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 and for a better price than the Green Egg. It’ll make the ultimate gift for the griller on your holiday list!
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.
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. This is my preferred method as you fill the bag with brine, and place the turkey inside. After sealing it, just place 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.
This Mama’s turkey brining tips
If you want your brined turkey to cook even faster, try butterflying (also called “spatchcocking”) your turkey. Learn how at Spatchcocking your Thanksgiving turkey.
Smoked Turkey with Maple-Herb Brine
- 1 (12 to 15 pound) organic turkey, minimally processed, giblets, liver and neck removed
- 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 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
- Wash the turkey inside and out and dry well with a paper towel.
- Combine all the brine ingredients in a large pot and stir until the salt is dissolved.
- 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.
- Cover turkey and refrigerate 24-36 hours. (Tip: place the turkey in a big insulated cooler with ice and save the refrigerator space.)
- When you are ready to begin smoking the turkey, remove it from the brine, rinse inside and out with fresh water and dry well.
- Place the brined turkey breast side up on a wire rack in a roasting pan that will fit Into your smoker or barbecue.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.