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Smoked Turkey Brine (4 Turkey Brine Recipes!)

Smoked Turkey Brine (4 Turkey Brine Recipes!)

4 stress-free Smoked Turkey Brine recipes: basic turkey brine, cajun turkey brine, citrus turkey brine or apple cider brine. These flavorful brines use a mix of fresh herbs, spices and other ingredients to enhance the flavor of the turkey meat and increase the moisture content.

These can be used as a whole Smoked Turkey brine, Smoked Turkey Breast brine, Smoked Turkey Wings brine, turkey leg brine or even a sous vide turkey breast brine.

Best Turkey Brine For Smoking

The best smoked turkey brine recipe is the one who’s flavors reflect the rubs and seasonings you’re going to use on the bird. Here’s a quick guideline to help you decide which recipe to use:

Basic Brine

Don’t let the name fool you because “basic” is in the title. This recipe is designed to add moisture and flavor to turkeys seasoned with the classic fresh herbs and spices: dried poultry seasoning, fresh sage, fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, garlic, kosher salt, black pepper, etc. 

Slices of citrus and fresh herbs in a pot of water.

Citrus Turkey Brine

Looking to add a little zing and sweetness to your turkey this year? This orange turkey brine has your name on it. Not only does it have the classic poultry seasoning flavors, it layers in elements of citrus for an extra flavor boost. Citrus along with the kosher salt works wonders as a meat marinade. 

Cajun Turkey Brine

Use this recipe when using a cajun recipe for turkey. Again, it’s all about adding extra subtle flavors inside the meat along with moisture. A cajun brine will compliment, not overwhelm, a cajun turkey. Utilize your favorite cajun seasoning or make your own. Slap Ya Mama is one of our favorite brands. 

Apple Cider Brine

Apple cider is used heavily to keep moisture in meat when making a variety of smoker recipes; from marinades to sprays. The combination of classic turkey seasonings, apple cider, and maple syrup, this is definitely considered “best brine for smoked turkey” if you’re aiming for a fall themed turkey.

What Does A Brine Do?

Brining your turkey provides an extra layer of flavor to the meat and skin, as well as, helps retain the moisture. The salt mixture draws out the existing moisture in the bird before reversing course to start soaking up the flavored brine.

Raw poultry and green herbs on a baking sheet.

How To Brine A Turkey For Smoking

Brining the turkey is a lot easier than it sounds. The hardest aspect really is the advanced planning required as it needs to brine for up to 24 hours before smoking a turkey.

Make the Brine

Gather the ingredients and add to a large pot over high heat. Cook until the salt and sugar are dissolved; it doesn’t need to boil. Remove the brine from the stove and allow to cool to room temp. The mixture MUST be colder than room temperature before you proceed to the next step.

Prep the Turkey

Remove the giblets (throw out or keep to make gravy or turkey broth) and place the turkey in the large stock pot filled with cooled brine or a brine bag. Make sure the turkey is fully submerged in the brine.

Remove the Brined Turkey

After brining, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse well with cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

Smoke A Brined Turkey

Now it’s time to pull up your favorite turkey recipes and get to cooking! Whether it’s a Traeger smoked turkey (Traeger turkey brine), grilled turkey or roasted whole turkey you’re making, these brines are perfect.

Close up of a cooked smoked turkey on a striped cutting board. A knife and large fork are next to the bird.

How Long Do You Brine a Turkey?

It depends on the part of the turkey you’re brining.

  • Whole Turkey: 12-24 Hours
  • Turkey Breast or Legs: 2-4 Hours

Can You Use a Frozen Turkey?

Yes, you can brine a frozen turkey but you need to time it accordingly. Since a whole turkey should only be brined for up to 24 hours, place the partially thawed turkey in the brine 24 hours before it’s totally defrosted.

A turkey thaws at a rate of 4 pounds per day, so calculate the defrost time according to the size turkey you buy.

Turkey Brine Kit

Other than the brine ingredients, the only other thing you really need to brine a smoked turkey is a container to hold it in. These are three common routes for holding the big beast:

Large Stockpot

Save money by using an extra large stockpot you already have on hand. A simple way to know if it’s large enough is to place the poultry inside the pot when still in the wrapper. When it’s in, make sure there is enough room to add a few gallons of liquid and solid ingredients. If not, you’ll need a large stockpot.

Keep in mind it will also need to be stored in the refrigerator so if you don’t have room for a large stockpot, you’ll need to go the brine bag route. 

Insulated Cooler

Break out a large insulated cooler and use it as your container. This route also keeps your refrigerator clear for all your other Thanksgiving grub. You must keep a steady supply of ice on hand, to keep the water cool. Again- anything room temperature and above can introduce bacteria. Inexpensive coolers will require a bit more monitoring than higher end coolers, like Yeti, as they’re better at maintaining the low temperature.

Brine Bag

A popular option is a large brine bag for turkey. These are available on Amazon or your local grocery store come November. These take up much less space in the refrigerator, so it’s a great option if you’re limited on space or don’t already own a large stockpot. 

For a smaller part, like the turkey breast (pictured below) you can probably get away with a, extra large Ziploc bag.

Smoked turkey breast on a silver baking sheet.

Expert Tips

  • Do not use a pre-brined turkey. A pre-brined turkey is already loaded with salt, therefore you’ll end up with an extremely salty bird that you won’t enjoy. If the label says “water added” or “sodium solution” don’t brine it.
  • Kosher salt works best, to brine a turkey, as it’s inexpensive and won’t leave a “metallic” flavor like iodized table salt. You could use sea salt, but it’s pricey for the amount required to brine.
  • Never add the turkey to warm or hot brine as to avoid bacteria growth. This is where advanced planning is exceedingly necessary. We allow the brine to cool for an hour, before transferring to the refrigerator to cool for another hour before using.
  • Do not brine for longer than advised. The meat will become mushy AND will be over-salted. Check out the guideline above for exact recommendations.

Raw turkey and citrus slices in a stock pot.

Smoked Turkey Brine Recipe

Raw turkey in a stockpot with fresh herbs.
Print Recipe
5 from 1 vote

Smoked Turkey Brine (4 Different Brine Recipes)

4 stress-free Smoked Turkey Brine recipes: basic brine, cajun brine, citrus brine or apple cider brine. These flavorful brines use a mix of fresh herbs, spices and other ingredients to enhance the flavor of the turkey meat and increase the moisture content.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Cooling Time2 hrs
Total Time2 hrs 15 mins
Course: Homemade Spices
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Turkey Recipe
Servings: 1 Use
Author: Darcey Olson
Cost: $5

Ingredients

BASIC BRINE (*Note 1)

  • 2 gallons Water
  • 1 cup Kosher Salt
  • 1 cup Brown Sugar, Packed
  • 10 Fresh Sage Leaves
  • 3 sprigs Fresh Rosemary
  • 3 sprigs Fresh Thyme
  • 8 cloves Garlic, Smashed
  • 3 tbsp Black Peppercorns

CITRUS BRINE (*Note 1)

  • 2 gallons Water
  • 1 cup Kosher Salt
  • 1 cup Brown Sugar, Packed
  • 2 large Oranges, Sliced
  • 2 large Lemon, Sliced
  • 8 cloves Garlic, Smashed
  • 10 Fresh Sage Leaves
  • 3 sprigs Fresh Rosemary
  • 3 sprigs Fresh Thyme
  • 3 Dried Bay Leaves
  • 3 tbsp Black Peppercorns

CAJUN BRINE (*Note 1)

  • 2 gallons Water
  • 1 cup Kosher Salt
  • 1 cup Brown Sugar, Packed
  • 1/2 cup Cajun Seasoning (Your Favorite Brand) (*Note 2)
  • 4 cloves Garlic, Smashed
  • 1 tbsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 tbsp Black Peppercorn

APPLE CIDER BRINE (*Note 1)

  • 2 gallons Unfiltered Apple Cider (*Note 3)
  • 1 cup Kosher Salt
  • 1 cup Maple Syrup or Brown Sugar, Packed
  • 8 cloves Garlic, Smashed
  • 2 tbsp Black Peppercorn
  • 2 tbsp Whole Allspice
  • 4 whole Cloves
  • 2 Dried Bay Leaves

Instructions

  • Add all the ingredients, from your brine of choice, to a large stock pot and heat over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from the heat and let the brine cool. (*Note 4)
  • Place the turkey in the stock pot (or brining bag) and refrigerate up to 24 hours. (*Note 5)
  • Remove the turkey from the brine and fully rinse with cold water to remove the excess salt. Do not skip this step. Pat dry with paper towels.

Notes

Note 1 - The above ratios are for a whole turkey. If you're making a turkey breast or legs, you can cut it in half.
Note 2 - Use your favorite cajun seasoning or made a homemade batch.
Note 3 - This is apple cider juice, NOT apple cider vinegar.
Note 4 - Never add the turkey to warm or hot brine as to avoid bacteria growth. We allow the brine to cool for an hour, before transferring to the refrigerator to cool for another hour before using.
Note 5 - Do not brine for longer than advised. The meat will become mushy AND will be over-salted.
Nutritional information will vary depending on the brine utilized, the size of the bird and how long the bird has been brined. 

 

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