Smoked Turkey Brine

Smoked Turkey Brine

The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Total: 25 mins
Servings: 10 to 12 servings
Yield: 1 gallon
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
65 Calories
0g Fat
17g Carbs
0g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 10 to 12
Amount per serving
Calories 65
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 9444mg 411%
Total Carbohydrate 17g 6%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 17g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 0mg 2%
Calcium 18mg 1%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 7mg 0%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Brining a turkey before cooking, no matter the method, results in a more flavorful and tender bird. Even if you plan to smoke a turkey, having it soak in a brine ahead of time assures the meat will be moist and tasty. This turkey brine is simple, including just a few ingredients like water, salt, sugar, and herbs. The light flavor of the tarragon complements the smoked turkey perfectly.

These quantities work best for a 14- to 16-pound bird; if you plan on cooking a larger turkey, you will need to make more brine unless you use a brining bag. Be sure all of the turkey is immersed in the liquid.


  • 1 gallon water, divided

  • 1 cup salt, or 1 1/2 cups kosher or coarse salt

  • 1 cup white sugar

  • 10 to 12 fresh tarragon leaves, or 1/4 cup dried tarragon

  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

  • 2 whole bay leaves

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Smoked Turkey Brine ingredients

    The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

  2. Heat 1 quart of water to near boiling (on the stovetop or in the microwave) and add the salt. Continue to heat until the salt is dissolved.

    water and salt in a pot

    The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

  3. Add the sugar and stir until it's dissolved.

    sugar, salt and water in a pot

    The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

  4. Remove this solution from the heat and add the tarragon, black peppercorns, and bay leaves (the hot brine will take on more of their flavor while it cools). Allow this solution to cool completely. Place it in the refrigerator or let it cool on the countertop.

    herbs and spices added to the brine mixture in a pot

    The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

  5. Mix the salt and sugar solution with the rest of the water once it has cooled.

    brine in a bowl

    The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

  6. Place the turkey in a large nonmetallic dish and cover it completely with the brine. Brine the turkey in the refrigerator for 1 hour per pound. (For example, 16 hours for a 16-pound turkey.)

    turkey in a pot with Smoked Turkey Brine

    The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

  7. Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it thoroughly (including the cavity), and pat it dry. Coat the turkey with olive oil. Place it in the smoker. Cook as directed.

    turkey patted dry with paper towels

    The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg


  • Many store-bought turkeys are brined beforehand, so be sure to read the packaging carefully; you don't want to brine a brined turkey, or else the bird will be way too salty.
  • Make sure to pat dry the turkey thoroughly after rinsing off the brine. Otherwise, you won't get a nice, crisp skin. If you have brined well ahead of time, you can leave the turkey uncovered in the fridge to help the skin dry out before cooking.
  • While the turkey is brining, be sure it is kept at 40 F or colder. If you don't have enough space in your refrigerator, you can place it in a brining bag inside an ice cooler, covered with ice water. Check it every few hours to ensure the ice has not melted.
  • If you are using a frozen turkey, it must be completely defrosted before you begin brining it, or else it won't take on as much of the brine.
  • It's best to use unchlorinated water for brining so you don't get off-flavors. If you don't have easy access to good spring water, boil your tap water first, let the water cool completely, and then use it.
  • Do not use iodized salt as that will add a harsh flavor. You will need more salt if you use kosher salt or coarse salt due to the crystal size.
  • You can use a turkey rub before smoking if you prefer, but you should omit the salt. The brined turkey will already have enough salt.

Reusing Brine

After brining the turkey, the liquid must be discarded. Never reuse the brine as it can have bacteria from the raw poultry.