Tag Archives: brining

Vanilla Brined Thanksgiving Turkey

Vanilla Brined Thanksgiving Turkey

I’m a huge believer in brining your Thanksgiving turkey. This year I’m cheating a bit by using a brining salt 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.

When it comes to brining, you can use a large bucket or 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 (assuming that temperatures in your area are around freezing) instead of a refrigerator works well, too.

Vanilla Brined Thanksgiving Turkey

Recipe courtesy of Spice Islands


  • 1 whole turkey (16 to 20 pounds), giblets removed, cleaned and patted dry

Vanilla Brine:

Vanilla Bourbon Butter:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons Spice Islands Vanilla Extract
  • 2 tablespoons sweet 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 Spice Islands Cinnamon Sticks


  1. Preheat oven to 450º F.
  2. 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 (bucket) and stir in vanilla and ice water. Completely submerge the turkey into the liquid, breast side down, and brine for 10 to 16 hours, refrigerated.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Tie the legs together tightly, 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.
  6. Reduce the oven temperature to 350º F and continue to roast the turkey for 2-1/2 to 3 hours, basting every 30 minutes.
  7. 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 161º F. Remove the turkey from the oven, loosely covered with foil and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving.

Picture courtesy of Spice Islands.

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


  • 1 (12 to 15-pound) organic turkey


  • 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


  • 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


  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.


Brining a turkey with soy sauce

Brining a turkey with soy sauce at This Mama Cooks! On a Diet - thismamacooks.comBrining a Thanksgiving turkey is a lot less intimidating than most people think. Usually I use Alton Brown's Honey Brined Smoked Turkey recipe, since we like to smoke our turkey – the best way to cook it as far as I’m concerned.

Yet when the folks at Kikkoman proposed that I try their way of brining a turkey, I was intrigued. Not only would it give me a chance to experience a umami-infused turkey, but it would give me a chance to do two other things: spatchcocking (also known a butterflying) a turkey and using my new convection Frigidaire oven to cook it.

Turkey brining made easy

turkey in cooler

The best way to brine a turkey is to use a cooler. I had a cheap Styrofoam shipping container on hand, so the first thing I did was to make sure my 10 pound turkey would fit in it easily. Afterwards, I rinsed then bleached the inside, and rinsed it again with a great deal very hot water. (You can use a picnic cooler. Just make sure to clean it thoroughly before and after you brine your turkey.)

brining turkey in cooler

I had a feeling that the amount of brine that Kikkoman suggest wouldn’t be enough to cover the turkey, so I multiplied the amounts by one and a half, which ended up being just right. I followed the directions, then placed the turkey inside the cooler. Then I placed two big cooler packs in Ziploc bags inside plus a Ziploc bag of loose ice on top of the turkey. The bag on top served to weight down the turkey – which floated – as well as kept it cool.

Then I put on the lid and had my husband carry the turkey out to our cold garage to keep marinate for eight hours.

Want to know how the turkey turned out? See my post Spatchcocking your Thanksgiving turkey.

Brining a turkey with soy sauce at This Mama Cooks! On a Diet - thismamacooks.com

Savory Turkey Brine

Recipe from KikkomanUSA.com


  • 1 (16-24 pound) fresh turkey, defrosted
  • 2 gallons cold water
  • 10 ounces Kikkoman Soy Sauce
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dried sage
  • 2 tablespoons dried celery seed
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme


  1. The night before roasting, remove giblets and turkey neck; rinse turkey inside and out.
  2. In a large stockpot or 5-gallon bucket, mix water with remaining ingredients.
  3. Stir well until all the salt is dissolved.
  4. Place turkey in the pot, cover with a lid and refrigerate overnight, or at least 8 hours.
  5. Remove turkey from the brine, rinse well.
  6. Pat turkey dry and cook as desired.
Prep Time: 8 Hours 20 Minutes
Total Time: 8 Hours 20 Minutes
Servings: Enough to brine a 10 pound turkey.
  • Serving size: 1

Disclosure: Kikkoman sent me a gift card to cover my food expenses, product samples and some promotional items.

Healthy holiday polymeal cooking with the Healthiest Meals on Earth

Healthiest Meals on Earth Jonny Bowden

Why not create a healthy polymeal feast this Thanksgiving? Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., C.N.S, is a nationally known expert on weight loss, nutrition, and health. His new book Healthiest Meals on Earth: The Surprising, Unbiased Truth About What Meals to Eat and Why shows how to combine ingredients – what he refers to as “polymeals” – that promote long-term health to create meals that will literally save your life.

A polymeal is a meal composed of ingredients that enhance heart and blood vessel health. The seven magic ingredients are red wine, chocolate, almonds, garlic, fish, fruits and vegetables. Though every meal doesn’t contain them all, Dr. Bowden’s intention is to include ingredients in every meal that mimics the effects of those seven touchstone ingredients and that duplicates their health effects.

By eating the vital ingredients featured in Healthiest Meals on Earth as part of a balanced diet, Dr. Bowden claims you can cut the risk of heart disease by 75%, boost overall heart health, and add years to your life. The book has been endorsed by a virtual who's who in the world of integrative medicine and nutrition, including Mehmet Oz, M.D., Christiane Northurp, M.D., and Barry Sears, Ph.D.

The Healthiest Meals on Earth – not just a cookbook

When the folks at FSB Associates emailed me about the book, I was reluctant to accept a review copy since I’m overwhelmed with too many cookbooks. But Healthiest Meals on Earth is so much more. It’s a nutrition textbook with beautiful photographs and yummy looking recipes. The only failing in the book is that nutritional information (calories, etc.) aren’t listed along with the recipes. Still, you can go over the ingredients list, guesstimate calories, fiber and fat grams from a similar recipe, then figure the POINTS by typing it into a Weight Watchers POINTS Calculator.

I’ve been dipping into Healthiest Meals on Earth and have been enjoying looking over the recipes and the nutritional and health information. I’m very intrigued with the polymeal idea. (The book is divided into three sections: Four-Course Polymeals, One-Pot Polymeals with Simple Sides, and Delicious Drinks: The Liquid Polymeal.)

I’m so excited by this that I’m considering making his Healthiest Holiday Meal for Thanksgiving:

  • Citrus-Stuffed Herbed Turkey (recipe below)
  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Asparagus and Broccoli with Toasted Hazelnuts
  • Holiday Waldorf Salad
  • Cranberry-Orange Relish
  • Sweet Potato Pie with Almond-Oat Crust

The challenge will be to use roasted pine nuts instead of tree nuts since my daughter has a nut allergy. (Pine nuts are not nuts. They’re seeds.) Also, I can make the Sweet Potato Pie without the crust, which make it nut-free and gluten free for my mother-in-law.

Wow, I’m getting excited about polymeal cooking! Check out Healthiest Meals on Earth and join me.

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The gluten free, no eggs, no nuts, no soy Thanksgiving

Now that we've moved my mother-in-law out to Colorado, Thanksgiving is going to be challenging. No, not because she's mean ol' lady, but because she has celiac sprue and can't eat gluten. Combine that with my daughter's food allergies - no eggs and no nuts - and the holiday feast becomes quite challenging.

Hooray for turkey!

Working around these food allergies and sensitivities will be much easier than I thought. Thank goodness that my family can eat turkey. This year my husband has decided to smoke the bird, which should be a lot of fun. He used the smoker many times this summer and feels very confident using it.

I googled "smoked turkey" and found Alton Brown's recipe for Honey Brined Smoke Turkey. I love Alton's show and his appearances on Iron Chef America. We've made many of his recipes, and know his meat smoking recipes are top notch.

Honey Brined Smoked Turkey

Recipe courtesy of Alton Brown, 2004


  • J0227762 1 gallon hot water
  • 1 pound kosher salt
  • 2 quarts vegetable broth
  • 1 pound honey
  • 1 (7-pound) bag of ice
  • 1 (15 to 20-pound) turkey, with giblets removed
  • Vegetable oil, for rubbing turkey


  1. Combine the hot water and the salt in a 54-quart cooler. Stir until the salt dissolves. Stir in the vegetable broth and the honey. Add the ice and stir. Place the turkey in the brine, breast side up, and cover with cooler lid. Brine overnight, up to 12 hours.
  2. Remove the turkey from the brine and dry thoroughly. Rub the bird thoroughly with the vegetable oil.
  3. Heat the grill to 400 degrees F.
  4. Using a double thickness of heavy-duty aluminum foil, build a smoke bomb. Place a cup of hickory wood chips in the center of the foil and gather up the edges, making a small pouch. Leave the pouch open at the top. Set this directly on the charcoal or on the metal bar over the gas flame. Set the turkey over indirect heat, insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast meat, and set the alarm for 160 degrees F. Close the lid and cook for 1 hour.
  5. After 1 hour check the bird; if the skin is golden brown, cover with aluminum foil and continue cooking. Also, after 1 hour, replace wood chips with second cup.
  6. Once the bird reaches 160 degrees F, remove from grill, cover with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 1 hour. Carve and serve.

What about the stuffing, sides and dessert?

I googled "gluten free cornbread vegan" and ended up finding a recipe here at This Mama Cooks! that I used for Christmas 2005 when my MIL was visiting - Cornbread Stuffing with Dried Cranberries. If I remember correctly, I found gluten-free cornbread mix at Wal-Mart and used egg substitute. There's no nuts in it either. (Also, the Cranberry-Cherry Compote recipe from Weight Watcher's Magazine looks pretty darn good, too.)

I'll be making a sweet potato dish and mash potatoes, of course. Now for the biggest challenge of all - dessert. Stay tuned.