Never (ever) worry again about serving a dried-out and tasteless turkey for the holidays. Experienced home cooks as well as professional chefs rely on old-fashioned brining techniques to assure a moist, succulent, flavorful roasted turkey. Brining is easy once you nail down the basics. And we, here at Wicked Good Kitchen, believe our recipe for Apple Cider & Citrus Turkey Brine with Herbs and Spices is one of the very best amongst other turkey brine recipes. We have honed it over the years and are happy to share it with you this holiday season!
General Brining Tips for a Tender & Juicy Bird
In addition to our recipe, please review the following general tips when brining a turkey. We hope you find them helpful.
What exactly is brining? Brining is the process of marinating meat or poultry in a salt, sugar, water and/or juice solution. Via the process of osmosis, brining makes cooked meat moist and juicy by hydrating before cooking. (To read more of the science involved, visit Brining.) Brining, depending on the juices, herbs and spices used, also enhances the flavor of the meat.
How to Select a Turkey for Brining: Once you have decided to brine your turkey, finding the right turkey for your holiday celebration is essential. Look for labels using the following terms “all-natural”, “no additives”, “minimally processed”, etc. Turkeys that have been treated with a salt solution will have labels that read, “basted”, “self-basting”, “enhanced”, “injected”, or “kosher”. Pre-brined or kosher turkeys are not recommended for brining. The reason is because the turkeys have already been treated with salt. And, you certainly do NOT want an overly salty turkey!
Salt Choices for Brining: There are three (3) types of salt commonly used and available to home cooks for brining turkeys: regular table salt (iodized or not), kosher salt and crystal kosher salt. Kosher salt works especially well because it dissolves more easily than regular table salt and it is pure salt with no additives. It is important to know, due to the different granular sizes of each salt, that they do not measure by volume (per cup) equally. Therefore, they cannot be substituted by volume. Our recipe calls for kosher salt. For every cup of kosher salt, use 3/4 cup regular table salt or 1 1/2 cups crystal kosher salt.
Selecting Brining Bags: Look for brining bags in the size that will accommodate the weight of your turkey. We purchase ours from Williams-Sonoma and use the largest bag for our 18-pound turkey. Never use plastic garbage bags or nonfood-grade plastic bags.
How Long Should I Brine My Turkey? Brining typically is for at least 18 hours or up to 2 days. However, the general rule is to brine 1 hour per pound under 40 degrees F. If desired, to prevent an overly salty turkey, rinse the turkey thoroughly inside and out with cold water after removing from the brining solution. Then, pat dry with paper towels inside and out. At this point, the turkey can safely be stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. We like to prepare our turkey the night before roasting by buttering and seasoning it, placing it in the roasting pan and then leaving it uncovered for crispy, darker skin. Then, the next morning, we remove the turkey and let it rest for 1 hour at room temperature before stuffing and roasting.
Customize Your Brine to Taste: Consider customizing your brine. For instance, if you like the flavor of garlic for a more savory turkey, add a few crushed garlic cloves to your brine and stir it well. If you wish to enhance the black peppercorn flavor, consider crushing your peppercorns to release their flavor before adding them to the brine. Although we prefer using fresh herbs, dried herbs can certainly be used. Since they are more concentrated in flavor than fresh herbs, the general rule of thumb in substituting fresh herbs for dry is 3:1. This means for every 3 teaspoons or tablespoons of fresh herbs, use 1 teaspoon or tablespoon of dry herbs.
A Note on Seasoning: Because the drippings from a brined turkey will be saltier, be sure to use low-sodium broth (if using store bought and not making your own). Then, season to taste.
Refrigerator Space: Make sure you have enough refrigerator space available to accommodate your turkey and its container. As we mention in our Tips section of our recipe, perhaps removing a deli drawer will provide enough clearance.
Refrigeration: Refrigeration is necessary. For food safety reasons, the turkey and brine must be refrigerated during the entire brining process.
Why is our recipe for Apple Cider & Citrus Turkey Brine with Herbs and Spices wicked good? Well, to begin with, the kitchen aromatics alone will make you feel as though you are soon to be dining with royalty at The King’s Table! However, it is the fact that our recipe combines the best of both worlds in the way of taste sensations by combining both apple cider and citrus juices—to include the essential oils from the rinds—making our recipe a true standout.
Our Apple Cider & Citrus Turkey Brine with Herbs and Spices is seasoned to perfection with the finest in fresh herbs and fragrant spices to include garlic, rosemary, sage and thyme as well as whole star anise, cinnamon, allspice and juniper berries. In addition, our brine consists of equal parts apple cider (not just a few cups like most recipes) and water assuring a deep, flavorful roasted turkey. Furthermore, we call for just enough salt to ensure a juicy turkey—without giving it an overly salty taste—by drawing moisture into the meat keeping it tender and juicy as it roasts. Finally, our recipe does not include a cup or two of sugar or brown sugar as other recipes do. The natural sugars found in the apple cider and fresh citrus juices does the sweetening job splendidly. Therefore, our recipe can be considered “no sugar added”. Your family and friends will give rave reviews and pronounce you a rock star chef!
To learn more about brining your holiday turkey, please see our Turkey Brining 101 Tutorial, below the recipe, complete with step-by-step photos and instructions.
An exceptional turkey brine consisting of both apple cider and citrus juices as well as herbs and spices with just the right amount of salt to ensure a tender, juicy roasted turkey.
- 1 (16 to 20-pound) fresh turkey, rinsed & patted dry, with neck & giblets reserved for stock
- For the Apple Cider, Herb & Spice Infusion
- ¾ to 1 gallon (12 to 16 cups) apple cider
- 1¼ cups kosher salt
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 whole bay leaves
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 4 sprigs fresh sage
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 8 whole star anise pods
- 3 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon allspice berries
- 1 tablespoon juniper berries
- 1 or 2 4-inch cinnamon sticks
- ¾ to 1 gallon (12 to 16 cups) chilled water, preferably distilled
- For the Citrus & Onion Infusion
- 3 medium to large oranges, cut into wedges with rind intact
- 2 large lemons, cut into wedges with rind intact
- 2 medium yellow onions, cut into wedges with skin intact
- Special Equipment & Supplies
- 1 12-quart stockpot, with lid
- 1 large pitcher
- 1 large oval enamel roasting pan, without lid
- 1 large brining bag, such as Williams-Sonoma® brand
- 1 heavy duty clip (we use Firm Grip® clip from Home Depot) or strong cotton butcher’s twine
Tips:To learn more about brining your holiday turkey, please see our Turkey Brining 101 Tutorial, below, complete with step-by-step photos and instructions. Important: Prep, Cook and Total Time does not include the idle steeping (resting and cooling) time. Allow a couple hours more to make the brine. The brining or soaking time for the turkey is at least 18 hours and up to 2 days. Recipe Source: WickedGoodKitchen.com
Recipe Inspiration: Williams-Sonoma's Apple & Spices Turkey Brine Mix.
Copyright © Wicked Good Kitchen. All content and images are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words. Alternatively, link back to this post for the recipe.
Step-by-Step: Turkey Brining 101 Tutorial
Mise en Place: Everything in place. Apple cider, kosher salt, minced garlic, bay leaves, fresh rosemary, sage and thyme sprigs, whole star anise pods, whole black peppercorns, whole allspice and juniper berries, cinnamon stick, and wedges of onion, lemon and orange.
In a large 12-quart stock pot, bring ¾ gallon (that’s 12 cups!) apple cider, salt, garlic, herbs and spices to a boil. As you can see, we have already added to the pot the apple cider, salt and minced garlic. Next, we will be adding the herbs and spices. Here, I am adding the whole black peppercorns. You can never have enough black peppercorns, right?
Ahh. Lovely whole black peppercorns bursting with flavor. I am a confessed black peppercorn fiend.
Here I am adding the whole juniper berries which provide a distinct, sharp flavor with citrus notes. Yum! Just perfect for turkey brine.
Next, I am adding whole allspice berries to create a spectacular autumn and winter flavor for our turkey brine.
Here, I am adding the whole star anise pods. Oh, whole star anise pods…how I adore thee. Guys, these babies are essential for an outstanding turkey brine. Trust me. It is just not the same without. You’ll see…I promise!
Next in, bay leaves.
And, cinnamon stick. Just 1 or 2 will do.
Look at our lovely Apple Cider & Citrus Turkey Brine with Herbs and Spices. She’s looking mighty stunning, eh? So far, totally gorgeous!
Following the spices, we need to add our fresh herb sprigs. Here, I am adding the fresh rosemary and thyme sprigs. Be generous as the herbs will infuse our brine with plenty of flavor.
Next up, fresh sage sprigs. Oh, how I adore the savory flavor of sage–especially when it comes to enjoying roasted turkey and stuffing. The color is pretty, too.
Just simply marvelous! Our Apple Cider & Citrus Turkey Brine with Herbs and Spices is on her way! Um…on her way to Tom Turkey, that is.
Now it is time to give our gorgeous turkey brine a little stir.
I’m telling you, just gorgeous! But, we’re not done yet.
Now we need to allow the brine to come to a boil. See the little bubbles forming already? We need the heat to boiling level so that the herbs and spices will infuse flavor during the steep. Just like when you steep your favorite tea.
Here we are! She’s come to a full boil now.
Next, we need to remove the pot from the heat (I have placed a wire cooling rack under the pot) and add ¾ gallon (12 cups) chilled water. The chilled water will speed up the cooling process and will prepare the brine for the addition of the citrus and onion aromatics. Alternatively, if you are in a hurry, you could use an equivalent amount of ice water with ice cubes. Chef Emeril Lagasse does that. This way, your brine will reach a cooler temperature faster so that you can begin to brine your turkey right away. The brine must be at least room temperature or cooler before brining your turkey. Cooler is best. If you are preparing your turkey brine the day before, which is what I like to do, just chill it in the fridge.
Here, I am adding the ¾ gallon (12 cups) chilled water from a large glass pitcher.
Since all of the water didn’t fit into my large glass pitcher, I am adding the remaining chilled water here from a glass measuring cup.
Next, we move onto the citrus and onion aromatics which will infuse our gorgeous turkey brine even further with flavor.
Before adding each wedge of lemon or orange to the pot, be sure to give it a good squeeze. Release those tasty juices and the essential oils from those rinds, people! It is that important. These steps are why our turkey brine recipe is so exceptional and fit for brined roasted turkeys on “The King’s Table”. Keep going…keep squeezing and adding those citrus wedges. It will all be worth it. Trust me.
Next, add the onion wedges. As you can see, I have done that here.
Seriously. I wish there was smell-o-vision. Your house is going to smell heavenly from these kitchen aromatics!
Just stunningly beautiful! Sexy brine.
Now, time for the cooling and steeping process. Place the lid atop your stock pot and allow the brine to cool and steep. Just think of all that flavor infusion going on!
You are going to need these: Bringing Bags. For our 18-pound Tom Turkey, we will be using the largest bag. These quality Brining Bags are from Williams-Sonoma. We have received no compensation from W-S. We just dig their heavy duty brining bags.
You will also need a large roasting pan. We find that our inexpensive oval enamelware roasting pan is ideal for the turkey brining process. It has nice, high sides (to keep our turkey covered and saturated in brine), handy handles and it easily slides onto a shelf in the fridge. Don’t forget to clear some space! If you need to, remove one of your drawers–like the deli meats drawer. This way, your roasting pan with turkey inside will have adequate clearance. Now, we are ready to prepare our brining bag. Assemble the Turkey & Brine into Brining Bag: Open zip-top brining bag wide and insert into enamel roasting pan with high sides. Done. Check.
In addition to brining bags and a large oval enamel roasting pan, you will need a large slotted spoon and liquid measuring cup. Since most kitchens are equipped with these implements, we did not add them to our recipe ingredients list under special equipment.
Now we are ready to prepare our brining bag for Tom Turkey. Continuing… Assemble the Turkey & Brine into Brining Bag: Using a large liquid measure (I use my 2-cup glass measure), scoop some of the brine and place it into bottom of large brining bag. Once again, I like to use my large slotted spoon to scoop up the citrus and onion wedges. As you can see, I placed some into the bottom of the brining bag. Now the brining bag is ready for Tom Turkey.
As you can see, we have added Tom Turkey to the brining bag. Next, using a slotted spoon, scoop up the aromatic solids (the citrus and onion wedges as well as some of the herbs and spices) and place over and around the turkey.
Don’t forget to place some of the aromatic solids into the large cavity of your turkey. This is essential.
Next, continue to add the remaining brining liquid over the turkey in the brining bag.
Tom looks divine surrounded by all that brining goodness.
Now, step back and marvel at your cheffy self. Look at what you have accomplished. And, it was so easy. But, just wait until you smell this phenomenally brined roasted turkey as it is roasting! Your holiday dinner guests will think you are a rock star chef. Yeah.
Next, it is time to enclose Tom Turkey and get him in the fridge. First, we have to expel as much air as possible whilst closing the zip-top brining bag. This is where two (2) sets of hands come in especially handy. Gather and twist tightly the top of the bag. Important: If the brine needs more liquid to cover entire turkey, add enough of the remaining ¼ gallon (4 cups) each of the chilled cider and water in equal parts to brining bag before securing closed.
Once you have gathered and twisted the top of the brining bag, it is time to tightly clip it closed. This is important so that the brining liquid surrounds the turkey entirely. We do not use the small bag clips that come with the brining bags. Instead, we use a heavy duty clip. As mentioned in the recipe under special equipment, we like to use a Firm Grip® clip from Home Depot. But, you could use a strong cotton butcher’s twine as well.
Voila! You have now successfully brined your turkey for the upcoming holiday. Pat yourself on the back. Swell job!