It's the centerpiece of the table and not always the easiest to cook. Brining your Thanksgiving Day turkey is a great way to add flavor and moisture to this typically lean protein. Sweet cider, robust fresh herbs and warm garlic soaks into your turkey in this apple cider brined turkey. Seriously flavorful, seriously easy.
Easy as long as you're paying attention when that bag gets real full of brining liquid. That's about as hard as it gets. Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything. (My kitchen floor is totally side eye-ing me, I can feel it from inside the living room.)
Putting aside inanimate objects throwing shade and what not, let's hatch out this brining business. Shall we? Brining your turkey this Thanksgiving is a simple, easy way to make sure your bird is the best.
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What is brining?
Brining is like a sibling to marinade. Liquid + Salt (Optional: Herbs + Spices) = Brining. Pretty simple math. We like that.
What you will need for a brine depends on what flavors you're going for. Apple cider is always a favorite for me because it's so naturally sweet and complex. Stronger herbs like rosemary and sage won't get lost among the other ingredients. A head of garlic or cloves smashed against the edge of a knife just to get the juices flowin'. A few peppercorns, salt and bay leaves and we are on our way to happy turkey city.
Of course you'll need a brining bag or bucket for your ingredients. Because I don't have my dream kitchen quite yet, and buckets are hard to fit in a full fridge, I opt for the bag.
Here's a link for the kind of brining bags I love the most. They're easy to close up and hold a lot of liquid. It's just hard to get all the liquid and the bird in the bag at the same time by yourself. Not impossible, but you have to watch out for spillage. If you can have another person hold the bag while you add the ingredients, that's the best scenario. Then the entire bag goes in a roasting pan to balance itself and into the fridge for a nice, chilly nap.
There is some sort of magic in the brining process where science things happen. Salt and proteins help each other out to retain more water molecules during the cooking process. You know. Science things.
Personally, I'm terrible at science, like, real bad at it. But brining? I've got it in the bag....get it? Hehehe.
Apple Cider Brined Turkey
If you've never cooked a turkey before or maybe you have a tendency to over cook them, brining and adding apple cider to your brine is going to be your new best friend. It's an easy way to effortlessly impart subtle flavors into the meat of your turkey and prep it for extra moisture goodness.
The apple cider produces drool worthy crisp apple sweetness exquisitely blended in there. The nuances of the fresh herbs and garlic laced throughout each slice.
Eating is an event that involves all the senses. Brined turkey in apple cider and herbs will taunt your eyes with the juice running from each slice, while your nose picks up on the cider, herbs and garlic wafting from each piece of succulent protein. Your mouth feels the texture of easy to eat turkey that won't be sucking at all the moisture in it. The taste? Subtle natural sweetness, earthy fragrant herbs, spicy warm garlic and the familiar poultry flavors with just a touch of game taste.
Mmm, roasted turkey. It tastes like laughter and wine with family and friendsgiving. So come on over my friend. Let's hang and laugh and drink wine and eat Apple Cider Brined Turkey.
Once you have your bird in the brine it's time to start prepping the sides. You can head over to the 'side dishes' portion of the blog for some ideas. My personal favorites are this creamy, rich rainbow chard and shallot gratin. Or take your sauce game up a level with homemade cranberry sauce!
This cranberry sauce had grand mariner and orange. It's zippy, tart and sweet all in one. Plus it has booze in it, so that's a win. For most, Thanksgiving means lots of family time. While we can all be thankful for that, sometimes a little liquid libations makes a long day of cooking and conversation just a touch more enjoyable. I'll be serving this whiskey smash with an apple cinnamon spin on repeat this Thanksgiving.
However you roast the bird, prepare the sides, or what you serve after it, we can always be thankful to have family and/or friends at the table. And they'll be thankful to have this Apple Cider Brined Turkey on the table!
Apple Cider Brined Turkey
- 18 to 20 pound turkey (fresh or frozen)
- ½ gallon fresh apple cider
- 3 quarts warm water
- 4 quarts cold water
- ¾ cup kosher salt
- ½ bunch fresh rosemary (about 10 sprigs)
- ½ bunch sage leaves (about 10 large leaves)
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- 1 large onion (rough chop)
- 2 ribs celery
- ½ head of garlic cut through equator or 10 smashed garlic cloves
- Remove turkey from packaging and remove the giblets and neck from the cavity. See notes about what to do with the organ meat.
- Pat the skin dry and set aside.
- In a large stock pot, add salt, herbs, bay leaves and peppercorns. Toast over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes just until fragrant.
- Carefully add 3 quarts of warm water. Water may steam and bubble when first added to the hot pan.
- Stir continuously until salt dissolves. Remove from heat immediately to allow to cool.
- Add 4 quarts of cold water, apple cider, onion, celery, and garlic. Let cool for 15 minutes.
- Set brining bag in a large roasting pan with top open wide. Add turkey, breast side down, and cover with the cooled brine.³
- Let sit for 24 to 48 hours in the brine.
To prepare for cooking:
- Remove turkey from the brine. Rinse thoroughly and pat completely dry. For crispy skin, let sit over night unwrapped in the refrigerator.
- The neck and giblets can be added to the bottom of the roasting pan during the cooking process if desired. I usually discard them, but they can be used to add flavor and richness to the pan drippings.
- Don't worry if your turkey isn't fully thawed in the cavity, it will continue to thaw in the brine. At least one day of thawing before brining should be sufficient to remove the insides.
- Pour slowly as the brine fills the bag in case the liquid attempts to spill out. Easiest is to have a second pair of hands to hold the bag open. If that's not an option, you can add the brine in batches, repositioning the bag as needed.