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Brined and Roasted Turkey 101


We brined our turkey for 24 hours, so leave plenty of time for this recipe. If you don't brine yours, skip steps 1 and 2. Martha made this recipe on Cooking School episode 406.

  • Servings: 14

Source: Martha Stewart Living, November 2005


  • 3 cups coarse salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium leeks, white and pale-green parts only, rinsed and coarsely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 fresh whole turkey (18 to 20 pounds), rinsed and patted dry, giblets and neck reserved for gravy
  • Gravy
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted, plus 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
  • Chestnut Stuffing
  • Crab apples, fresh rosemary sprigs, and fresh sage, for garnish (optional)


  1. Put salt, sugar, onions, leeks, carrots, celery, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, peppercorns, and 10 cups water in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, stirring until salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from heat; let brine cool completely.

  2. Add turkey, breast first, to the brine. Cover; refrigerate 24 hours. Remove from brine; pat dry with paper towels. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours.

  3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees, with rack in lowest position. Stir together melted butter and wine in a medium bowl. Fold a very large piece of cheesecloth into quarters so that it is large enough to cover breast and halfway down sides of turkey. Immerse cloth in butter mixture; let soak.

  4. Place turkey, breast side up, on a rack set in a roasting pan. Fold wing tips under turkey. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper inside turkey. Loosely fill body and neck cavities with stuffing. Tie legs together with kitchen twine. Fold neck flap under; secure with toothpicks. Rub turkey all over with softened butter; season with salt and pepper.

  5. Remove cheesecloth from butter mixture, squeezing gently into bowl. Reserve butter mixture for brushing. Lay cheesecloth over turkey. Place turkey, legs first, in oven. Roast 30 minutes. Brush cheesecloth and exposed turkey with butter mixture. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees. Roast, brushing every 30 minutes, 2 1/2 hours more; cover with foil if browning too quickly. If making gravy, add giblets and neck to pan 1 1/2 hours after reducing temperature; roast 30 minutes, and reserve.

  6. Discard cheesecloth; rotate pan. Baste turkey with pan juices. Roast, rotating pan halfway through, until skin is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 180 degrees and stuffing reaches 165 degrees, about 1 hour. Transfer to a platter. Set pan with drippings aside for gravy. Let turkey stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes. Garnish, if desired.

Cook's Notes

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking the turkey until the thickest part of the thigh registers 180 degrees. For a moister bird, we cooked ours to 165 degrees; it will continue to cook outside the oven as it rests.

Reviews Add a comment

  • dava5722
    23 NOV, 2014
    Brining is the best thing that ever happened to turkey. I have used this method since Martha's initial presentation with consistently excellent results. Dry the brined bird very, very well to insure a crisp golden skin. I completely submerge frozen bird in ice cold (ICE COLD) brine in an ice chest 7 days before Thanksgiving. I add ice daily to maintain a temperature of 35 - 40 degrees. Cavity is stuffed with onion, garlic, citrus and herbs. Perfect every time!
  • lgid
    4 NOV, 2014
    Let me start this review by saying that I've never brined a turkey and probably never will. However (and that's a very large "but), I have used this recipe beginning at Step 3 for well over 15 years. Ever since I made my first Martha Stewart turkey, my family (who would rather have passed on the turkey) requests that I make this one. It's the best turkey ever. I also make Ina's cornbread stuffing. My gravy is Martha's using winter vegetables (lots of work but worth the effort).
  • Terri Bretch
    30 NOV, 2013
    Alton Brown disagrees inasmuch as he brines the whole turkey, not just the breast. It turns out just fine brining the whole thing.
  • Cookies-Tea
    1 DEC, 2012
    I used this recipe last Christmas on the first turkey I have ever cooked. I bought an 18 lb. turkey and followed the recipe to a "T". It turned out moist and delicious! My family has requested that I make it again this Christmas. The drippings make into a fantastic gravy too!
  • Christopher Fill
    25 NOV, 2012
    My first time brining a turkey and it turned out superb! The recipe only calls for 10 cups of water because the only part of the turkey that is submerged is the breast (the water does not cover the entire bird). Remember to use a fresh turkey with no additives, the frozen birds often have salty injections in them. Also remember to use kosher salt (not table). I used a 14 pound bird and took the measurements down proportionately. It only took 2 hours and 45 minutes, but I did not stuff it.
  • Call of Kitchen Duty 1
    23 NOV, 2012
    This was the first year for me to cook the turkey. I followed this recipe to a "T" and it turned out perfectly. Everyone helped themselves to seconds. That's the best compliment ever!!
  • aterosin
    22 NOV, 2012
    Nov 2012: There must be missing ingredients to this recipe. I used the amount of water (10 c.) and it barely covered 1/4 of the bird (20 lb turkey). I checked another brined turkey recipe in Martha's 2007 magazine (p. 88) and it says 7 quarts of water + a bottle of wine. The bird is now covered up to the top of the legs.
  • Rachel Win
    20 NOV, 2012
    This recipe has made me famous for the best turkey in the family. I have been making it for years now. I have modified it somewhat, though. I found the excessive amount of sugar impacted the flavor of the gravy, so I reduced the amount by about half. Otherwise, make as directed. It is WORTH clearing space in the fridge to brine the bird. Thanks, Martha!
  • caithirchman
    18 NOV, 2012
    @CaliJordan: I never brined the turkey and it always turned out great. You can skip that step if you want and omit those ingredients. Also to everyone else, didn't the recipe used to call for a bottle of white wine?
  • CaliJordan
    17 NOV, 2012
    help! i used this receipe a LONG time ago, but i don't remember brining and I'm not sure I have fridge space (tho love the garbage bag idea!). So- if I don't brine, do I use the brine ingredients as a rub for the turkey? (those that make sense), or just season it w/the usual salt, pepper, thyme, sage, etc, then use the butter & wine to baste? I remember this being amazing, but it's been 15 years since doing Thanksgiving so a bit rusty! Thank you for any tips & help!!! and Happy Thanksgiving!