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Does a pre brined turkey need to be seasoned?

Quick Answer

A pre brined turkey may not need additional seasoning, but many cooks still choose to season it for extra flavor. Brining, which involves soaking the turkey in a saltwater solution, helps keep the meat moist and tender. However, it does not necessarily add a lot of flavor on its own. Lightly seasoning a pre brined turkey with herbs, spices, oil or butter can enhance the taste. The key is not to over-season, as the turkey already has salt from the brine. A basic rub of rosemary, thyme and sage or just a brush of olive oil and pepper may be sufficient.

Does Brining Season the Turkey?

Brining involves soaking a turkey in a saltwater solution for hours or days before cooking. The salt in the brine helps season the turkey to some degree by infusing the meat with flavor. However, a basic brine often contains just water, salt, and sometimes sugar or herbs. While this helps keep the turkey moist and tender, it may not impart pronounced flavors. The turkey will taste salty and seasoned throughout, but the flavors will be quite subtle. If the brine contains additional seasonings beyond salt, they will come through a bit more, but a brined turkey still benefits from extra seasoning.

Benefits of Brining Turkey

Here are the main benefits of brining a turkey:

  • Keeps meat moist and tender
  • Allows salt to penetrate deep into meat
  • Prevents drying out
  • Provides some light seasoning

The salt in the brine helps the turkey retain moisture, while also seasoning it lightly. This helps counteract the drying effect of roasting. However, the flavors from a basic brine are quite subtle.

Flavors Imparted by Brining

A basic brine containing just water, salt, and sugar will impart:

  • Saltiness throughout meat
  • Slight sweetness if sugar is added
  • Very subtle herbal flavors if herbs are included

The salty, slightly seasoned flavor from brining alone is usually not very pronounced. While welcomed, it often does not provide the depth of flavor that many enjoy with a holiday turkey.

Should You Season a Brined Turkey?

Seasoning a brined turkey is highly recommended to add extra flavor. The brine makes the turkey moist, tender and lightly seasoned. Further seasoning gives it more complex flavors. However, a pre brined turkey should be seasoned delicately, as over-seasoning can make it too salty.

Here are some tips for seasoning a brined turkey:

  • Use a light hand with dried herbs and spices
  • Brush with olive oil or rub with butter instead of heavy seasoning
  • Stick to 1-2 complimentary herbs like sage, rosemary, thyme
  • Use citrus zest or juice for fresh flavor
  • If stuffing the cavity, keep it simple with just herbs

Avoid heavy-handed seasoning or the turkey may become too salty. Let the brine do the major seasoning, and just enhance the flavor with some simple herbs, citrus, oil or butter.

Sample Seasonings for a Brined Turkey

  • Lemon thyme rub
  • Sage butter under the skin
  • Rosemary, garlic and pepper rub
  • Orange zest, olive oil and smoked paprika

How to Season a Brined Turkey

Here are some easy methods for seasoning a pre brined turkey:

Herb Rub

Blend dried herbs like sage, rosemary, thyme and marjoram. Gently rub the herb mix under and on the skin. Use just enough to flavor without overdoing it. The brine provides seasoning, so let the herbs complement it.

Flavored Butter

Blend soft butter with herbs, citrus, ginger, honey or spices. Carefully loosen the skin and spread some flavored butter underneath and on top. This adds moisture and subtle flavor.

Citrus and Oil

Brush the skin with a blend of olive oil, citrus juice and zest. Lemon, lime and orange all pair well with turkey. The oil crisps the skin, while the citrus provides brightness.

Spice Sprinkle

Mix a small amount of dried spices like pepper, paprika, cinnamon, chili powder or cumin. Lightly sprinkle the blend directly onto the skin before roasting. Be sparing with strong spices, as the brine already seasons.

Aromatic Cavity Stuffing

Place herb sprigs, citrus slices, garlic cloves or shallots directly into the cavity. Keep it simple to let the brine and meat shine. Avoid heavy bread or sausage stuffing.

How Much Seasoning for a Brined Turkey?

Use a delicate hand when seasoning a brined turkey. As the turkey already has salt and subtle flavor from the brine, it does not take much additional seasoning. Here are some general guidelines on how much to use:

Herb Rubs

1-2 tablespoons dried herbs total

Butter Under Skin

2-4 tablespoons flavored butter

Oil and Citrus

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon citrus juice
1 teaspoon citrus zest

Spice Sprinkle

1-2 teaspoons dried spices total

Aromatics in Cavity

Herb sprigs, 3 garlic cloves, lemon/lime slices

A light hand prevents overpowering the brine flavor or making the turkey too salty. Allow the brine to do most of the work seasoning the meat.

Should You Brine an Already Brined Turkey?

Most experts recommend against brining an already brined turkey, as it can make the meat far too salty. Commercially pre brined turkeys are fully soaked in a saltwater solution during processing. Further brining concentrates the saltiness to an unpleasant level.

Simply thaw and cook the pre brined turkey without brining again. The commercial brining process is designed to thoroughly season and tenderize the meat. An additional brine is unnecessary and risks ruining the turkey.

However, you can still season the pre brined turkey with rubs, citrus, aromatics or light sprinklings of salt-free herbs and spices. Apply seasonings delicately to compliment, but not overwhelm the existing brine flavors.


Pre brined turkeys benefit from additional seasoning, but should be approached delicately. The brining process provides salt, moisture and subtle flavor. Further seasoning enhances these effects without overdoing it. A simple herb rub, flavored butter, citrus and oil, light spice blend or aromatics in the cavity can all complement a brined turkey. But avoid heavy seasoning or repeating the brining process, as too much salt can ruin the flavor. Apply extra seasonings judiciously to let the brining do most of the work while adding flavor nuance. This produces a juicy, tender and perfectly seasoned holiday turkey.