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USU Extension Education Highlight: Turkey prep

Turkey roasting in an oven
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Brining a Turkey

Brine adds moisture and flavor to all kinds of meats, including turkey, and because turkey is a lean meat without a lot of fat, this step ensures your dinner isn't tough and dry.

The most simple of brines is basically water and salt…but most brines have extra spices and herbs to add more flavor.

Wet vs. Dry Brine

There are two types of brines: wet and dry. A wet brine saturates the turkey in salt water, with other additional ingredients. The meat absorbs the water and the salt helps the muscles retain the liquid, which results in a juicy turkey that isn't oozing water.

A dry brine is basically a mixture of kosher salt, spices, and herbs that is rubbed on the skin of the turkey, and sometimes under the skin. A little butter or oil may also be used to help spread the mixture onto the skin and meat.

Place the salted bird on a rack set on a rimmed baking sheet (to catch any liquid that drips off) or whatever pan you plan to cook it in. Pop it in the refrigerator and leave it there, uncovered, to brine for at least 1 hour per pound (EXAMPLE: a 14 lb. turkey needs at least 14 hours). After a few days, the salt will have done its job. There’s no need to rinse the bird because there shouldn’t be any salt residue on the outside of the skin


Wet Brine Recipe

1 ½ gallons of cold water

3 cups apple juice

1 cup orange juice

1 cup brown sugar

6 bay leaves

2 TBS dried thyme

1 TBS dried oregano

1 orange thinly sliced

1 lime thinly sliced

1 ¼ cup kosher salt

3 TBS peppercorns

2 TBS dried rosemary

In a large stock pot combine 3 quarts of water and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring until well mixed and salt and sugar are dissolved. Cool and pour into a food grade 5 gallon bucket. Add remaining water.

Place the prepared turkey in the brine and refrigerate overnight.

When your turkey is done brining, remove it from the bucket and drain carefully.

Discard the brine, making sure to disinfect anything it comes in contact with.

Cook the turkey using the method of your choosing.


Dry Brine

2 tablespoons black peppercorns

1 tablespoon pink peppercorns

2 teaspoons white peppercorns

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon dried marjoram

1/2 tablespoon dried oregano

2-3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or melted butter

6 bay leaves

1/2 cup kosher salt

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1/4 cup lemon zest

2 tablespoons orange zest

Toast black, pink, and white peppercorns and bay leaves in a skillet until fragrant. Let cool, then crush in mortar and pestle or a bag using a rolling pin or heavy skillet. Mix with salt, sugar, lemon zest, other herbs, and orange zest. Apply to turkey with oil or butter, and cure in the refrigerator as directed above.


Thawing a Whole Turkey (for frozen unstuffed turkeys only)



8-12 lbs. …………….1-2 days

8-12 lbs. ……………4-6 hours

12-16 lbs. …………..2-3 days

12-16 lbs. ………….6-9 hours

16-20 lbs. ……………3-4 days

16-20 lbs. ………….9-11 hours

20-24 lbs. ……………4-5 days

20-24 lbs. ………….11-12 hours


In Cold Water: Thaw turkey breast side down, in an unopened wrapper, with enough cold water to cover your turkey completely.

Change water every 30 minutes and if turkey cannot be completely covered, rotate every 30 minutes to keep the turkey chilled.

You can expect 30 minutes of thawing per pound of turkey.


Roasting a Turkey at 325°F




6  to 8 lbs.

2 ¼  to 3 ¼ hours

3 to 3 ½ hours

8-12 lbs.

3 to 4 hours

3 ½ to 4 ½ hours

12 to 16 lbs.

3 ½ to 4 ½ hours

4 ½ to 5 ½ hours

16 to 20 lbs.

4 to 5 hours

5 ½ to 6 ½ hours

20 to 24 lbs.

4 ½ to 5 ½ hours

6 ½ to 7 hours

24 to 28 lbs.

5 to 6 ½ hours

7 to 8 ½ hours


If roasting in a cooking bag reduce the time. A turkey roasted in an oven bag will usually cook one hour faster than traditional open roasted methods. For approximate cooking times, follow the oven bag turkey cooking times chart. For food safety, always use a meat thermometer to ensure your meat is cooked correctly. 165°F.


Also, for food safety, once the bird has been cut and served, do not leave the turkey out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Cover and refrigerate the carcass and meat.

Use within 5 days.

Boiling the carcass with onion, celery, and carrot makes a great broth/stock for future soup base.


Smoking a Turkey: Run your smoker at 225°F and plan on approximately 30 minutes per pound to smoke your turkey. Alternatively, if you are running your smoker at 250 degrees F, it will typically take 25 minutes per pound.


Deep Fat Frying a Turkey: Cook the turkey about 4 to 5 minutes per pound. For example, a 10 pound turkey will need to cook for approximately 40 to 50 minutes. Oil should be at 375°F when the bird is carefully lowered into the vat.

CAUTION: It is critical that you have the right size vat to handle the turkey and oil without spilling over AND that the bird is thawed and dry…very dry. NEVER attempt to deep fry a frozen turkey!!

Shalayne Smith Needham has worked at Utah Public Radio since 2000 as producer of Access Utah. She graduated from Utah State University in 1997 with a BA in Sociology, emphasis on Criminology. A Logan native, she grew up with an appreciation for the great outdoors and spends her free time photographing the Western landscape and its wildlife.