Gabriel Woods
Published by Gabriel Woods
Last Updated On: April 19, 2023

In the past five years as a pro-carnivore diet enthusiast, I've always gone for a pre-brined turkey whenever I'm hosting for Thanksgiving. Over the years, I’ve learned how to tell whether the bird is pre-brined or natural.

In this guide, I'll show you how to tell if a turkey is pre-brined, the steps to season it, and more.

Read on to find out.

Quick Summary

  • Turkey is pre-brined by treating it with a solution of salt and water.
  • Brining turkey relaxes the muscle fibers, allowing the meat to retain moisture effectively.
  • The supplier must indicate on the label if a turkey is pre-brined.

What is a Pre-Brined Turkey?

A pre-brined turkey in a cooking pot

A pre-brined turkey is a turkey that has been treated with a saltwater solution and marinade. Turkey is pre-brined to keep the meat soft, especially the dark meat, and add more flavor, especially with a frozen turkey.

Salt penetrates the cells of the meat when it is brined and exposed to it. Straight to the protein structure and muscle fibers [1]. Similarly, the salt molecules penetrate the meat by removing moisture.

There are two brining processes: 

  • Wet brine: This brining process is formed by mixing sodium and cold water to create a salt solution.
  • Dry brine: It consists of a kosher salt concentration applied to meat before cooking and without water. The salt is liberally used when brining to cover every area, forming a nice crispy crust.

"Brining simply refers to soaking your turkey in a mix of water and salt used to make a turkey that is more tasty and tender."
- United States Department of Agriculture 

3 Ways to Tell if a Turkey is Pre-Brined

A pre-brined turkey sitting on a kitchen top ready for cooking

The easiest way to tell if the turkey is pre-brined is by checking the label for sodium solution.

1. Read the Packaging

You can read the packaging to check whether the turkey is pre-brined. If your turkey's packaging isn't clear, look for the following ingredients.

  • Natural: An all-natural turkey contains very little to no artificial ingredients or preservatives. It's ideal for a meat consumer seeking high-quality meat free of additives. This labeling will likely appear on fresh turkey that is unbrined. 
  • Sodium Solution: The sodium or saltwater solution is listed in the meat ingredients with salt added. It shows that a brine solution was applied to enhance moisture and weight. 

Note: If the sodium solution is higher than 5%, it indicates that a brine recipe solution has been applied. Most brined turkeys in stores usually have a label written, "Contains up to 8% solution of water, salt, spices, and other natural flavorings."

  • Enhanced Meat: Several other suppliers use the term "enhanced meat", indicating that salt has been added. You can be sure that the meat was treated with a brine solution if the word "enhanced" appears in the ingredient list.

2. Ask Your Butcher or Supplier

There might not be any packaging if you buy it fresh from a butcher or supplier. But if you want to find out if it is brined or excessively salted, you can count on ButcherBox as a trustworthy source.

3. Kosher Turkey

During processing, kosher salt is used liberally on the turkeys. First, the turkey is ritually killed by a shechita under kosher laws [2].

After being killed, they are highly salted to draw out extra blood. This salting procedure functions quite similarly to brining. So, kosher turkeys are still pre-brined.

Do You Have to Brine a Pre-Brined Turkey?

A person pre-brined the turkey for cooking

Generally, you don't have to brine a pre-brined turkey. It becomes exceptionally salty when resalted, and you'll end up with mushy meat when cooked.

Over-brining will also overpower the turkey's natural flavor, so it's best to cook it without brining it again.

Various preferences exist on how to season meat, such as pre-brined turkey. You must be very careful when choosing the spices because pre-brined turkeys barely require flavorings or spices containing salt to prevent the turkey from having excess salt.

For the finest flavor, use the following procedures for seasoning:

  • Step 1: Pat dry the meat using paper towels. A raw turkey should be rinsed separately to avoid cross-contamination. Dry the turkey from the inside out, paying particular attention to the skin to encourage crispness.
  • Step 2: Spread a coating of binding agent on the surface to assist your spice stick. Avoid using salted butter or any other substances rich in sodium with pre-brined turkeys. I recommend using canola, sunflower, olive, or peanut oil. Unsalted butter and cooking spray are other great options.
  • Step 3: Choose the spices you want to use and combine them. I recommend adding fresh herbs to your dry spices too. 
  • Step 4: Use approximately 1 teaspoon of spice for every pound of turkey. The herbs should adhere to the meat without coming off. Also, the coating is too thick if the spice rub turns into a thick paste when applied to the skin, 
  • Step 5: Freeze it for two hours for the best flavorful meat.

2 Ways to Cook a Pre-Brined Turkey

Your desired cooking process and the side dishes you intend to serve with the turkey will determine how you cook the pre-brined bird.

It would be best to consider whether you want to stuff your turkey or make gravy from the drippings.

1. Oven Roasting

A woman oven roasting a whole turkey

Roasting an entire turkey in the oven for several hours is the most common way to prepare one. This is the best approach if you want to add stuffing to the turkey's cavity.

It also ensures that you would have sufficient drippings to make gravy if desired. It must remain in the same pan during the entire cooking duration.

Breast meat takes 20 minutes per pound, so for a 10-12 pound turkey, the cooking time would be roughly 3-4 hours to 160°F [3].

If the thigh meat is uncooked, I recommend letting the bird rest for a few minutes, clipping off the breast meat, and returning the rest to the oven.

2. Smoking

If you decide to smoke your brined turkey, be sure to determine the amount of time necessary to cook it thoroughly. It typically takes a smoked turkey 3 to 6 hours to cook.

As you want a low-and-slow cook, a turkey should be smoked between 250°F and 275°F. This temperature guarantees that the turkey is fully cooked and cannot dry out due to time or heat. 

Related Articles:

Benefits of Brined Turkey

A close up shot of brined turkey in a cooking pot

Here are the three main benefits of brining turkey:

1. Preservation

Brining turkey can last up to two times longer than an unbrined turkey. This is because the water solution in which it is bathed also preserves it, initially extending its shelf life in the store and enabling you to keep it in your refrigerator for another day or two.

Also Read: Methods for Meat Preservation

2. Retain Moisture

Another advantage of brining is that it moistens the meat and prevents drying out while cooking. The salt solution will soak into the flesh to keep it moist and juicy because a turkey must cook for a long time.

3. Added Flavor

While salt and water are the two main ingredients in most brining solutions, extra spices can be added to give the turkey a richer flavor.


Is Pre-Brined Turkey Good?

Yes, pre-brined turkey is good, succulent, and flavorful. The brining process also ensures that the turkey lasts longer.

Is Pre-Brined Turkey Too Salty?

No, pre-brined turkey is not too salty; it has the right amount of salt. It would help if you were careful not to add any more salt to your seasoning or cook it.

Are All Frozen Turkeys Pre-Brined?

No, not all frozen turkeys are pre-brined, but always check the label for the sodium solution percentage. If it’s above 5%, the turkey is pre-brined.

Should You Buy Turkey Pre-Brined?

Pre-brined turkey retains more moisture and absorbs some of the salty liquid, seasoning the meat and enriching its flavor simultaneously. Plus, brining makes turkey soft while preserving it.

If you're looking to make a hearty turkey thanksgiving meal, Butcherbox is a good source you can use.

I've been getting my turkey from them for the past five years when I’m hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, and the quality of my smoked turkey is always top-notch.

Their poultry is hormone and antibiotic-free, obtained from local farms with excellent sustainable practices.


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