This Apple Cider Brine recipe is full of autumn flavors that permeate and moisten the meat, making it perfect for turkey, chicken or pork. Try it this Thanksgiving and say goodbye to dry turkey!
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Turkey is a meat my family has never been overly fond of. The white meat tends to dry out as it cooks, which means even though it is low fat and healthy I rarely served it, except for traditional meals like Thanksgiving and Christmas. But once I learned how to brine turkey I suddenly found that it became a family favorite. Now I regularly buy turkey legs, thighs and breasts and it has become a regular addition to my menu planning, all because I learned how to brine the meat and keep it moist and tasty.
Why Brine Turkey?
The main reason for brining turkey is to keep it moist and juicy. Turkey (and chicken) is very low in fat, so there isn’t as much grease to keep it juicy as it cooks. Brining the turkey in salt before roasting, grilling or smoking it locks in the moisture and keeps the meat from drying out. The salty liquid loosens up the muscle fiber and allows the moisture to be absorbed.
Apple Cider Brine
Any brine for chicken or turkey is basically just a liquid mixed with salt, with other seasonings added in as desired. Since it is autumn I made this fall inspired apple cider brine! I love the taste of apple cider in the fall, so I used that as the main liquid in this brine. I chose to use alcoholic hard cider, but you could use non-alcoholic cider also. For seasoning I added fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, garlic, bay leaves and peppercorns because these are flavors that complement both the cider and the turkey. Instead of using sugar to sweeten the brine I decided to use maple syrup because it just seems appropriate for the fall. The apple cider is sweet enough that you probably could leave out the maple syrup or any sweetener and still have a tasty brine, especially if you use non-alcoholic cider which is already very sweet.
How to Brine Turkey for Smoking
The first step in brining the turkey is to mix all the ingredients and dissolve the salt in the brine. In order to get the salt to dissolve completely you need to heat the liquid up. But you don’t really need to heat the brine to boiling, just hot enough to dissolve all the salt. Heating the apple cider brine will also release some more flavor from the herbs and spices.
Unfortunately once you have all the salt dissolved the next step is to cool the brine down. You should never, ever add meat of any kind to hot or even warm brine, because that can cause bacteria to grown which can lead to food poisoning. To speed the cooling process along I pour the brine into a bowl and add a cup of ice, stirring to mix and refrigerating the bowl until the apple cider brine is completely cooled.
Once the apple cider brine is completely cooled off add the turkey legs, or whatever parts you are cooking, and stir to mix well, and then refrigerate.
How Long Should I Brine Turkey?
When it comes to brining it really is possible to over do it. Last year I left chicken leg quarters in brine overnight, and it was way too long – the cooked chicken tasted strongly of salt once it was grilled. For turkey or chicken parts like legs, thighs or breasts 2-4 hours is plenty of brining time. Even a whole chicken I wouldn’t brine more than 4-6 hours. A large turkey could be brined for 12 hours or overnight.
Cooking the Brined Poultry
Once the turkey pieces are brined they can be grilled, roasted or smoked. We have an electric smoker, so we usually smoke our brined turkey and chicken pieces at 250 F for 4-6 hours. Last Thanksgiving we roasted a whole turkey in the oven and then cooked ten extra turkey cider brined turkey legs in the smoker. That way we had a traditional turkey for the Thanksgiving table, but a whole bunch of extra dark meat, which most of our family prefers! Whether you are roasting, grilling or smoking the turkey the best way to make sure it is done is to use a food thermometer to make sure the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
Apple Cider Brine
- 1 Tablespoon peppercorns
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 24 ounces apple cider
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1 cup ice
- chicken or turkey
- In a large pot mix the peppercorns, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, garlic, cider, maple syrup and salt.
- Heat until all the salt has dissolved.
- Pour the brine into a large bowl and add the ice. Refrigerate for an hour or so, until the brine has completely cooled.
- Once the brine is cooled add the turkey or chicken to the bowl.
- Let the poultry sit in the brine, refrigerated, for 2-4 hours for pieces like legs or thighs, up to 6 hours for a whole chicken.
- Smoke, roast or grill your poultry.
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- Kosher salt is generally used for brining, because it has larger crystals and will dissolve to make a clear brine. If you use table salt use half as much salt as the recipe calls for.
- This recipe makes enough brine for about 6 turkey legs, thighs, or breasts, or a whole chicken. If you want to brine a whole turkey you will need to double or triple recipe to have enough brine for the entire bird.
- This would also make excellent brine for a pork tenderloin or pork roast.