Can I Brine My Turkey and Use a Rub or Injection Marinade?

Add the ice

​The Spruce

Perhaps you are planning on making a brined turkey this year, but are also interested in using a turkey rub or an injection marinade to add more flavor. But will this work? Or will you end up with an overly flavored, super salty bird? The answer is that yes, you can use a combination of marinade techniques, but will need to keep some important points in mind when preparing the turkey. If you are using more than one method, you should also use similar ingredients so that you don't confuse the flavors. Here is a breakdown of each technique and how to combine them.

illustration of different turkey marinade techniques
Illustration: Jo Zhou. © The Spruce, 2019

Using a Turkey Brine

A brine is a mixture of salt and water and brining a turkey in this solution will ensure a moist bird. You can also add herbs and spices to the brine, resulting in a subtle flavor once it is roasted. If you use a simple brine of water and salt, the only thing you need to keep in mind later on when using another marinade method is the amount of salt the turkey has been soaking in. If you add aromatics to the brine, remember these flavors will affect the turkey's overall taste so choose a rub or injection with similar ingredients.

While properly brining a turkey won't make it too salty, it does add salt to the meat. If you then add a salty rub or injection marinade you can end up with a turkey too salty to eat. For this reason, if you are brining your bird, make sure you rinse it thoroughly after it comes out of the brine. 

spicy poultry rub
Claire Cohen

Using a Turkey Rub

A poultry rub can be a combination of wet and dry ingredients (such as oil and herbs) or just a mixture of dry powdered spices. These are combined and rubbed on top of and under the skin (most often when using a wet/dry mixture) before roasting. The flavors infuse the meat and create a beautiful golden color on the skin. If using this along with a brine, you need to eliminate the salt from the rub recipe. Since most rub recipes contain salt, it is crucial that you cut out this ingredient.

Ingredients for beer and butter injection
Claire Cohen Photography

Using a Turkey Injection 

Before you can even begin with an injection marinade recipe, you will need to have a meat injector—basically a syringe with a large-gauge needle—that you fill with the ingredients and then inject into the flesh of the bird. Rubs only go so deep, but injection marinades reach the center of the turkey, infusing flavor throughout. Many recipes include butter but then can range from beer to honey to spice. Just like you would if using a rub along with the brine, you have to eliminate any salt from the injection marinade recipe and use complementary flavors if the brine contains additional ingredients.