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Thanksgiving turkey brine 

Looking for an easy way to add some serious flavor to your Thanksgiving turkey? This Thanksgiving turkey brine is the answer! Made with fresh herbs, orange slices, garlic, and apple juice. It is an amazing way to infuse flavor into the turkey. This brine recipe is simple and can be done a day or two in advance of the big dinner. This will be the best turkey you will make for a Thanksgiving dinner, it certainly will become the star of the show!  

Thanksgiving turkey brine in a stockpot with water, apple juice, orange peels, mint, rosemary, garlic, tea bags, and blackl peppercorns

Whether you’re looking for a new easy turkey brine recipe or if you want to learn the tips and tricks behind getting a more juicy bird, learning how to brine a turkey is one of the best things you can do for yourself.  It’s an easy way for any home cook to feel like a professional chef! This brine recipe can be used for chicken, duck, or pork loin because lean meat doesn’t have a lot of fat. It’s easy to overcook and dry out, which is why allowing it to sit in a brine ahead of time is magic!

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How to Brine a Turkey

For this method, you’ll just need to follow a few simple steps.

  1. Open your raw turkey and rinse it with cold water
  2. To a large stockpot add 1 gallon of water, apple juice, salt, and brown sugar. Bring to a simmer then cool it off.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients into a clean food-grade bucket (5-gallon bucket)
  4. Place the prepared turkey in the brine and refrigerate overnight.
  5. When your turkey is done brining, remove it from the bucket and drain carefully. Rinse the bird.
  6. Discard the brine, making sure to disinfect anything it comes in contact with.
  7. Bake the turkey.

What tools you will need

ingredients laid out on a butcher block countertop to make a thanksgiving turkey brine

ingredients for the brine:

  • 2 gallons of water
  • 3 cups apple juice- or apple cider
  • 3 oranges – squeeze the juice into the brine and toss in the skins as well. The orange slices will add a great citrus flavor to compliment the brine.
  • 2 lime – squeezed the juice into the brine. Discard the skins ( the skin of lime may give off a bitter flavor)
  • 1 cup kosher salt –  If your turkey weighs more than 20 pounds, add 1/2 cup of extra salt. I recommend using kosher salt for any turkey brine. Table salt can sometimes result in an overly salty turkey, which can definitely ruin the flavor of the bird.
  • 2 cups brown sugar-  brown sugar will give the brine a nice richness, but will not make the turkey overly sweet. 
  • 4 stems of fresh rosemary-  Fresh rosemary is wonderfully aromatic and will provide a great flavor to the turkey
  • 5-6 garlic cloves- Garlic adds so much flavor and depth to the brine
  • 3 tablespoons whole black peppercorns-  whole peppercorns will add a great flavor dimension to the brine. Buy extra for garnishing the roasted turkey – it will smell amazing!
  • 4-5 bay leaves- Bay leaf is a hard flavor to describe, but without it, I can definitely notice something is missing
  • 2 black tea bags  –tea adds delicate flavor that puts this brine recipe over the top

What is a brine?

A brine is a salt water solution that helps with infusing proteins with salt, sugar, and flavor. In addition, it tenderizes and moisturizes the meat. Typically, the protein is soaked in a solution of water (or another liquid such as apple juice, beer, or wine), salt, and spices for a number of hours in the refrigerator. The purpose of a brine is to produce a more tender and flavorful turkey. The salt in the brine dissolves a bit of the protein in the muscle fibers and allows the meat to absorb the brine and retain moisture during cooking.

stock pot with a citrus brine and a white food grade bucket with a turkey in it on a butcher block countertop

Should I Brine My Thanksgiving Turkey?

In short, yes! You should definitely brine your Turkey. Brining makes a huge difference in the texture of the bird and in the taste. Growing up my mom never brined her turkeys, I’m sorry to say this Mom..but it was always dry. Once we learned about the brine method from my brother-in-law, our Thanksgiving turkey ALWAYS turned out juicy! We never went back to our old ways after, and now year after year this has been the best turkey brine recipe that our family has been using. 

How Long to Brine a Turkey

A good rule of thumb is to brine for at least an hour per pound of turkey. So, if the bird weighs 12 pounds, you should brine it for at least 12 hours. This should ensure that the turkey is completely permeated and the brine has enough time to do its job. If you have extra time, you can brine for up to 48 hours for the juiciest, most flavorful turkey. A turkey doesn’t have a lot of fat on it, that’s why brining is important for a turkey, it makes the bird juicy. No dry turkey here! 

To prevent foodborne illness, do not brine for longer than two days, and make sure the turkey stays refrigerated throughout the process.

Can You Brine a Frozen Turkey?

It’s best to brine a fresh or thawed turkey. However, if you find yourself in a pinch, you can brine and thaw your turkey at the same time. Of course, it’ll take a little more time when you start from frozen. You’ll need at least 24 hours to simultaneously thaw and brine your turkey in the fridge. Reminder: Never, ever leave a fresh or frozen turkey at room temperature for more than two hours. The turkey should be refrigerated when you’re not actively working on it.

  1. Pour the brine into a large brining bag or bucket, Sink the turkey into the brine solution to cover the turkey, and refrigerate for 16 to 24 hours.
  2. Before roasting, remove the turkey from the brine (discard the brine) and submerge the turkey in a pot or sink filled with fresh, cold water for 15 minutes. This removes excess salt from the outside. 
  3. Remove the turkey from the water, pat it dry using paper towels, and cook according to your normal roasting method.

Do you rinse a turkey after brining?

Yes, you’ll need to rinse the turkey (inside and out!) to remove some of the saltiness from the brine. I actually like to soak mine in cold water for about 15 minutes.

How to make an easy turkey brine recipe

Defrost your fresh turkey in the fridge for a few days before you start the brining process. 

To a large stockpot add 1 gallon of water, black tea bags, brown sugar, salt, rosemary, garlic cloves (crush the garlic with your palm to release the aroma), apple juice, and juiced oranges along with the peels. Bring to a light simmer then turn the heat off. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. Let it cool down completely. ( you can add some ice cubes to help to cool it down quicker)

thanksgiving turkey brine in a stockpot on a gas range with a wooden stirring spoon inside it

Find something big enough to put the turkey in like a cooler, a 5-gallon bucket, a brining bag, or a large pot. Clean the container very well by washing it with warm soapy water. To the bucket, add 1 gallon of cold water, and fresh mint, then squeeze the lime into the brine. ( discard the lime peels.) Mix everything together. The aroma of this brine is so beautiful! This part always makes me excited to taste the most delicious and juicy turkey!

prepare your turkey

Wash your sink and make sure it is empty, put the defrosted raw turkey into the sink and take it out of the packaging (keep the gizards to make the best sourdough turkey stuffing!)

Rinse the bird under cold water to rinse out all the blood. (be sure to disinfect the sink afterward) Carefully lower the turkey into the brine so it is fully submerged in the water. Put something heavy over the turkey so it stays underwater during the brining process  ( such as a Ziploc bag filled with ice, caning weights, lid) Let the turkey brine for at least 24 hours. The turkey needs to be refrigerated during that time. Do not leave a raw turkey at room temperature to brine. 

a turkey inside a white food grade 5 gallon bucket soaking in a citrus brine

How to bake a turkey in the oven

After the turkey is done brining, you have to rinse the whole turkey from the salty brine. (discard the brine) Fill the sink with cold water and let the turkey rest in the water for 15 minutes to make sure all the excess salt comes out. Transfer the turkey breast side up into a roasting pan. Pat dry the turkey very well using paper towels. Make sure to dry inside the cavities as well. I do not salt the top of the turkey because the turkey got all the seasoning from the brine. You can add softened butter under the skin of the turkey with some fresh chopped herbs and garlic if you’d like, this will add extra flavor. 

Stuff your turkey if you want to, I highly recommend making homemade sourdough stuffing.

turkey stuffed with homemade sourdough stuffing in a enamel roasting pan

Take a piece of foil then place it over the turkey and shape the foil to the turkey, you will use this later to cover the turkey. Put the turkey into a 500-degree oven for 20-30 minutes to make the top of it golden. ( for crispier skin leave it in there for the full 30) The skin will be crispy from the high heat, when we lower the temperature this crispy skin will keep all the moisture inside the bird. Watch your oven closely! don’t walk away too far from the oven while it is in the oven at this high temperature to make sure it is not browning too quickly. As soon as the top turns golden, place on top the preshaped foil, turn the heat down to 350, and cook according to the pounds of the bird. The cooking time will vary for every bird. Bake it for 13 minutes per pound. That’s about 3 hours for a 12- to 14-lb. turkey. 

close up shot of a turkey breast cut open to show how juicy the turkey is after baking

Once the meat thermometer reads 160 of the internal temperature, you can take the turkey out of the oven. Let it rest for 15-20 minutes before cutting into it. Decorate your large turkey platter with greenery then transfer the turkey into it. Look how juicy that turkey is! wow!

Arrange slices of apples and oranges around the turkey along with some fresh sprigs of rosemary. 

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