Beer-Brined Turkey: Thanksgiving with a Malty Kick

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Laura Lynch
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This year, why not add a twist to your turkey tradition by making a beer-brined turkey. A beer brine infuses your bird with unique and interested flavor that’s a little out of the ordinary.

Today we’re giving you a step-by-step guide to creating a Thanksgiving turkey that’s brined to perfection and ready for the grill or smoker.

Smoked turkey

Why You’ll Love It

  • Flavor Unmatched: The beer brine imparts a unique malty taste with hints of herbs and aromatics, creating a depth of flavor that plain saltwater brines can’t match.
  • Moisture Magic: Brining in beer and spices ensures that the turkey remains juicy and tender from breast to leg, giving you a foolproof way to avoid the dreaded dry turkey disaster.
  • Grill Master’s Delight: Whether you’re grilling or smoking, this recipe provides the perfect opportunity to show off your mastery over fire and smoke, making your Thanksgiving centerpiece not just a meal, but an experience.

The Beer Brine Basics

Modelo

A brine is a saltwater solution that can transform your turkey from typical to terrific. Adding beer, especially ales or stouts, imparts a malty depth that complements the natural flavors of the turkey.

Beer can enhance the moisture and the texture of the turkey. The beer brine introduces additional moisture into the turkey, ensuring it stays juicy and tender during cooking. The brine’s salt content breaks down some of the turkey’s proteins, resulting in a more tender bite.

Beer, especially varieties with rich malt profiles like brown ale or stouts, adds a nuanced flavor that complements the turkey’s natural taste. The combination of beer with herbs and spices infuses the meat with layers of savory goodness that go beyond the usual seasonings.

The sugars in the beer contribute to better caramelization of the skin, giving you a beautiful, crispy exterior that’s hard to achieve with a traditional roast.

Ingredients for the Beer Brine

Beer brine ingredients
  • Cold water – Anywhere from 2-3 quarts – this is going to depend on how big your turkey and your brining pot are.
  • Kosher or sea salt – I like to use fine salt as it’s easier to dissolve than coarse salt. Don’t use iodized salt.
  • Brown sugar – light or dark is fine
  • Garlic – Make sure it’s fresh for the best flavor
  • Thyme and rosemary – You can use dried or fresh
  • Whole black peppercorns – They don’t add spiciness, just aroma.
  • Bottles or cans of beer – You need 2 12-ounce bottles or cans. Go for a brown ale, wheat, dark lager.
  • Whole turkey – You can choose what size turkey fits your situation – anywhere from 6-18 pounds (mine is 10 pounds)
  • Olive oil – This is for rubbing on the turkey before grilling
  • Dry rub – Use any dry rub you like for turkey. We use our homemade chicken dry rub, which you can quickly mix up.
  • Lemon (optional) – I always put a lemon inside the cavity of the turkey while cooking. It adds a little extra something.

Choosing Your Brining Container or Bag

The turkey in the brine must fit inside your refrigerator, so source a large container made of food-grade plastic, stainless steel or glass, or a brining bag that will fit.

You’ll need something large enough to submerge your turkey entirely. A brining bag, a large stockpot, or even a clean, unscented trash bag inside a cooler can work. Just ensure it’s food-safe and can fit in your refrigerator or a cooler with ice.

Instructions for Making the Brine

Beer brine

In your container or bag, combine the water, salt, sugar, garlic, herbs, peppercorns, and beer. Stir with a long spoon or spatula until the salt and sugar are dissolved.

Some brines call for the mixture to be heated up on the stove so the sugar and salt will dissolve more easily. I don’t do that because then you’re left with a hot liquid that has to cool down completely before you can submerge the turkey. That’s just extra time that I’m not willing to spend.

The sugar and salt will eventually dissolve in the water and beer. You just have to stir it and give it some time.

Brining the Turkey

How long should you brine? For a turkey, 12-24 hours is optimal. Any longer, and the meat might get too salty or start to break down.

The Brining Process:

  1. Fully defrost your turkey.
  2. Place the turkey in your chosen container or bag and pour the brine over the turkey. You might need to add more water to fully submerge the turkey.
  3. Ensure the turkey is completely submerged. You can place a plate or a weight on top to keep it down, if necessary.
  4. Store the container in the fridge (with a lid on top, if possible). You can also store the bag or pot in a cooler with ice. Make sure that the cooler can be kept at or below 40°F.
Turkey in brine

What Does the Brine Do to the Turkey?

The brine’s magic lies in osmosis and flavor infusion. Salt modifies the turkey’s protein structure, allowing it to absorb water along with beer’s flavors, ensuring a moist and flavorful bird.

The beer brine introduces additional moisture into the turkey, ensuring it stays juicy and tender during cooking. The brine’s salt content breaks down some of the turkey’s proteins, resulting in a more tender bite.

You can also choose to dry brine your turkey if you don’t want to go through this process.

Brined turkey

Time to Grill or Smoke

Once your turkey has soaked in the briny goodness, it’s time to cook it. Grilling or smoking your turkey imparts a smoky flavor that’s hard to achieve in a standard oven roast, so that’s always my preference. For the last few years we’ve smoked the turkey. I just like the way it turns out better than grilling. You can choose your preference.

To prepare the turkey, you can either just pat it dry and give it a sprinkle of salt. Or you can rub it with olive oil and give it a dry rub. I prefer the latter. I like a lot of flavor on my turkey and a skin with no rub is just not very fun. Also stuff the cavity with your lemon slices.

Smoked turkey

For Grilling:

  1. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat, aiming for a cooking temperature of around 350°F.
  2. Place the turkey in its roasting pan on the grill. You’ll want to cook using indirect heat, so if you have a gas grill, turn off the burners directly under the turkey.
  3. Grill the turkey, covered, for about 2 ½ to 3 hours, until a meat thermometer reads 165°F in the breast and 175°F in the thigh.

For Smoking:

  1. Preheat your smoker to 250°F.
  2. Place the turkey in its roasting pan in the smoker and let the low and slow magic begin.
  3. This will take around 30 minutes per pound.
  4. You’re aiming for that internal temperature of 165°F in the breast and 175°F in the thigh.

Once your turkey reaches the correct temperature, it is important to let it rest for about 20 minutes before carving to redistribute the juices. I aim for 15-20 minutes for a smaller size turkey and 20-45 for larger turkeys.

Beer brined smoked turkey

Top Tips for Brining Turkey

  • Choose the Right Container: Make sure you have a container large enough to submerge the entire turkey in the brine, yet small enough to fit in your fridge or cooler. It needs to be food-safe, so a brining bag, a dedicated brining container, or even a stainless-steel pot works well.
  • Keep It Chilled: Safety is paramount when brining a turkey. The brine solution and turkey must be kept below 40°F to prevent bacterial growth. If your fridge is too small, you can use a cooler with ice packs, ensuring that it stays at a safe temperature throughout the brining process.
  • Don’t Overdo It: Brining for too long can result in a turkey that’s too salty or has a texture that’s too soft. Typically, a whole turkey should brine for 12 to 24 hours. If you’re working with a turkey breast or smaller cuts, reduce the brining time accordingly.
  • Rinse and Dry Before Cooking: After brining, rinse the turkey thoroughly under cold water to remove excess salt from the surface, and then pat it dry with paper towels. Drying the skin is especially important because it will help achieve that delectable crispy skin when cooked.

This Thanksgiving, let your turkey bask in a bath of beer and aromatics before it meets the grill or smoker. The result will be a moist, flavorful, and tender turkey with a subtle malty character that complements the rich flavors of your holiday feast.

Gather around the table and share this unique take on a Thanksgiving classic that’s sure to leave your guests thankful for the cook who went the extra mile. Happy grilling, and cheers to a new holiday tradition!

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Smoked turkey

Beer-Brined Turkey

A beer brine infuses your bird with unique and interested flavor and keeps it incredibly moistbee.
5 from 26 votes
Print Pin Rate
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 5 hours
Brining Time: 1 day
Total Time: 1 day 5 hours 20 minutes
Author: Laura Lynch

Equipment

Ingredients

  • 2-3 quarts (1.89 l) cold water
  • 1 1/2 cups (438 g) Kosher or sea salt not iodized salt
  • 1 cup (220 g) brown sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic smashed
  • 2 tablespoons (20 g) whole black peppercorns
  • 2 cans or bottles of beer 12 oz each (brown ale, wheat, dark lager)
  • ½ tablespoon (2 g) dried thyme or 2 sprig fresh, optional
  • ½ tablespoon (1 g) dried rosemary or 2 sprig fresh, optional
  • 10 pound (4.54 kg) whole turkey thawed
  • 2 tablespoons (29.57 ml) olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons (12 g) dry rub optional (click the link for our recipe)
  • 1 lemon quartered

Instructions

  • Note: The turkey in the brine must fit inside your refrigerator, so source a large container made of food-grade plastic, stainless steel or glass, or a brining bag that will fit.
  • In your large container or bag, combine the water, salt, sugar, garlic, peppercorns, beer, and herbs (if using). Stir with a long spoon or spatula until the salt and sugar are dissolved.
  • Remove the turkey from the packaging and discard any giblets inside. Do not wash the turkey. Place the turkey into the container or bag with the brine. Make sure it stays fully submerged. If there isn’t enough liquid to submerge it, add more water. You can weigh it down with a heavy lid or dish, if necessary.
  • Brine for at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours.
  • Hold the turkey up to let it drain into the sink. There is no need to rinse the turkey. Gently place the turkey in a roasting pan.
  • Pat dry the turkey with a paper towel. Coat it with the olive oil, which will give it a crispier skin. Season with dry rub, if desired. Stuff the lemons into the cavity.
  • To grill, preheat grill to 350˚F. To smoke, set your smoker to 250˚F, stock with wood pellets or chips (we like to use apple or cherry wood), and preheat for 15 minutes with the lid closed.
  • Insert a meat probe into the thickest part of a turkey breast. Place the roasting pan on the grill grates, close the lid, and roast until the internal temperature reaches 165˚F in the breast and 175˚F in the thighs. For grilling, it will take about 10-15 minutes per pound. For smoking, it will take about 30 minutes per pound. Be sure to go by meat temperature, not by time, as every turkey will vary.
  • Remove the turkey from the grill and tent it loosely with foil to rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.

Notes

  • Make sure your bucket, container, or bag is large enough to brine your turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler filled with ice.
  • An 18 to 24-hour beer brine is ideal for a 10-pound turkey.
  • You don’t have to coat the turkey with a dry rub, but I think it adds wonderful additional flavor and makes the skin crispier.
  • Be sure to use a meat thermometer so you don’t go over on the temperature, which will lead to a dry turkey. It should be 165 in the breast when you take it out.

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