I want to brine a turkey for Thanksgiving, using Alton Brown's recipe for brining. My wife is concerned that this will increase the amount of salt and sugar in the turkey, making it unhealthy. How much salt and sugar from a brine would end up in say a 12 pound turkey?

  • Just say "Yes dear" and ignore the wife. :)
    – hobodave
    Oct 15, 2010 at 2:44
  • 4
    I'll pass on ignoring her, but I'll see if I can change her mind.
    – Neth
    Oct 15, 2010 at 13:19

1 Answer 1


I suggest starting with this Cook's Illustrated brining article for more information on brining.

Much of what would be transferred into your turkey is liquid from the osmosis, but some salt, and sugar if you choose to use it, would be added as well.

If you purchase an "enhanced" turkey that has already been injected, you don't want to brine it. The injection has a similar effect. If you've made an enhanced turkey in the past, you've already eaten a bird with added sodium.

Harold McGee states that the turkey will gain 10% of its weight in a combination of water and sodium. Your brine comes out to about 3.9% salt, so your 12 lb turkey will gain ((12 lbs * .1) * .039) = .0486 lbs = 21 grams of salt from a 3.9% brine. Your average soda has 55 milligrams of salt per serving. The total amount of salt from your brine will be spread over the entire turkey, so divide that amount by the number of servings you expect that turkey to provide to get the number of additional milligrams of sodium per serving of turkey from brining.

If at the end of the day you don't want to brine, in that same article McGee also suggests a way to keep turkey moist without a brine.

EDIT: I did my math wrong above, and have corrected the formula and results.

  • I am interested in trying the sauced technique that Mr. McGee suggests but I'm concerned. Brining turkeys has produced the best turkeys I've ever had. Cooking the turkey until it is bone dry and then saucing doesn't sound as good. Have you had turkey this way? Is it good? Oct 15, 2010 at 13:37
  • @Sobachatina - my favorite turkey ever was cooked in orange juice the entire time. However it was impossible to carve because all the meat simply fell off of the bone when we removed it. I have not tried this technique yet, but given the source I'd totally trust it.
    – justkt
    Oct 15, 2010 at 13:39
  • A turkey that's sufficiently brined and cooked, yes, the meat will fall off the bone. Even so, you not be able to taste the salt unless you let it set in the brine way too long. You almost don't need a knife at all. But what will make carving much easier is the cut the breasts away from the bone and then slice the breasts on the cutting board. I actually put each breast on the Hobart meat slicer for beautiful slices that people love. I recommend removing the wishbone first. Got that little trick from Sara Moulton. Trim the cartilage from the breast tips. Brine chicken roasters too!
    – user36802
    Sep 12, 2015 at 13:57

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