The first year we were married, my husband and I attempted our first Thanksgiving turkey. What. A. Failure. Oh man, it was so bad we threw the whole thing away. Completely in-edible; we both felt sick afterward. The recipe we were following called for cooking with champagne and oranges and all this crazy stuff… let me tell you, the basics are all you need to cook a good bird. The year after our mega-fail I found a fantastic brining recipe and I haven’t made turkey any other way since.
Why am I posting a Thanksgiving turkey recipe in March? Who says a turkey can only be made in November?! We had one in our freezer and this weekend we decided to make it. We did not have the full-on Thanksgiving dinner or anything. Our plan is to freeze half the cooked meat, so we have it for future use, and use the unfrozen half for sandwiches and “leftovers.”
So, what is a brine? A brine is just a salt-water bath. The salt makes the cells of the bird swell and absorb more water, thus yielding a more tender bird after it’s cooked. It’s science!
So the salt water makes the bird tender, what makes it tasty? Your usual suspects, like rosemary, thyme, sage, with a little help from ginger and all-spice, and, of course, the fact that it’s a turkey.
Best Brined Turkey
- You will need a plastic container large enough to fit your whole turkey so it doesn’t touch the sides. I will measure the bucket I have and post it here so you have a reference point. It fit our 14lb bird very comfortably.
- A large stock pot that can hold at least 1.5 gallons of water
- Depending on the size of your container, the amounts of ingredients will vary. Once I figured out how much water my plastic bin would hold, I did the math and wrote the ingredient amounts on the side of the bin so I will always know what works for my situation.
- The ingredient amounts listed below are what worked for me and my particular bin, but in general a 1 gallon:1 Cup:1 Cup ratio for the water, salt and brown sugar will work. All the rest of the ingredients can be done to taste
- To help us accurately measure the water, we purchased a gallon of water at the store and just filled it up the appropriate number of times. This made things much easier.
- Don’t let the bird get warmer than 40°F while it’s brining, but don’t let it freeze either. We live in MN so it’s typically just the right temperature at Thanksgiving time to keep the brining turkey outside overnight (tightly sealed and away from prying raccoon hands). Our unfinished basement is a good substitute, though, when the weather is too cold to keep it outside.
- 3.5 Gallons cold water, divided
- 3.5 cups Kosher Salt
- 3.5 cups brown sugar
- 3 tsp allspice
- 2 tsp ginger
- 2 tsp sage
- 2 tsp rosemary
- 6 bay leaves
- Olive oil
- 1 red apple, sliced (optional)
- 1/2 onion, sliced (optional)
- 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
- 1/4 C reserved brining water
- In a large stock pot, heat, but do not boil, 1.5 to 1.75 gallons of water. Add salt and brown sugar. Stir until completely dissolved. Add allspice, ginger, 2 tsp sage, 2 tsp rosemary and bay leaves. Stir and set aside to cool for 15 minutes.
- Place turkey (thawed, if previously frozen) breast-side down into your brining bucket. Pour brine over the turkey. Add remaining cold water. Refrigerate for 1 hour per pound.
Cooking the bird: This is personal preference. You can cook it any way you see fit. The way I do it is:
- Preheat the oven to 375°F
- Flour the inside of a turkey cooking bag. Place the bag in a foil pan. Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it off, put the turkey in the bag.
- Rub the turkey’s skin with olive oil, then with some sage and rosemary. Pour 1/4 C brining water into the cavity of the turkey (I try to get a bit of the spices and a couple bay leaves with the water).
- Optional: These are the “aromatics.” They don’t really add to the flavor of the turkey, but they make everything smell extra amazing. I have made the turkey with and without this and it turns out fantastic every time. Add apple, onion, and cinnamon stick to the cavity of the turkey.
- Stick 4 toothpicks in the top of the turkey to keep the bag from sticking to it. Seal the bag, cut 1/2-inch slits in the top of the bag.
- Cook in center of the oven for an appropriate amount of time. I always have to look this up in my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, but I do remember that it’s 2-3 hours for a 12lb turkey, and 3-3.5 hours for a 14lb turkey.
- When the turkey is done, cut slits in the bag to let the steam out and be extremely careful!!! Let the turkey sit for about 15 minutes. Open the bag, remove the aromatics (apple, onion, cinnamon stick)—do NOT eat the aromatics!—and carve.