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Turkey Brine Recipe with Directions and Tips for a Great Outdoor Smoked Turkey
Homemade Brine Makes a Extra Tasty Turkey

Kum Ba Ya
Brine and Smoke a Turkey

Brining a turkey makes sense, because turkey does not have a lot of natural flavor. Turkeys are generally pretty bland which is why most turkeys are processed in some way to add flavor.

What is Brining?

Brining is a process similar to marinating; however, there are differences. A marinade uses an acid base to tenderize meat with the flavors concentrated on the outside of the meat. Brining uses a salt base which chemically allows the flavored fluids to infuse the poultry cells and provide extra moisture and flavor.

What Kind of Turkey Can be Brined?

When brining your own turkey, avoid turkeys that are labeled self basting or flavor injected. Although you can brine a pre-brined or flavored turkey, you’re really doubling up on the pre-cooking process. You end up with a combination of flavors rather than the pure taste of your personal brine, so it’s pot luck if you double brine over top of store injected turkeys.

The best turkeys for home brining are natural turkeys which have not been processed beyond the very basics. Such turkeys are generally labeled natural or have notes on the label like “no additives” or “minimally processed.” When in doubt, check with the meat department. The butcher should be able to help you make a good selection.

Time Involved in Brining an Outdoor Turkey

Don’t roll out of bed on a holiday morning and expect to brine and smoke a turkey. The brining process does take some time.
Steps for Brining a Turkey to Barbecue Smoke

Here is a rough break down of the steps involved to have a brined turkey ready to go on the barbecue grill in time for a special meal.

1. Mix up brine and cook solution.
2. Allow time (overnight is a good idea) for brine mixture to thoroughly cool (can’t add turkey to hot brine or it starts to cook – not good and not safe).
3. Let turkey rest in brine for 8 hours or more.
4. Air dry turkey for 8 hours on rack after brining in refrigerator (so skin will cook up crisper) and so the turkey will not be wet and drippy.
5. You can brine a turkey overnight or brine the day before and allow time for drying during the night hours. In either case, brining means that you start the day before (or sooner), unless you’re planning a dinner meal and begin early on the meal and skip the extra drying time.

Basic Turkey Brine Recipe

There are many recipes for turkey brine. The basic ingredients are liquid, salt, and sugar.

* 2 gallons of water (or one gallon vegetable stock and one gallon of cold water)
* 2 cups kosher salt (or 1 cup table salt or 1 1/2 cups sea salt)
* 1/2 cup brown sugar

Seasonings of choice (see ideas below - there are many flavors that can be added to a brined turkey)


1. Bring one gallon of water or one gallon of vegetable stock and the salt to a boil in a large cooking pot and stir until salt is dissolved.
2. Remove hot brine from heat and add brown sugar and seasonings. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
3. Add cold water and stir.
4. Cool brine in non-reactive container large enough to hold the brine and a turkey with the turkey fully submerged. Most folks don’t have containers in this size range, so a large plastic bucket may be a good idea. A cooler may also be used. The brine and turkey will go in the cooler, and tightly closed bags of ice are added to keep the temperature at 40 degrees or lower.
5. Once the brine is cold, add the thawed turkey breast side down with the spare parts (giblets, neck and so on) removed. Shake so that brine goes into the cavity. The turkey will float at this point, so add a heavy plate or something (a brick in a tightly closed bag is an option) to hold the turkey down in the brine mixture.
6. Let turkey sit in brine mixture for 8 hours minimum (can go up to around 18 hours – but the turkey meat can taste kind of mushy if brined too long).
7. Remove from turkey carefully, remembering that cavity is full of brine too. Rinse and pat the turkey dry. Leave on cabinet for an hour or put on rack over pan and leave in refrigerator uncovered for around 8 hours for a crispy skin when cooking.
Good Seasoning to Add to the Turkey Brine

Enjoy various combinations of seasonings in the brine. You can use any or all (all might be a bit much) of the following seasoning by putting them in a little cheesecloth bag and floating the bag in the brine mixture. Experiment with other favorite seasonings as well.

These are just general ideas with typical amounts to add to your turkey brine.

1 TBS crushed dried rosemary
10 whole cloves
1 TBS savory
1 TBS dried sage
1 TBS dried thyme
1 TBS dried savory
3 tsp peppercorns
1 (1 oz) pack of pickling spice

Smoking the Brined Turkey

Turkey is a large piece of meat and is best smoked in a barbecue smoker. It is possible to grill a turkey, but the grill needs to be large enough so that the lid fits over the turkey. Also, the heat needs to be offset so the turkey is barbecuing with indirect heat.

Brining and smoking a turkey is a long process overall but really not that labor intensive. And, it’s really hard to beat an outdoor smoked turkey for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or just because the family wants something a little different smoked up for a nice dinner.


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