This simple Smoked Turkey Brine infuse spices, herbs, and citrus flavors into your turkey to ensure it stays moist and tender while cooking. This brine can be used for any method of cooking a turkey.
We’ve found that a wet brine is the best way to infuse moisture into the turkey before smoking. After brining your bird, smoke it on ANY grill and serve it with turkey gravy and all those thanksgiving sides!
Although I’ve called this a “Smoked” Turkey Brine recipe, the brine recipe can be used to brine any turkey, for any method of cooking, including a traditional roast turkey in the oven. I personally don’t think brining is necessary when roasting a turkey in the oven (if using a store-bought turkey it already has natural brine injected into it), but a brine works well when smoking a turkey, to help keep it moist during a long cooking time.
What You’ll Need:
- A turkey: An un-brined turkey if possible. Many store-bought turkeys are already injected with a brine to keep the meat moist (butterball turkeys, for example). You can check the ingredient label, and if there are more ingredients than just turkey, this may be the case. It’s not a problem if the turkey is already brined, but a pre-brined turkey won’t absorb as much of the brine flavor as an un-brined turkey will.
- A large pot or container: big enough to submerge the turkey, but small enough to fit in your fridge. A brining bag works great for using with a 5 gallon bucket or in a cooler. Choose a container that is glass, plastic, or stainless steel.
- Spices: salt, peppercorns, bay leaves, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary.
- Water, sugar, garlic.
- Citrus: one large orange and one lemon.
How long to brine a turkey:
Brine your turkey in a wet brine for 1 hour per pound of turkey. For smoking a turkey, we recommend buying a smaller bird (15 lbs or less). A 15 pound turkey would brine for 15 hours. Don’t brine a turkey for much longer than 18-24 hours maximum as the turkey meat can take on a spongy texture and extra salty flavor.
How to brine a turkey:
1. Make the brine
- Fill pot with water: add 1 quart of water to a large pot. This is not the same pot you will place the turkey in so it doesn’t need to be big enough for the turkey.
- Add brine ingredients: add sugar, salt, garlic cloves (whole, peeled), Bay leaves and peppercorns to the water. Add the orange and lemon peel, being careful not to include too much of the pith (the white, bitter flesh below the outer peel). Finally, add the sprigs of rosemary and thyme.
- Simmer: Let the mixture simmer over medium heat until the sugar and salt have completely dissolved.
- Add brine to cold water. Once dissolved, pour the brine into a larger container (one large enough to hold the turkey, but small enough to fit in your refrigerator!) that contains 1-2 quarts of very cold water. Pour the brine into the container with the cold water to cool down the brine.
2. Place turkey in brine. Place the turkey in the container with the brine, breast side down, making sure that the entire bird is submerged. If necessary, you can place a heavy plate or pot lid on top of the bird to keep it submerged.
3. Refrigerate. Cover the container and refrigerate for about 1 hour for every pound of turkey. Remove the turkey from the brine making sure that the brine has been drained and all of the spices and aromatics have been removed. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels and place on a large baking tray sheet. Now you’re ready to smoke that turkey!
Can you brine a frozen turkey? Yes! This is one of the great things about brining; you can conveniently brine and thaw your turkey at the same time! However, you don’t want to brine a turkey for longer than 18 hours, so you may want to thaw the turkey for a few days before brining depending on the size.
Which container to use: You can brine a turkey in any glass, plastic, or stainless steel container that is big enough to fit the turkey and small enough to fit in your refrigerator. A brining bag works great for using with a 5 gallon bucket or inside a cooler.
Dry brine vs. wet brine: Dry brining (or essentially a turkey rub) is faster and easier, but wet brining really increases the moisture in the bird. If you are smoking a turkey, the wet brine is highly recommended because you’ll be smoking low and slow and the turkey is at greater risk of drying out than with an oven roasted turkey.
Don’t miss my other resources for how to make Turkey gravy with the drippings, and How to Carve a Turkey.
Smoked Turkey Brine
- 1 quart water
- ½ cup Kosher salt
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 4 large garlic cloves , peeled
- 3-4 Bay leaves
- 1 Tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 Orange peel , from 1 large orange
- 1 Lemon peel , from 1 lemon
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- Fill a pot with 1 quart of water. Add the sugar, salt, garlic cloves, Bay leaves and peppercorns.
- Add the orange and lemon peel, being careful not to include too much of the pith (the white, bitter flesh below the outer peel). Finally, add the sprigs of rosemary and thyme.
- Let the mixture simmer over medium heat until the sugar and salt have completely dissolved.
- Once dissolved, pour the brine into a larger container (one large enough to hold the turkey, but small enough to fit in your refrigerator) that contains 1-2 quarts of very cold water. Pour the brine into the container with the cold water to cool down the brine.
- Place the turkey in the container with the brine, breast side down, making sure that the entire bird is submerged. If necessary, place a heavy plate or pot lid on top of the bird to keep it submerged.
- Cover the container and refrigerate for 1 hour per pound of turkey (or a maximum of 18-24 hours*) prior to cooking.
- If you're not ready to cook the turkey after the brining time is up, remove it from the brine, pat dry well, cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.
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