I’m a huge believer in brining your Thanksgiving turkey. This year I’m cheating a bit by using a turkey brining and seasoning mix that someone gave me as a present last year. However, if I didn’t have something like that on hand, I’d make this Vanilla Brined Thanksgiving Turkey recipe that was sent to me by the folks at Spice Islands. While I’ve used honey, maple syrup and agave in my brines, I haven’t used this many seasonings or vanilla extract, so I bet the flavor’s unique and fantastic.
I’ve also included their recipe for Vanilla Bourbon Butter for the outside of the turkey and their recommended aromatics for the inside of the turkey along with directions for roasting it. We smoke our turkey in our Masterbuilt Electric Smoker, but I bet this recipe will be fine for either cooking method.
Turkey brining tips
When it comes to brining, you can use a large bucket or insulated cooler. Make sure it’s super clean by washing it with hot soapy water. Wash down the container with a bleach solution, then rinse it several times.
Or you can brine in a brining bag (sold at gourmet shops and places like Bed, Bath and Beyond) and keeping the brining bag and its contents in a large cooler with lots of ice to keep everything cold. If you live in a cold area, keeping the brining bucket or cooler in the garage instead of a refrigerator works well, too. That’s assuming that temperatures in your area are around freezing!
I’ve found that turkeys tend to float in the brining liquid. If your bird is going for a swim, weigh it down with a clean, heavy pot or pan.
Vanilla Brined Thanksgiving Turkey
- 1 (16 to 20 pound) turkey, giblets removed, cleaned and patted dry
For vanilla brine
- 3/4 cup kosher salt
- 2/3 cup light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup smoked salt
- 2 tablespoons ground white pepper
- 1 tablespoon ground cardamom
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 teaspoons mustard seed
- 1/2 gallon vegetable stock
- 1/3 cup gluten free vanilla extract
- 1/2 gallon heavily iced water
For vanilla bourbon butter
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 3 tablespoons gluten free vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 green apple, halved
- 1 yellow onion, halved
- 1/2 bunch fresh thyme
- 1/2 bunch fresh rosemary
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
- Place the first 8 ingredients of the brine in a large pot and simmer until the spices dissolve. Allow to cool completely. Pour the cooled stock mixture into a large container like a clean bucket or an insulated cooler. Stir in vanilla and ice water. Completely submerge the turkey into the liquid, breast side down, and brine for 10 to 16 hours, refrigerated.
- While the turkey is in the brine, make the vanilla bourbon butter. Place the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together until completely combined. Set aside.
- When ready, remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry. Stuff the cavity of the turkey with aromatics and rub the skin, both under and over, with the vanilla bourbon butter. Season the turkey with salt and pepper.
- Tie the legs together tightly with kitchen twine. Then tuck the wings under the back, and transfer the bird to a roasting pan. Place the turkey into the oven and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, allowing the skin to brown. Remove the turkey from the oven and cover the breast with aluminum foil to prevent burning.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and continue to roast the turkey for 2-1/2 to 3 hours, basting every 30 minutes.
- About 30 minutes before the turkey is ready to come out of the oven, remove foil from the breast and continue to roast until an instant read thermometer reads 161 degrees F. Remove the turkey from the oven, loosely covered with foil and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving.
- Serving size: 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of meat per person
Picture and recipe courtesy of Spice Islands.