My Exploration into Brining a Turkey
Julie Haan has spent more than 15 years as a graphic designer, art director, and stylist. “Now I am exploring everything I never had time to enjoy. Food is no longer just a means to feed myself, but is something to experiment with and—of course—make artistic!”
I love this time of year! Thanksgiving is coming and that means great food—especially the turkey. I am a traditionalist when it comes to cooking turkey. Since I grew up on a turkey farm in Missouri, we ate a lot of turkey. Historically, I cook my bird in a Nesco roaster, greased up with olive oil and dried rosemary, sage, thyme, and pepper. I get a delicious turkey every time.
Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about how wonderful a turkey tastes once it’s been brined for 16 to 24 hours. I was talking with a friend about my interest in trying a brined turkey this year, and she said, “Oh, I have brined my turkeys for years and they are amazing.” She likes The Pioneer Woman’s recipe.
So, I decided to take up the challenge! I started my research with The Pioneer Woman’s recipe, which seems easy enough, but it is for a large 20 lb bird. I kept looking.
Another site has good instructions. Each recipe is similar with variations in herbs (fresh or dry) Apple Cider versions Apple Cider Vinegar—some even use beer in the brine. The biggest differences seem to be in the water to salt ratio. One consistency: Each recipe recommends using only fresh turkey or non-kosher turkeys so your bird is not too salty.
Finding a fresh turkey
My regular grocery store does not carry fresh turkeys. So, I called around to some specialty stores and found fresh turkeys at Whole Foods and Central Market—plus at a local meat market I could order a fresh turkey with only a few days wait. Consider it done!
Next, after looking at multiple recipes (see others from CHEFS below), I opted to combine a couple and make my own alterations. For instance, since my turkey is only 13 pounds, I opt to reduce the amount of salt (from 1 1/2 cups kosher salt to 1 cup) and I added some fresh thyme to my recipe.
Here’s the recipe I ended up with. The great thing about brining is you can easily adapt the recipe to alter the flavors to your preference.
- 3 cups apple juice or apple cider (I used cider)
- 2 gallons cold water
- 4 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
- 4 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (I love thyme so I added it!)
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup Kosher salt
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons peppercorns
- 5 whole bay leaves
- peel of three large oranges
Let the brine cool completely. (I put the pot in my outside fridge to cool quicker.)
Rinse the fresh turkey under cool water and then place it in a brining bag in the roaster. Important note: Place the turkey with the breast side down. Pour the cooled brine over the turkey, tie the bag closed and refrigerate for 16 to 24 hours. Rotate the turkey in the brine 3 or 4 times, to make sure the turkey brines evenly.
Remove turkey from the brine and soak in fresh water for 15 minutes to remove extra salt on the Turkey’s skin.
Roast your turkey. I used my Nesco roaster, but you can also roast a brined turkey in your oven (follow cooking directions for an oven-roasted turkey).
So now the hard part—the waiting. Once my turkey is done—(turkeys are done when an instant-read thermometer registers 165 F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. When the internal temperature of the turkey is 125 F, the turkey is about 1 hour away from being done)—I cut into the breast and the juices flow. The turkey is moist, smells wonderful, and the first bite tastes great! The family eats it up. I think I will brine again, but my boyfriend thinks his deep fried turkey is juicer. We’ll just see about that! Look for our report right here.
Other brining recipes
Here are some other brining and roasting recipes for turkey from the CHEFS Catalog Recipe Collection.
The perfect brined turkey — moist and full of flavor.
Apple Cider Brine
- 2/3 cup kosher salt
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 6 quarter-size slices fresh ginger
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
- 2 teaspoons whole allspice berries, crushed
- 8 cups unsweetened apple cider or juice
- 2 turkey-size brining bags
- One 10 to 25 pound fresh or thawed turkey
- 2 oranges, quartered
In a 3- to 4-quart saucepan, put the salt, sugar, ginger, bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns, and allspice. Add 8 cups of apple cider or juice and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Boil for 3 minutes; then remove from the heat. Add 4 cups of ice-cold water, stir and set aside to cool.
Have ready a heavy roasting pan large enough to hold the turkey. Place one of the brining bags inside the second one to create a double thickness; then place these bags, open wide, in the roasting pan.
Remove the turkey from its wrapping. Remove the neck and bag of giblets from the main and neck cavities of the bird. Store separately in the refrigerator for making gravy. Stuff the main cavity of the bird with the orange quarters.
Fold back the top third of the bags, making a collar. Place the turkey inside the double-thick bags, stand it upright, unfold the top of the bag, and pour the Apple Cider Brine over the bird. Add an additional 2 cups of cold water. Draw up the top of the inner bag, squeezing out as much air as possible; then secure it closed with a twist tie.
Do the same for the outer bag. Place the turkey, breast-side down, in the roasting pan and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. Turn the turkey 3 or 4 times while it is brining.
Just prior to roasting, remove the turkey from the brine. Discard the bags, brine, and any cured herbs or spices remaining on the bird. Discard the oranges and ginger. Rinse the turkey under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. The turkey is now ready to be roasted following the recipe for Butter-Rubbed Turkey with Apple Cider Glaze (below), or according to your favorite recipe.
©Diane Morgan, The Thanksgiving Table (Chronicle Books, 2001).
This turkey has a sweet and beautiful bronze-glazed finish-perfect for showcasing on a buffet table.
- 1 large yellow onion, quartered
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 Golden Delicious apples, cored and quartered
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 4 leaves fresh sage
- 1 brined turkey (12 to 16 pounds) made with apple cider brine (above)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- turkey giblets (neck, tail, gizzard, and heart only)
- 1 cup chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 cups unsweetened apple cider or juice
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- freshly ground pepper
This turkey, cured with Apple Cider Brine and then basted with apple cider the last hour of roasting, has a sweet and beautiful bronze-glazed finish—perfect for showcasing on a buffet table. I like to garnish the serving platter with lady apples and kumquats nestled in a bed of fresh herbs. Pair this turkey with the Chestnut Bread Stuffing with Apples, Bacon and Caramelized Onions (below), and your guests will be returning to the buffet in seconds.
Position an oven rack on the second-lowest level in the oven. Preheat the oven to 500 F. Have ready a large roasting pan with a roasting rack, preferably V-shaped, set in the pan.
Place the onion, garlic, apples, thyme, and sage inside the chest cavity of the turkey. Truss, following the directions for an unstuffed turkey. Use a pastry brush to brush the turkey with the butter. Season the turkey with salt and a few grinds of pepper. Place the turkey, breast-side down, on the roasting rack. Add the giblets, stock, and 1 cup of the apple cider to the pan. Roast for 30 minutes.
Lower the oven temperature to 350 F. Baste the turkey with the pan juices, and roast an additional 30 minutes. Remove the turkey from the oven. Use oven mitts covered with aluminum foil or wads of paper towels and turn the turkey breast-side up. Baste with the pan juices then return the turkey to the oven.
Continue to roast the turkey, basting occasionally. After it has roasted for 2 hours, begin basting every 30 minutes with the remaining 1 cup of apple cider. The turkey is done when an instant-read thermometer registers 165 F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. When the internal temperature of the turkey is 125 F, the turkey is about 1 hour away from being done.
When the turkey is done, transfer it to a carving board or serving platter and cover the breast loosely with aluminum foil. Allow the turkey to rest for 15 to 20 minutes before carving to let the juices set.
To make the gravy: While the turkey is resting, make the gravy. Place the roasting pan over medium-high heat. Discard the giblets. Skim any fat from the surface, and bring the liquid in the pan to a simmer. Using a wooden spoon, scrape and loosen any brown bits sticking to the bottom and side of the pan. Place the flour in a 1 cup measure, add a small amount of the simmering liquid, and blend until smooth. Slowly pour this into the simmering liquid and whisk until thickened, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a small bowl or sauceboat to serve.
Carve the turkey. Serve, accompanied by the gravy.
Kitchen note: Roasting times will vary depending on the size of the bird, its temperature when it went into the oven, whether or not it is stuffed, and your particular oven and the accuracy of the thermostat.
©Diane Morgan, The Thanksgiving Table (Chronicle Books, 2001).
Stuffing no one can resist with crisp bacon, sautéed apples, and caramelized onions.
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
- 10 cups unseasoned dry bread cubes
- 8 ounces bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 1/4 pounds pearl onions, peeled and halved
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice
- One 14.8 ounce jar whole chestnuts, coarsely chopped
- 3 large ribs celery, chopped
- 2/3 cup minced fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 4 cups chicken Stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
- freshly ground pepper
Who can resist crisp bacon, sautéed apples, and the slightly blackened edges of caramelized onions? With the addition of French chestnuts and savory herbs, this is the perfect combination for stuffing. Children, especially those (like mine!) who don’t like mushrooms, really gobble this up.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Coat a deep, 9″ x 13″ baking pan with the butter. Place the bread cubes in a very large mixing bowl. In a 10″ sauté pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Drain and add to bread in the bowl. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat from the pan, reserving the extra.
Add the onions to the pan and sauté over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the sugar over the onions and sauté, stirring constantly, until the onions turn golden and the edges caramelize, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the bread in the bowl.
Return the pan to medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat, and swirl to coat the pan. Add the apples and celery and sauté, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the chestnuts, parsley, thyme, sage, salt and a few grinds of pepper, and sauté 1 minute longer. Add this mixture to the bread cubes, and stir to combine. Add the beaten eggs and stock to the bowl and mix well. Place the stuffing in the prepared pan and bake uncovered until the top is lightly browned and crusty, about 1 hour.
If you have room in your oven, bake the stuffing while the turkey is roasting. Otherwise, bake it beforehand and reheat it once the turkey is out.
Adapted from Diane Morgan, The Thanksgiving Table (Chronicle Books, 2001).