds: 1 to 3 days
- 12-16 pounds: 3 to 4 days
- 16-20 pounds: 4 to 5 days
- 20-24 pounds: 5 to 6 days
According to Alton Brown, you can express thaw and wet brine at the same time in two days.
How long do you brine a turkey?
Brine for 18 hours, max 24 hours. If you brine for too long, the turkey can get overly salty and tough.
If you have reached the brining time and are not ready to roast, remove from brine, pat dry, and place in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
How do you prevent the turkey from burning?
Tent the turkey with aluminum foil (shiny side out) for the first half of the roasting so the skin doesn’t burn. Uncover for the second half to allow the skin to brown and crisp.
How long does it take to bake a turkey?
Since turkeys are different sizes, use a meat thermometer to ensure your turkey is fully cooked. Do not rely on “pop-up” turkey tabs!
Use the following sizes and times as a guide:
- 12-14 pounds at 350 degrees F: about 2 hr 45 min-3 hours
- 15-16 pounds at 350 degrees F: about 3 hr 30 min-3 hr 45 min
- 18-20 pounds at 350 degrees F: about 4 hr-4 hr 25 min
- 21-22 pounds at 350 degrees F: about 4 hr 30 min-4 hr 45 min
What is the safe cooking temperature of a turkey?
Turkey’s temperature should register 165 degrees F before you remove it from the oven. Check with a thermometer in these two places to ensure it is fully cooked:
- Innermost part of the thigh and wing
- Thickest part of the breast
Allow the turkey to rest. Wait at least 20 minutes before carving the turkey to allow the juices to settle.
I’ve had family members call this the best turkey they have ever had, and I hope your family loves it too. This easy wet turkey brine is the way to cook your turkey this Thanksgiving!
For the web story version of this recipe, click here!
In need of some Thanksgiving sides?
- Fresh Green Bean Casserole
- Cornbread Sausage Stuffing
- Slow Cooker Butternut Squash Soup
- Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad
- Roasted Butternut Squash Salad
Loved this recipe? Leave me a star review below!
Easy Wet Brine Turkey
- 14 – 18 pound turkey cleaned, innards removed
- 6 quarts water divided
- 1 ½ cups coarse kosher salt
- 1 cup molasses
- 2 cups honey
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon dried red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon dried sage
- 10 sprigs fresh thyme
- A few fresh sage leaves
- 2 heads garlic broken into individual cloves unpeeled & crushed
- 5 pounds ice cubes
- 16 tablespoons unsalted butter softened
- 2 lemons zested
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- If frozen, thaw turkey according to weight [see notes]
- In a medium pot, boil 3 quarts of water and mix in the salt until salt is completely absorbed. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
- In the same pot, add the molasses, soy sauce, honey, red pepper flakes, sage, thyme, garlic, and mix until blended.
- In your brining pot or large bucket/cooler, add the ice, the remaining 3 quarts of water, and then carefully pour the brine mixture in and mix until fully combined.
- Place the turkey into the pot breast side down and push the bird down to allow the cavity to fill with the brine mixture. Cover the cooler and let the bird sit overnight 18 hours, max 24 hours [see note].
- Once done brining, carefully remove the bird from the brine. Remember the cavity is filled with liquid, so allow it to pour out into the pot. Dry it fully inside/out with paper towels. Place bird on roasting rack+ pan.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Assemble the herb butter in a small bowl. Using your fingers, by the neck loosen the skin on the turkey so you can get under it and insert the herb butter. You can also use the extra herb butter to rub on the outside as well.
- Put on the lower rack and loosely tent with foil for the first half of cooking, then remove for final half for the skin to brown and crisp. Roast until the internal temperature of the turkey on the innermost part of the thigh and the thickest part of the breast is 165 degrees F [see notes].
- Remove turkey and transfer to a cutting board or serving dish and allow to rest for 20 minutes before carving/serving.
- Thaw turkey based on weight
- Brine for 18 hours, max 24 hours. If you brine for too long the turkey can get overly salty and tough. If you have reached the brining time and not ready to roast, remove from brine, pat dry, and place in refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
- Tent the turkey with aluminum foil (shiny side out) for the first half of the roasting so the skin doesn’t burn. Uncover for the second half to allow the skin to brown and crisp.
- Time: Since turkey’s are different sizes, use a meat thermometer to ensure your turkey is fully cooked. Do not rely on “pop up” turkey tabs.
- Turkey temperature should register 165 degrees F before you remove it from the oven. Check with a thermometer in two places to ensure it is fully cooked
- Allow the turkey to rest. Wait at least 20 minutes before carving the turkey to allow the juices to settle.
- Nutrition facts based on ⅓ pound turkey with herb butter per serving.