Perfect Turkey Brine: How Much Salt to Water Ratio for Juicy, Flavorful Meat

Sabrina Dawson

how much salt to water for turkey brine
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When preparing a turkey for a special occasion like Thanksgiving, achieving the perfect flavor and juiciness is a top priority. Brining is a widely trusted technique to ensure your turkey is both flavorful and moist. This comprehensive guide will dive deep into the details of how much salt to water ratio you need for the perfect turkey brine, explore the science behind brining, and provide step-by-step instructions for both wet and dry brining methods.

Turkey Brine

Brining involves soaking the turkey in a solution of water and salt, sometimes with added herbs and spices. This process enhances the turkey’s moisture retention and flavor. There are two primary methods of brining: wet brine and dry brine. Both methods have their pros and cons, but the key to either method is the correct salt to water ratio.

The Science Behind Brining

Understanding the science behind brining helps to appreciate why it’s such an effective technique. The salt in the brine dissolves certain muscle proteins, which allows the meat to retain more moisture. This process, known as osmosis, results in a turkey that is juicier and more flavorful.

When the turkey is cooked, the dissolved proteins prevent the muscle fibers from contracting too much, which otherwise would squeeze out moisture, leading to a dry bird. Additionally, salt penetrates deeply into the meat, enhancing its flavor.

Salt to Water Ratio

How To Brine Turkey to Keep It Extra Tender

Traditional Wet Brine

For a traditional wet brine, the recommended ratio is typically:

1 cup of kosher salt per gallon of water

This creates a solution that is approximately 6% salt by weight. Here’s a simple guide to determine how much water and salt you need based on the size of your turkey:

Turkey Weight Water Needed Kosher Salt Needed
10-12 lbs 2 gallons 2 cups
12-16 lbs 3 gallons 3 cups
16-20 lbs 4 gallons 4 cups
20-24 lbs 5 gallons 5 cups

Dry Brine

Dry brining involves rubbing the turkey with a mixture of salt and sometimes other seasonings, without the use of additional liquid. The ratio for dry brine is:

1 tablespoon of kosher salt per 4-5 pounds of turkey

This ratio can be adjusted based on personal preference for saltiness.

Preparing Your Brine

Citrus Turkey Brine Recipe


For a basic wet brine:

  • 1 cup kosher salt per gallon of water
  • Optional: 1/2 cup sugar (white or brown), herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage), spices (peppercorns, bay leaves), and aromatics (garlic, onion)

For a basic dry brine:

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt per 4-5 pounds of turkey
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon baking powder (for extra crispy skin), herbs, and spices

Instructions for Wet Brine

  1. Choose a Container: Select a large container that can fit your turkey and brine. A food-safe bucket, large stockpot, or even a brining bag will work.
  2. Prepare the Brine Solution: Dissolve the salt (and sugar, if using) in water. You can heat some of the water to help dissolve the salt faster, but ensure the brine is completely cooled before adding the turkey.
  3. Submerge the Turkey: Place the turkey in the container and pour the brine over it, ensuring the turkey is fully submerged. If the turkey floats, place a weight on it to keep it submerged.
  4. Refrigerate: Refrigerate the turkey in the brine for 12-24 hours. For a larger turkey, you might need up to 48 hours.
  5. Rinse and Dry: After brining, remove the turkey, rinse it thoroughly under cold water to remove excess salt, and pat it dry with paper towels.
  6. Rest: Let the turkey rest in the refrigerator uncovered for several hours or overnight to let the skin dry out for a crisper finish when cooked.

Instructions for Dry Brine

  1. Pat Dry: Pat the turkey dry with paper towels.
  2. Apply Salt: Sprinkle the kosher salt evenly over the surface of the turkey, including under the skin where possible. Add baking powder for extra crispy skin if desired.
  3. Refrigerate: Place the turkey on a rack set over a baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for 12-24 hours. For more intense flavor, you can dry brine for up to 48 hours.
  4. No Rinsing Needed: Unlike wet brine, there is no need to rinse off the salt. Simply pat the turkey dry before cooking.

Tips for the Best Brining Results

Turkey Brine Recipe

  • Use Kosher Salt: Kosher salt is preferred because of its purity and large grain size, which makes it easy to measure and distribute evenly.
  • Maintain Cold Temperature: Always keep the brining turkey in a refrigerator or a cooler with ice to prevent bacterial growth.
  • Balance Flavors: If using additional herbs and spices, make sure they complement each other and the turkey. Popular choices include thyme, rosemary, sage, bay leaves, garlic, and peppercorns.
  • Monitor Brining Time: Do not exceed the recommended brining time as over-brining can lead to a too salty and overly tender texture.
  • Consider Skin Dryness: For a crispy skin, make sure the skin is thoroughly dried before roasting. This can be achieved by resting the turkey uncovered in the refrigerator for a few hours after brining.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Using Table Salt: Table salt is denser than kosher salt and can make the brine too salty. Always use kosher salt unless otherwise specified.
  • Not Dissolving the Salt: Ensure that the salt is completely dissolved in the water for an even brine.
  • Over-Brining: Over-brining can result in a salty and mushy turkey. Stick to the recommended brining times.
  • Improper Refrigeration: Failing to keep the turkey at a safe, cold temperature can lead to foodborne illness. Always brine in a refrigerator or adequately iced cooler.
  • Skipping the Rinse (Wet Brine): Failing to rinse off the brine can result in an overly salty turkey. Make sure to rinse and pat dry thoroughly.


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How Long Should I Brine My Turkey?

The optimal brining time depends on the size of the turkey. Generally, brining for 12-24 hours is sufficient. For larger turkeys (over 16 pounds), up to 48 hours may be necessary.

Can I Brine a Pre-Salted or Kosher Turkey?

No, pre-salted, kosher, or self-basting turkeys have already been treated with salt and additional brining can make them too salty.

Should I Use Aromatics in My Brine?

While adding aromatics like herbs and spices can enhance the flavor, it’s not essential. Most of the aromatic flavors don’t penetrate deeply into the meat. A flavorful rub or herb butter might be more effective for infusing flavor.

Can I Brine a Turkey Without a Refrigerator?

Yes, if you don’t have enough refrigerator space, you can use a cooler. Make sure to keep the brine cold by adding ice packs or frozen water bottles, and monitor the temperature to ensure it stays below 40°F (4°C).

How Much Salt Should I Use for a Smaller Turkey?

For smaller turkeys, adjust the salt proportionally. For instance, a 10-pound turkey would require 2 gallons of water and 2 cups of kosher salt for a wet brine.


Brining is a simple yet transformative process that can significantly enhance the flavor and moisture of your turkey. Whether you choose a wet brine or a dry brine, the key is to use the correct salt to water ratio and follow the brining guidelines. By doing so, you’ll ensure your turkey is the star of your holiday meal, delighting your guests with its succulent and flavorful meat.

Remember, the details matter: the right type of salt, the right amount of time, and the correct handling of the turkey throughout the process will make all the difference. Happy brining and enjoy your deliciously moist and flavorful turkey!