How to Brine a Turkey for Smoking – The Right Tips And Method

For smoking a turkey, you need to save it from drying out. The key to locking the moisture in your bird is – brine. To many, brining simply means pouring water, salt and sugar in a container. But this isn’t the case here, especially when you are smoking a turkey for a special occasion. 

From maintaining the right temperature to the right timing and perfect water to spices ratio, everything leaves a taste note. So, how to brine a turkey for smoking? Let’s start digging in! 

The Importance of Brining a Turkey 

Two things that cannot be achieved without brining a turkey are moisture and flavor. The salt in brine lets the diluted mixture of flavors enter into the meat cells. It also plays a crucial role in retaining moisture and infused flavors throughout the smoking process.

Hence, the longer you brine your turkey, the more flavors will be absorbed. However, brining for extended periods is not recommended as it may turn the turkey’s texture spongy or make it over salted.  

How Long to Brine a Turkey? 

A rule of thumb for deciding the cooking time of a turkey is – 1 hour per pound. Generally, 24 hours is the maximum time limit to brine a bird. Exceeding it can affect the taste and texture.  

Along with timing, the temperature is another factor affecting the brining process. The ideal temperature is 40°F or below. So, manage some space in your fridge to maintain the optimum temperature for 24 hours or less. 

How to Wet Brine a Turkey for Smoking 

Required Ingredients 

  • An unbrined turkey – Brined turkey is commonly available in the stores. There’s nothing wrong with buying it but brined meat is already flavored so adding more flavors to it isn’t recommended as they won’t feel prominent. Therefore, buying a fresh turkey is best to let your added flavor and herbs dominate the taste of the final dish. 
  • A large container – The pot you are brining in should be spacious enough to completely submerge the bird but small enough that it fits in the refrigerator easily. As for material, anything made of plastic, glass or stainless steel will work out. 
  • Brine Liquid – Your brine should not be based completely on acidic liquids like wine or vinegar. For a classic flavor profile, add: 
  1. Water (4 cups) 
  2. Apple juice (8 cups) 
  3. Ice cubes (6 cups)     
  • Herbs & Spices – A typical brine comprises of the following ingredients: 
  1. Kosher salt (1 1/2 cups) 
  2. Brown sugar (1/2 cup) 
  3. Quartered apple (1) 
  4. Quartered onion (1) 
  5. Grounded cinnamon (1 tablespoon) 
  6. Grounded black pepper (1 tablespoon) 
  7. Ginger powder (1 tablespoon) 
  8. Cloves (10) 
  9. Rosemary and thyme (2 springs each) 

Step-by-Step Guide to Brining a Turkey 

Step 1: Mix Brine Ingredients

Keep 4 cups of apple juice, ice cubes, quartered apple and onion aside. Next, add all the remaining ingredients into a large pot and bring it to boil. Make sure the salt and sugar have completely dissolved. Turn off the flame and convert the mixture into a container you have chosen for brining.

Step 2: Add the Remaining Ingredients and Turkey in Brine

Pour the remaining 4 cups of apple juice and ice cubes into the container. Leave the brine until it becomes fully chilled. Now, put the thawed turkey in it and spread the onion and apple slices around it.  

Note: You can also add the frozen turkey to the brine but for an efficient brining process, it’s better to defrost it first.  

Step 3: Refrigerate  

Cover your container and toss it in the refrigerator for the calculated amount of time (1 hour/pound). Once the time has passed, take the brine out of the fridge and remove the turkey from it. Drain off all the brine ingredients and rinse your turkey. Pat it dry using a paper towel or let it dry in the air. That’s all, your turkey is all-set for smoking.  

How to Dry Brine a Turkey for Smoking 

Although dry rub is a quicker and simpler option, we don’t recommend it unless you’re short on time. Because wet brining is best to maintain moisture levels in the turkey which is crucial to prevent drying during a long smoking time.  

However, if the pressure of upcoming dinner or Thanksgiving party is making you feel all jittery, here’s how you can get the best out of dry brining: 

  • Avoid buying a kosher or self-basting turkey, or the taste of your added herbs and spices will be diminished by other additives. Raw or heritage turkey is best for both wet and dry brining. 
  • To infuse the best flavors in the meat, thaw it before covering in dry brine. A fully frozen turkey takes around 24 hours to defrost. If you are in a hurry, submerge the turkey in the water bath. 
  • Any method can be used to cook the dry brined turkey. You can use the oven or skillet, but if you want the smoky flavors in your meat, plan to grill it on a smoker. 


  • Whole turkey (14-16 pounds) 
  • Kosher salt (3 tablespoons)
  • Grounded black pepper (¾ teaspoon) 
  • Herbs (1 1/2 teaspoons each) 

How to Dry Brine Turkey   

  1. Start by mixing all the rub ingredients together in a bowl. You can add thyme, sage and your favorite herbs to the brine. 
  2. Place the turkey on a cutting board and remove giblets. Pat dry your meat before proceeding to the next step.   
  3. You need to apply the dry brine directly to the meat of the turkey. For this, loosen the skin with the help of your hand especially from the breast area and legs meat. 
  4. Now, sprinkle dry brine mixture into the turkey’s cavity. Next, move to rubbing the ingredients on the meat of the breast and legs of the bird. 
  5. After you are done seasoning the bird’s interior, sprinkle the leftover rub on the skin of the turkey. 
  6. Tuck the bird’s wing under the breast and refrigerate. Store the meat uncovered in a roasting pan or any dish for 3 days or at least 24 hours. 
  7. Your bird is ready to smoke. Take it out of the refrigerator and start cooking directly without needing to pat it dry. 

Wrapping Up 

Following this guide will help you in smoking a flavorful, tender and juicy turkey. Once done brining, start cooking on any type of grill you have. The taste rendered will surely convince you to brine every time before grilling.