Brining and smoking your Thanksgiving turkey

Learn how easy brining and smoking your Thanksgiving turkey is with this turkey brining recipe.

I’ve been brining and smoking Thanksgiving turkey for years using a variety of recipes and ingredients, like this Vanilla Brined Turkey recipe. Several years ago, I was sent Robin Burnside’s cookbook, The Homesteaders Kitchen – Recipes from Farm to Table to review. In it I found her maple and herb brine recipe for turkey.

For many years I used her easy brine for turkey and then cooked it in my Masterbuilt Electric Smoker. (Read my  5 Reasons to Buy Masterbuilt Electric Smokers–a Masterbuilt 30" Electric Smoker Review post to see if an electric smoker is for you.)

Now my husband smokes the turkey on his Kamado Joe Grill. Even though the Kamado Joe requires more set up, the results are AMAZING. If there’s someone in your life who loves to BBQ, check out the Kamado Joe Grill. We found it had more easy-to-use features than the Green Egg.

Brine and smoke your Thanksgiving turkey with a Kamado Joe Classic Grill & SmokerKamado Joe Classic Grill & SmokerBrine and smoke your Thanksgiving turkey with a recipe from The Homesteader's Kitchen: Recipes from Farm to TableThe Homesteader's Kitchen: Recipes from Farm to Table

Brining and turkey smoking tips

If you’ve never brined or smoked a turkey, you have to try it. Brining helps keep the turkey super moist and the flavor you get from smoking it out of this world.

No worry, smoking and brining a turkey for Thanksgiving is easy to do. First, read through the recipe and make sure you have enough ingredients on had to double the brining recipe. I find that a single batch of turkey brine is fine if you’re smoking a small turkey or just a turkey breast. However, you should double this brine recipe for turkey if you’re cooking a larger bird.

Finally, when it comes to smoking, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to cook the bird. You don’t want to make your guests wait. It’s better to smoke and cook the turkey early and have it sitting in the oven on warm. (Just remember to cover it with foil to keep the moisture in.)

Here are some other resources:

Smoking Turkey for the Holiday (or any time) from Smoking-Meat.com. This is a great site for all your grilling and smoking needs.

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.

Learn how to brine and smoke your Thanksgiving turkey. Click to get the easy brining and smoking recipe for Smoked Turkey with Maple-Herb Brine. 

The easy way to brine turkey

If you don’t have a super large stockpot as a container for brining turkey in, you can use a large Styrofoam cooler. Sometimes I use a cheap Styrofoam shipping container after making sure my turkey fits in it with a bit of room to spare. First, rinse the inside of the cooler and its lid with bleach and hot water. Then rinse it several times with more hot water. Then do the smell test to make sure you can’t detect any bleach.

If you don’t have a Styrofoam cooler, you can use a large plastic picnic cooler. Just make sure to clean it thoroughly before and after you brine your turkey.

After making your brine and placing it and the turkey in the cooler, you’ll need to weight down the turkey since it will float. Try places a couple of gallon sized Ziploc bags filled with ice on top of the turkey. The bags of ice not only weigh down the turkey, they also keep everything cool without diluting the brine.

If you don’t want to bother with cleaning the cooler, try a brining bag, which makes set up and clean super easy to do. I like keeping the filled brining bag in an ice filled cooler to keep it overnight.

After placing the lid on the cooler, keep it somewhere cool or cold, like the basement, garage or back porch. If you think a filled cooler will be too hard to move, set up the cooler in the basement, garage or porch first. Then bring out your turkey, brine and ice bags – or brining bag and ice – to finish the job.

Make a brined turkey recipe in a Commercial Grade 40 Quart Heavy Gauge Stainless Steel Stock PotCommercial Grade 40 Quart Heavy Gauge Stainless Steel Stock PotMake a brined turkey recipe in a Rubbermaid Cooler / Ice Chest, 24-quart, BlueRubbermaid Cooler / Ice Chest, 24-quart, BlueMake a brined turkey recipe in a pack of TWO Extra Large Brining Bags designed for Turkey or HamsPack of TWO Extra Large Brining Bags designed for Turkey or HamsMake a brined turkey recipe with Bragg Nutritional Yeast SeasoningBragg Nutritional Yeast SeasoningMake a brined turkey recipe with Kirkland Signature Pure Sea SaltKirkland Signature Pure Sea Salt

This Mama’s turkey brining tips

This brine for smoking turkey contains nutritional yeast. You can buy it online or find it at your local health food store or natural grocery store.

Instead of sea salt, which can be a bit pricey, you can use kosher salt for brining and smoking Thanksgiving turkey.

If you want your brined turkey to cook even faster, try butterflying (also called “spatchcocking”) your turkey. Learn how at Spatchcocking your Thanksgiving turkey.

Learn how easy brining and smoking your Thanksgiving turkey is with this turkey brining recipe.

Smoked Turkey with Maple-Herb Brine

Recipe based on a maple and herb based brine recipe from Robin Burnside’s cookbook, The Homesteaders Kitchen – Recipes from Farm to Table

Ingredients

For turkey

  • 1 (12 to 15 pound) organic turkey, minimally processed, giblets, liver and neck removed

For brine

  • 2 1/2 gallons hot water
  • 1 1/2 cups agave nectar or maple syrup
  • 1 cup sea salt
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 cup roughly chopped fresh sage
  • 1 cup roughly chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 cup roughly chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/2 cup fresh oregano
  • 1/2 cup fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

For rub

For seasoning mixture

  • 1 cup apple, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup onion, roughly chopped
  • 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.
Prep Time: 24 Hours
Cook Time: 7 Hours
Total Time: 31 Hours
Servings: Makes 8-10 servings
  • Serving size: 1 1/2 pounds of meat per person

Recipe and photos used with permission.

Originally posted on November 19, 2010. Updated with new pictures and information.

Want to learn an easy way how to brine and smoke your Thanksgiving turkey?  Click to get the easy brining and smoking recipe for Smoked Turkey with Maple-Herb Brine. It's gluten free and delicious!

6 thoughts on “Brining and smoking your Thanksgiving turkey

  1. 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
  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

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