Thursday, November 20, 2014

Apple Cider & Herb Brined Turkey for Thanksgiving

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.

Apple Cider & Herb Brined Turkey

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 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:
How to Make Gluten-Free Gravy
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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About the Author

Alissa Segersten holds a Bachelor's of Science in Nutrition from Bastyr University. She is the founder of Whole Life Nutrition, the mother of five children, a whole foods cooking instructor, professional recipe developer, and cookbook author. She is passionate about helping others find a diet that will truly nourish them, and offers elimination diet recipes, healthy gluten-free recipes, paleo and vegan recipes, as well as tips for feeding your family a nourishing, whole foods diet. Alissa is the author of two very popular gluten-free, whole foods cookbooks and guidebooks: The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook and Nourishing Meals. She is also the co-author of The Elimination Diet book. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram!


  1. I have always rinsed my turkey after brining, as the salt content becomes overwhelming. It's purpose is to tenderize and add flavor...Dressing with more salt and roasting in brine increases the sodium level even more—what happens to the inherent flavor of the turkey??

    1. With about 2 gallons of liquid and 1 cup of salt the meat actually doesn't taste salty, just flavorful. You can certainly rinse the bird before roasting as I know some who prefer this. There is still quite a bit of turkey flavor using these ratios of liquid to salt (traditional brining recipes usually call for 1 cup of salt per gallon of liquid). I would not post a recipe that was overly salty.

    2. I followed this recipe for my Thanksgiving turkey and it was absolutely delicious, the best I've ever had! The meat was moist and delicate and greatly appreciated by all.

    3. Thanks Janice for the feedback! :)

  2. I can't wait to try this next week! It sounds delicious.

  3. How course was the salt you used for this? I'm excited to use your recipe, it sounds wonderful. This will be the first time I've brined a turkey!

    1. I use a slightly coarse French grey sea salt. The finer the salt, the saltier the brine will be. You can adjust accordingly. Last Christmas I brined a 22-pound turkey with 1 1/2 cups of salt and it was perfect.

  4. Do you find that the turkey gets soggy from sitting in the liquid? Do you flip the turkey to brown the bottom? Thanks!

    1. Hi Peter- no not at all. I don't flip the turkey but you certainly can do that to help keep the breast meat as juicy as possible.

  5. Wonderful recipes, thank you for sharing.
    Wishing you and your family a perfect Thanksgiving celebration,

    1. Thanks Monica! Happy Giving Thanks Day to you too! :)

  6. I wanted to make this turkey for Christmas, but I live in Vancouver, Canada and it seems like that the term Apple Cider refers to alcoholized cider over here and I can't find non alcoholic version in stores... Am I correct in assuming that Apple Cider in the recipe is unfiltered apple juce? Or can I substitute it with unfiltered apple juce?
    Thanks, Regina

    1. I did not know that. I am referring to organic unfiltered apple juice or fresh pressed apple cider here…NOT hard cider. Thanks for posting your question here. Hope nobody makes that mistake. :)

  7. I would like to try this but my dad believes he is allergic to garlic (respitory reaction). Do think it would taste ok without?

    1. Yes of course you can leave out the garlic. It's just in there for flavoring. You can add or subtract flavorings as needed. Enjoy! :)


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