Turkey brine

Keeping your bird juicy isn't that hard — all you need is the right seasoning and a really large fridge. Brining is the first step to achieve a succulent roasted turkey.

If you've ever tried brining your meat, you'll have noticed a difference in how tender and juicy the brined meat is once cooked. Why not try it for Christmas or even the new year festivities?

The turkey needs to soak for around twenty-four hours, so plan accordingly.

Sofia has always cooked her traditional Christmas turkey buttered with aromatics in the cavity. However, this year it's time for a change. Time to test the brining process.

She will be spending Christmas at her son’s home so has had to freeze her turkey to cook on New Year’s Day. Did you know that you can defrost a turkey in the brine? As it defrosts it absorbs the fabulous flavours. How's that for a tasty tip?

History of Brining 

Brining is an ancient tradition in which people across the globe used salt, water, and spices to conserve meat long ago before the advent of refrigeration. It’s submerging the turkey in a bucket with a ratio of iced water, salt, and spices.

What Is Brine?

Brine is a salt solution made by mixing salt and water, usually about 5 to 8 per cent salt by weight. Some recipes include sugar and other ingredients to add flavor to the meat being brined, but a basic brine is a salt-water solution.

How Does Brining Work?

Here are three major functions accomplished by brining —and reasons to try it. It's so easy, too.

  • Meat absorbs some of the liquid: When a piece of meat is soaked in a brine solution, that solution is slowly drawn into the meat, and even though some of it is inevitably lost during cooking, it still makes a big difference. Since the meat starts out with more liquid within, it ends up juicier and more moist when cooked.
  • Muscle fibres are dissolved: Highly concentrated salt solutions will cause proteins to precipitate (essentially forcing them to aggregate with each other and clump together). On the other hand, a low-concentration salt solution has the opposite effect and actually can increase protein solubility and allow more proteins to dissolve. So brine actually helps dissolve some of the muscle fibres, which helps to reduce the toughness of meat.
  • Muscle fibres and meat proteins denature: A salt solution can denature proteins, essentially unfolding and unravelling them. As they unfold, water works its way in between these proteins so there is more water in between the meat proteins as the meat cooks. This results in a more tender cooked meat.

Turkey Brine

This recipe makes enough brine for one 8-9 kilo turkey


  • 7 litres water
  • 1 ½ cups coarse salt
  • 6 bay leaves (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon dried juniper berries (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
  • 1 fresh whole turkey (8 or 9 kilos), patted dry, neck and giblets reserved for stock, liver reserved for stuffing
  • 1 bottle dry Riesling
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • Stick of celery chopped
  • Large carrot sliced
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme


  • Bring 1 litre water, the salt, bay leaves, and spices to a simmer, stirring until salt has dissolved
  • Let cool for 5 minutes.
  • Line a 4 litre container with a large brining or oven-roasting bag
  • Place turkey in bag
  • Add salt mixture, remaining 6 litres water, and the other ingredients
  • Tie bag; if turkey is not submerged, weight it with a plate
  • Refrigerate for 24 hours, flipping turkey once.

Recipe and image source

Recipe: Martha Stewart Living, November 2007
Image: John Kernick