Brining and smoking your Thanksgiving turkey

turkey I’ve been brining and smoking Thanksgiving turkeys since 2007 when I saw Alton Brown make his Honey Brined Smoked Turkey recipe. I’ve also made a Citrus-Stuffed Herbed Turkey with a honey and citrus brine and a Savory Turkey Brine using Kikkoman Soy Sauce.

This year I found a maple and herb based brine from Robin Burnside’s cookbook, The Homesteaders Kitchen – Recipes from Farm to Table to cook up in my Masterbuilt Electric Smoker. I’ve purchased a bigger turkey, so I’ll probably need to double the recipe.

Brining and turkey smoking tips

If you’re new to brining and smoking your Thanksgiving turkey, let me assure you it’s pretty easy to do. Just read through the recipes and make sure you have enough supplies on had to double the brining recipe. (It never fails that I don’t have enough brine to cover the turkey.) All of my brining recipes give tips on both bringing and smoking. Also, when it comes to smoking, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to cook the bird. Follow my Thanksgiving cooking safety tips since you’ll be working with either a propane or an electric smoker or a grill.

Here are some other resources:

Smoked Turkey with Maple-Herb Brine

Makes 8-10 SERVINGS

Ingredients:

  • 1 (12 to 15-pound) organic turkey

Brine:

  • The Homesteaders Kitchen – Recipes from Farm to Table 2 1/2 gallons hot water
  • 1 1/2 cups maple syrup
  • 1 cup sea salt
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
  • 1 cup roughly chopped fresh sage
  • 1 cup roughly chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 cup roughly chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/2 cup fresh oregano or marjoram
  • 1/2 cup fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

Rub:

  • 4 tablespoons Ghee or olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoon nutritional yeast

Seasoning mixture:

  • 1 cup chopped apple
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 to 2 whole lemons
  • Several large sprigs of sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and parsley

Directions:

  1. Wash the turkey inside and out and dry well with a paper towel.
  2. Combine all the brine ingredients in a large pot and stir until the salt is dissolved.
  3. Place turkey In a container that will allow it to stay submerged in the brine, a deep soup pot or food-grade bucket works well for this, and pour in the brine.
  4. Cover turkey and refrigerate 24-36 hours. (Tip: place the turkey in a big insulated cooler with ice and save the refrigerator space.)
  5. When you are ready to begin smoking the turkey, remove it from the brine, rinse inside and out with fresh water and dry well.
  6. Place the brined turkey breast side up on a wire rack in a roasting pan that will fit Into your smoker or barbecue.
  7. In a small bowl, combine the rub ingredients and rub the inside and outside of the turkey with the seasoned paste. Toss the seasoning mixture in a bowl and fill both cavities loosely.
  8. Truss the brined turkey, securing the openings with skewers or a needle and thread, and place a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh flesh.
  9. Put the turkey into a 400-degree F smoker or barbecue for about 30 minutes. (If your smoker doesn’t get that hot, put it at the highest setting possible.)
  10. Bring the temperature down to 240-260 degrees F and maintain that temperature throughout the smoking time. Cook for about 30 minutes per pound, or until the meat thermometer reads 165 degrees F – approximately 6-7 hours for a 12-15 pound turkey.
  11. Remove the turkey from the smoker when it is done and let sit for 20 minutes before carving to ensure a moist and flavorful bird.

Butterball turkey talk line logoThis Mama’s turkey brining tips

  • You can find nutritional yeast at your local health food store or natural grocery store. I found mine in the bulk food section at Sunflower Market.
  • Instead of sea salt, which can be a bit pricey, you can use kosher salt for brining.
  • This year, I’m brining my turkey in a large Styrofoam cooler I got from my butcher’s. (They were going to throw it out.) It’s a lot lighter than a cooler and much easier to clean. I use a bleach solution to disinfect the cooler and then I rinse with hot. And then rinse again. Then do the smell test to see if you can detect any bleach. Then rinse one more time with hot water.
  • If you don’t want to bother with a cooler, try a brining bag. You can find them at Bed, Bath & Beyond. I tempted to try using a brining bag this year as clean up seems very easy. If I do, I’ll put the turkey and brine filled bag in the cooler and fill it with ice to keep it cool overnight.
  • Keep the Butterball® Turkey Talk-Line® number handy just in case – 1-800 BUTTERBALL. They can help with any of your turkey cooking related questions whether you’re brining, roasting, frying, grilling or smoking your Thanksgiving turkey this year. You can also find them on Facebook at and on Twitter @Butterball for real-time tips and turkey prep info.

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9 thoughts on “Brining and smoking your Thanksgiving turkey

  1. Pingback: Last Minute Thanksgiving Prep Ideas | The Teachers' Lounge

  2. Lula

    Whenever we brine we use one of those el cheapo styrofoam coolers BUT we don’t brine directly in the cooler. That just seems so unsafe. Those pellets have a lot of dust and we certainly don’t want to ingest that gunk. What we do is use a brand new garbage bag inside. The garbage bag doesn’t leak and by placing it inside the cooler the lengthy process retains the cool/cold much longer. When you are finished….take the turkey out, tie a good knot in the garbage bag allowing the air to escape and toss it. Save your el cheapo ice chest for the next occasion. We’ve used ours 4 years now…pretty good for a $5 investment.

    Reply
    1. annemarie Post author

      Lula, that’s a great idea. But I worry about the garbage bags since they aren’t considered a food safe plastic. That’s why I think it’s smart to spend a little money and get a brining bag.

      Reply
  3. Turkey Trot

    Hardware:

    A. Vertical smoker / grille. A Weber is King of the Mountain but others – even gas-fired – will work just fine. I use a Master-Built propane smoker with water-soaked wood chips and everyone believes my birds were cooked over charcoal …

    B. Spanek Vertical Turkey Roaster. Get one!!!!

    C. Round, 5-gallon Igloo water cooler. Ugly and orange at most hardware stores such as Lowe’s or Home Depot.

    D. Brining bags.

    12. Short of a refrigerator, that ugly round water cooler is e-a-s-i-l-y THE best way to keep your bird brine chilled (<40 deg F. for 1-2 days). Brine above 40 deg F – even for a few hours – is potential food illness in the making …

    2. Use a food-grade bag – a "genuine" brining bag is best – and prepare Sr. Bird and brine per your preferences. In fact – *double* bag the whole she-bang to make sure nothing leaks. I always insert the bag(s) into a 5-gallon bucket – or a 20-quart stock pot – so it all stays "together" during the filling process.

    3. That butt-ugly cooler is invaluable because it has a spigot on the lower part so you can drain off any melted ice – water – and replenish it with more ice.

    4. Seal the brine bag and insert it *gently* into that cleaned and sanitized, butt-ugly round cooler and pack it with ice. The first ice packing will melt fastest as everything is trying to equalise close to the ice temperature itself. Monitor ice level, draw off melted water with the spigot and replenish.

    5. Fire up the smoker / grille to 400 – 425F. I've even started off as high as 450 F. Get ready ….

    6. Remove the bird after brining time, wash with cold water inside-n-out and pat dry with clean paper towels. Rub down with any preferred seasonings.

    7. Insert bird over the Spanek Vertical Roaster and place on the grille. You *ARE* cooking indirectly, aren't you? A deep. water-filled pan right below the bird accomplishes this … but a smoker pan (wood chip holder) should be in place at this time. Something to keep direct fire away and off to the side of your cooker.

    8. Cook at 400 – 425 – 450 for about 20-30 minutes, then adjust the temperature down to 250 – 275. A wireless thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh – NOT touching bone! – will tell you all you need to know.

    9. Most wireless thermometers have a "poultry" setting – or else choose 165 F – and relax.

    10. STOP LIFTING THE GRILL / SMOKER LID TO PEEK!!!!

    11. Cook until the thermometer beeps …

    12. Let stand 10-15 minutes to "relax" the meat.

    Lucky 13. March in and present the bird on the table – right in front of your guests!!! You *WILL* end up with THE tastiest, juiciest, most easy-to-carve and visually beautiful turkey you've EVER served!!!!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Reply
    1. annemarie Post author

      Thanks for the great tips, Turkey Trot. I have an electric smoker with a glass oven like door – and a light. So I can peek all I want!

      Reply
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