To brine or not to brine...that is the question. I have found that brining a turkey produces very flavorful, juicy, and tender meat. In this post, I'm going to show you how to brine a whole turkey. Brining is the process of soaking the bird in a salt solution. Water from the brine is absorbed into the meat thereby increasing juiciness of the final roasted bird. I like to add flavoring agents as well such as sliced onions, garlic, oranges, and fresh herbs. A flavorful brined turkey will certainly impress your Thanksgiving guests!
I prefer to purchase turkeys from one of my favorite local organic permaculture farms. They are humanely raised and slaughtered right there on the farm. In our town there are a number of farms who raise organic turkeys and sell directly to the consumer. Sometimes you can ask your local Farmer's Market or health food store for the names and numbers of these farms. Often times you need to pre-order, though sometimes they have extra turkeys that they need to sell. Buying direct from a local, organic farmer is by far the healthiest and most sustainable way to enjoy a Thanksgiving turkey!
So now onto the actual process of brining a turkey! There are a few really important things to consider before embarking on this project. First, you will need a very large pot or container to hold the bird, brine, and flavoring agents. I use a 42-quart stainless steel pot. Some people use small coolers (this would work well if you can keep the temperature below 40 degrees, such as in a cold storage room or cold garage). Others use plastic bags. I prefer not to brine in plastic for various reasons, but if you do then you need to make sure you are using food-grade plastic, not plastic garbage bags. Second, you will need a space in your refrigerator to store the pot or container during brining. We have an extra refrigerator in our garage that I use. So as long as you have the right container and the space, then go ahead and try this recipe.
You will want to have your turkey thawed and ready for brining 24 to 72 hours before you plan on cooking it. Pictured here is a 15-pound turkey. The larger the turkey, the longer it will need to soak in the brine. I add all of the ingredients to the pot, except for the water, then add the turkey and add water to cover. It will be about a gallon, give or take some, depending on the size of your turkey. If you add more than a gallon of water (say for a larger turkey), you will want to add 1/4 to 1/2 cup more salt, otherwise the brine may not be strong enough.
1 gallon apple cider
1 cup coarse sea salt
2 onions, chopped (I leave the skin on)
2 oranges, sliced
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
1 small bunch fresh rosemary
1 small bunch fresh thyme
1 small bunch fresh sage
2 to 4 bay leaves
1 to 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 whole turkey (12 to 24 pounds)
1 gallon filtered water (or just enough to cover)
Place the apple cider, salt, onions, oranges, garlic, rosemary, sage, bay leaves, and black peppercorns into a large pot or container, stir well, and then place the turkey into it. Cover with filtered water. Place a weight on top of the bird to keep it submerged in the brine (like a glass bowl with a rock or a bag of water in it). If you don't use a weight you will need to flip the turkey once or twice during a 24 hour period. Cover and refrigerate for 24 to 72 hours.
When ready to cook, preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Pull the turkey out of the brine and place into a roasting pan. Pull some of the onions, herbs, and orange slices out and stuff them into the cavity of the turkey. At this point I like to truss the bird with cotton butcher's twine (you should be able to find this at your local kitchen or grocery store). You can watch this video on how to truss a turkey for more guidance if needed:
Next, remove the remaining solids from the brine and place them around the turkey in the bottom of the pan. This will flavor the bird even more during cooking and create an amazing gravy! Take about 4 cups of brine, along with about 2 cups of filtered water, and add it to the bottom of the pan.
Season the top of the bird with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then drizzle the top with extra virgin olive oil.
Place in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes. Then reduce heat to 325 degrees F and continue roasting until juices run clear. I like to baste the turkey a few times during cooking as well. Brining can reduce total cooking time by a little, but you can use these guidelines from FoodSafety.gov for average cooking times (since I am not fully stuffing the cavity, I use the guidelines for an unstuffed turkey). Use a meat thermometer if needed to test for doneness. It should read about 165 degrees F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, though I usually take it out of the oven when the temperature is a little lower to prevent overcooking.
8 to 12 pounds: 2 3/4 to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds: 3 to 3 3/4 hours
14 to 18 pounds: 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds: 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
20 to 24 pounds: 4 1/2 to 5 hours
Once the turkey is done, let it rest in the pan for about 30 minutes before carving. This allows for the juices to go back into the meat. You can then remove the turkey and place it on a large cutting board to carve. Pour the pan juices through a fine-mesh strainer into a 2-quart saucepan. Follow these directions to make Gluten-Free Gravy with them!
Once you have pulled all of the meat from the bones, use the carcass to make a rich, nourishing Turkey Stock (maybe a few days after Thanksgiving)!
|Just before cooking|
More Thanksgiving Recipes:
Holiday Detox Salad
Christmas Kale Salad
Cranberry Pear Sauce
Flakey Grain-Free Pie Crust
Grain-Free Pumpkin Pie
Easy Roasted Delicata Squash
Pear and Hazelnut Salad with Creamy Cranberry Dressing
Yam Casserole with Pecan Streusel Topping
Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Shallots and Cranberries
Harvest Vegetable Soup
Raw Chocolate Pie
Cranberry Orange Upside Down Cake (grain-free)
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