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Apple Cider Turkey Brine | Thanksgiving Turkey

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Get the most juicy turkey this Thanksgiving with this easy apple cider turkey brine. Say goodbye to dry turkey and hello to a juicy, moist, and flavorful turkey dinner that everyone will love.

This recipe is full of autumn flavors that permeate and moisten the meat, making it perfect for infusing fall spices into turkey, chicken or pork. I also include a handy chart for optimal brining times.

Why Brine Turkey?

Turkey is a meat my family never used to love. The white meat can 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 about brining 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, because it keeps the meat moist and tasty.

This is a great brine for turkey legs or for an entire turkey. It is also delicious if used to brine chicken or pork.

top view of three air fryer turkey legs

What is Brining?

Brining is a traditional method of preserving meat and is popular way to add flavor to poultry and pork, both of which can be difficult to cook properly without drying out.

A brine uses lots of salt, which penetrates into the meat. The salty solution loosens up the muscle fiber and allows the moisture to be absorbed.

This results in meat which is both juicier and more tender. It is especially useful for meat which is lower in fat, because there isn’t as much grease to keep it juicy as it cooks. 

Apple Cider Brine

As the meat brines it can also absorb some of the flavors from the liquid. So since it is autumn I made this with fall spices and apple cider.

I love the taste of apple cider in the fall, so I used that as the main liquid. Check out my recipe for homemade apple cider to make your own!

boneless turkey breast in front of air fryer

Brine Ingredients

Apple cider – Either hard cider or non-alcoholic cider works fine in this recipe.  

Kosher salt – I use kosher salt for brining because a coarse salt works best. Sea salt would also work, but it is a lot more expensive. Using iodized salt can result in a metallic after taste, so avoid it.  

Spices – I added fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, garlic, bay leaves and peppercorns because these are flavors that complement both the cider and the turkey.

Maple syrup – Instead of using brown sugar as a sweetener I used 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 completely.

How to Make Apple Cider Brine

1. Heat

Mix all of the ingredients in a large stock pot. Heat it on medium heat and stir to dissolve the salt.

making turkey brine
Heating the Brine

You don’t need to heat it to a boil, just get it hot enough to dissolve all the salt. Heating the apple cider brine will also release some more flavor from the herbs and spices.

2. Cool

Once you have all the salt dissolved the next step is to let the brine cool down completely.

You should never, ever add meat of any kind to hot, warm or even room temperature brine, because that can cause bacteria to grown which can lead to food poisoning.

cooling turkey brine
Cooling the brine

To speed the cooling process along pour the liquid into a bowl and add a cup of ice or cold water. Stir it to mix and refrigerate the bowl until it is completely cooled. Expect it to take at least an hour to completely cool.

Brining Turkey Legs

If you have turkey legs, a turkey breast or other relatively small sized parts the brining process is pretty simple. Take your parts out of the their package and pat them dry with a paper towel.

turkey legs in brine
Turkey legs in brine

Then add the turkey legs, or whatever parts you are cooking, to the chilled brine. Make sure the liquid covers them and return them to the refrigerator.

You can also put the brine and turkey legs in a zipper bag. However you should still put the bag inside a bowl, to protect your refrigerator from leaks.

See the chart below for brining times.

smoked turkey legs

Brining a Whole Turkey

Brining a whole turkey takes more effort. First make sure you have a large enough container to hold the turkey, like a roasting pan, bucket or cooler, and that you have room for it in the refrigerator.

I strongly suggest you buy brining bags, which are heavy duty food safe bags that will hold the brine without leaking. A turkey sized oven bag might work, but it also could leak.

Take the turkey out of its packaging and remove the giblets from the body cavity. I just throw the giblets out, but you can also use them to make gravy.

Then pat the turkey dry and put it in the brining bag. Put the bag inside the container you have chosen, that way if it does leak you will not have a huge mess.

Pour the prepared brine solution over the turkey in the bag and close it tightly with a bag clip. Even if it has a zippered closure use a bag clip anyway!

Then put it all in the refrigerator until it is time to cook the turkey.

How Long Should You Brine Turkey?

Here is a chart showing suggested brining times for a variety of meats.

PartBrining Time
whole turkey12-24 hours
whole chicken4-6 hours
pork roast4-6 hours
turkey legs, thighs or breast2-4 hours
chicken legs, thighs or breast1-2 hours
Brining Times

It is possible to brine things too long. 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!

In addition after about 24 hours the acid in the apple cider will start to make the meat mushy. so plan ahead and don’t let the meat soak too long.

Cooking the Brined Poultry

Before cooking take the turkey from liquid, put it in the sink and rinse off any excess salt. This will keep the final meal from being too salty.

Then pat it dry with paper towels so that you will get a nice crispy skin when it is cooked.

Once the meat is brined it can be grilled, roasted, smoked or air fried, using your favorite method. Here are some my favorite recipes for cooking the turkey after brining.

smoking turkey legs
Smoking turkey legs

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.

A thermometer is not expensive and the peace of mind they give you is priceless. Food poisoning is not fun! This is my favorite inexpensive meat thermometer, which you can buy on Amazon.

FAQ

Can I used table salt instead of iodized salt in my turkey brine?

Table salt can leave a metallic aftertaste because of the iodine it contains. Use kosher salt, sea salt or other non-iodized salt for best results.

Can I brine a frozen turkey?

The turkey should be mostly thawed, although it can still have some ice crystals. It is best not to leave it in the brine for more than 24 hours, so make sure it is within about 24 hours of being defrosted. 

Looking for Some Tasty Sides for Your Thanksgiving Turkey?

Pair your turkey with garlic mashed potatoes, butternut squash, and broccoli salad for the ultimate Thanksgiving feast! Find more Thanksgiving side dish ideas here.

 
Yield: 6

Apple Cider Turkey Brine

thanksgiving turkey

Get the most juicy turkey this Thanksgiving with this easy apple cider turkey brine.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Cooling Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon peppercorns
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups apple cider
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cups kosher salt
  • 1-2 cups ice
  • turkey or turkey pieces to brine

Instructions

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 double the recipe to have enough for the entire bird.

Making the Brine:

  1. In a large pot mix the peppercorns, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, garlic, cider, maple syrup and salt.
  2. Heat until all the salt has dissolved. It does not need to boil.
  3. Pour the cider mixture into a large bowl and add the ice. Refrigerate for an hour or so, until it has completely cooled.

You should never, ever add meat of any kind to hot, warm or even room temperature brine, because that can cause bacteria to grown which can lead to food poisoning.

For turkey legs or other smaller pieces:

  1. Once the brine is cooled add the uncooked turkey or chicken pieces to the bowl.
  2. 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.

For a whole turkey:

  1. Remove the turkey from its package and remove the giblets.
  2. Put it in a food safe brining bag, then put the bag inside a large bowl or bucket. Close the bag tightly with a bag clip and then put it the refrigerator. Let it sit for 12-24 hours.

For any meat:

  1. After brining take the poultry from brine and rinse it off to remove excess salt. Then pat the skin dry.
  2. Smoke, roast, air fry or grill your poultry.

Notes

This would also be excellent for a brining chicken or a pork roast.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 132Sodium: 9438mgCarbohydrates: 32gSugar: 27g
By on October 20th, 2021

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