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No, it’s not Thanksgiving silly. It’s April. Also known as turkey hunting season in certain paradigms.

My very first hunt was for turkey. It was deep in the Arkansas delta, on a three-thousand acre hunting preserve that runs five miles up the length of the great Mississippi. It was Spring, early on a Saturday morning after a night of imbibing aged Scotch and smoking cigars on a wide veranda with some well-heeled country folk that liked to live well, and take no prisoners, at least as far as food was concerned. I didn’t bag an old gobbler that morning, but it was an incredible hunt, and it was forever imprinted on my brain.

Turkey hunting seems to fall into a special category because of what a challenge it can be to bring one home.

Take this turkey for example:

I went to shoot clay last week and he was strutting around the range mocking everyone. I swear I saw him smile.

If they could smell as well as they could hear or see, we would probably be destined to putting a lot of chicken in our turkey recipes, or relying on the meat aisle of the grocery store a little too much. And so when you do manage to take an old gobbler home with you, you want to take advantage of this opportunity and prepare the meat in the best way possible.

Brining is an old-fashioned technique that involves soaking meat or poultry in a flavorful saltwater solution to enhance its moisture and taste. Despite the saltiness of the brine, the food doesn’t taste salty when it’s cooked, no, it is tender and succulent. This technique also works for pork chops and I would argue brining is a must for them as well as for turkey meat.

You’ll need a container bigger than the meat so you can keep it submerged in the liquid, which means you’ll need something to weigh it down as well—often times a plate works. As long as you have the crucial ingredients—salt, sugar, and water—you can play around with the rest of the flavors. Things like lemon rind, tarragon, parsley, and onion would all be good in this basic recipe.

So after you bag your gobbler, dunk him in this solution and see how much better he tastes.

Give this recipe a try sometime soon. Then call me from the dinner table and tell me what you think.

(And if you have to use chicken, it’s okay, no one is watching).

“Turkey Brine”

Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time12 hours
Total Time12 hours 15 minutes


  • "Turkey Brine”
  • 16 cups water
  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seed
  • 3 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 tablespoon crushed black pepper
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Peel of 1 orange
  • Peel of 1 lemon


  • Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil.
  • Remove from heat and let cool.
  • Add meat and submerge, cover with a weight so it stays completely submerged in liquid.
  • For a whole turkey refrigerate in brine for 24 hours, for breasts, refrigerate for 12.
  • Remove and pat dry and let rest on a rack for at least 3 and up to 24 hours before cooking.


  • Mike S.
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    What kind of cooking method goes best with brining? Any to avoid?

    • Georgia
      Posted June 1, 2010 at 7:17 pm

      You can really cook it however you please afterwards, but roasting is typically the next step!

      • T. R. Rupli
        Posted April 21, 2013 at 9:56 am

        harvested a tom at 07:30, skinned out the breast, and soaking in milk, want to smoke/grill at 4pm. I only have three hours. Is there a way to brine or otherwise prepare the breasts to maximize tenderness and retain juices as in deep frying.

        Appreciate any addive!

        • Post Author
          Posted April 21, 2013 at 7:12 pm

          You can do a quick brine that is just a few hours, FYI. Start in the morning and by the afternoon it will be ready for cooking. Congrats on your tom!

  • Rob F.
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    I've been brining turkeys for years, both when smoking and when grilling with indirect heat on a BBQ. I find that a large Ziploc storage bag (and they make them in very large sizes for non-food storage) works best when you have a really big bird. The bagged bird fits in the fridge better than a large tub or pot, and minimizes the amount of brine needed since you can squeeze all of the air out and keep the liquid in contact with the bird. Two more tips: 1) Using beer instead of water works great. 2) Basting with olive oil and then adding a rub, including kosher salt, pepper and paprika, before roasting, smoking or grilling, leaves the bird's skin a beautiful, tasty, golden brown.

    • Georgia
      Posted June 1, 2010 at 7:18 pm

      Great tips Rob! And you're right, a very very large zip lock bag works as well.

  • Theola Boldizsar
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 3:21 am

    i like exactly how she suggests ‘way’

  • Dara
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 8:50 am

    I just found your site, and have already put many of your tips to use. Thank you so much! Today I am brining our first ever harvested wild turkey, using your instructions. I just wondered about step “5” – Where do you let the turkey rest on a rack for 3 to 24 hours before cooking? Perhaps on a broiling pan in the refrigerator? Thanks for your help!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2014 at 7:35 am

      Hurray! Nice to have you join us!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 3, 2014 at 9:54 pm

      Yep that’s right! Fridge on a rack.

  • Jeri
    Posted April 30, 2014 at 7:34 am

    What’s the approximate weight of the turkey breasts? Any “minutes per pound” tip?

  • Shari Sacco
    Posted October 10, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    When you say rest on a rack…do you mean it just needs to be out of the brine for the 3 to 24 hours but still REFRIGERATED?

    • Georgia Pellegrini
      Posted November 23, 2015 at 6:29 pm

      Yes. The brine needs to retreat back into the center and the skin needs to dry out. Do this in the refrigerator!

  • Angela Flieger
    Posted October 31, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    Once I am done smoking the turkey breast for 12 hours, WHAT is the next step? As this turkey will still be raw, Right?

  • Angela Flieger
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    I have never had such an amazing smoked turkey breast in my life! Thank goodness we just BAgged ANOTHER bird! This recipe was so fantastic, I am smoking another wild turkey breast in the morning to share with the family. Thanks so much for the recipe and all of the tips!

  • Brenda Gretzinger
    Posted May 2, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    Georgia i bRined my turkey and now want to roast in the oven. What do u recommend for that as we dont have a smoker.

  • Brenda Gretzinger
    Posted May 2, 2017 at 1:34 pm
  • Andrina Mathew
    Posted September 13, 2018 at 2:01 am

    waoo Yummy so tasty, I am loving it. thanks for sharing with us.

  • Mike Bokelman
    Posted November 21, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    Love to brine the birds! I use a kosher salt , molasses, maple flavoring and experiment with herbs and seasonings! Usually with A large family gathering my bird disappears first! I’m gonna have to try your recipe ! Looks fabulous!

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