As Thanksgiving approaches, the quest for the juiciest, most flavorful turkey takes center stage. Enter the game-changing technique of brining—specifically, a smoked turkey brine that will transform your holiday bird into a masterpiece of succulence and taste.
Why You’ll Love This Smoked Turkey Brine Recipe
- Complex Flavors: This brine infuses every bite with a harmonious blend of savory, sweet, and aromatic flavors, elevating your turkey beyond the traditional roast.
- Foolproof Moisture: Say goodbye to dry turkey horror stories; this brine locks in moisture, ensuring a juicy, tender bird that will win over your guests.
- Customizable: The recipe is a perfect foundation that you can tweak with your favorite ingredients to create a personalized taste profile.
- Grill Master’s Dream: Designed for smoking, this brine complements the natural smokiness for a standout turkey that will be the talk of the table.
Here’s a deep dive into the art of brining, complete with a can’t-miss recipe, and the why and how of brining your turkey to perfection.
And here’s a preview of what the smoked turkey looks like once it’s done… drool worth!
What Is Turkey Brine?
A turkey brine is a salt-based solution in which the turkey soaks before cooking. The primary purpose of brining is to moisten and season the turkey from within. While salt is the core ingredient, a brine can (and should!) include various flavorings, like herbs, spices, fruits, and liquids like apple cider or even beer, to impart additional taste.
Brining relies on the science of osmosis and diffusion. The salt in the brine helps the turkey meat absorb water and flavor compounds. As salt enters the meat, it breaks down proteins, which in turn, traps water during the cooking process, leading to juicier meat. It’s a simple process with delicious results.
If you’re in a hurry, you might not want to take the time to brine the chicken first, but that would be a mistake. It can take as little as 3 hours to impart some flavor and juiciness to the chicken, so I’d recommend doing it, even if you don’t have the full 12 hours.
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Water – It doesn’t have to be filtered, just tap water is fine
- Salt – Coarse salt is best for brining, with Kosher salt being at the top of the list for its purity.
- Lemon – The lemon helps with the break down of the muscle fiber but also imparts vibrant flavor.
- Fresh thyme and rosemary – It’s always best to use fresh herbs when possible. Dried herbs don’t have as much aroma and flavor.
- Brown sugar
- Black peppercorns
Equipment You’ll Need
- Medium-sized pot – You start out making the brine on the stove top in a pot, to dissolve the salt and allow the herbs to meld into the water.
- Large container – You’ll need a container that’s large enough to fit the brine and the chicken and also fit inside your refrigerator. It can be a pot, a food-grade plastic container, or a turkey brining bag.
How to Brine A Turkey For Smoking
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine 2 cups of the water with the salt, lemon, thyme, rosemary, brown sugar, garlic and black peppercorns. Simmer until the salt has fully dissolved. It will take about 5 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool. It doesn’t have to be completely cold as you’ll be combining it with the remaining water, which will quickly cool it down.
Once cooled, combine the brine with the remaining water in a large enough container to hold the water and turkey (that will fit in your refrigerator).
Submerge the turkey, breast side up, in the brine. Refrigerate for 12-20 hours. 12 hours is the ideal amount of time. If you have to go longer, I wouldn’t exceed 20 hours. 24 hours is pushing it a bit. The salt and acid will begin to break down the meat and make it soggy.
A general rule is to brine for 1 hour per pound of turkey. Therefore, a 12-pound turkey would need approximately 12 hours in the brine.
Remove the turkey from the brine. Pat it dry with a paper towel. At this point, you can proceed with smoking.
We also recommend stuffing it with more lemon and herbs. And coating it with a dry rub, if you want to add more flavor to the skin. We use our favorite homemade chicken dry rub.
What Smokers We Use
Did you know that Traeger created the original wood-pellet grill? The Pro Series 22 is the one most people choose because it’s compact, yet has plenty of space for cooking. You can use any type of wood pellets you like. See the Traeger Series 22 Grill on Amazon.
Smoking a Brined Turkey
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 nice crispy skin. Then put on the dry rub. If you don’t want to use a dry rub, I still recommend giving it a sprinkle of salt and pepper, or rubbing on a compound butter. It helps make the skin crispy and tasty.
When ready to smoke, set the smoker temperature 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 the probe into the thickest part of a turkey thigh. Place the roasting pan on the grill grates, close the lid, and roast until the internal temperature reaches 165˚F. It will take about 30 minutes per pound, depends on the size of your turkey. Our 10-pound turkey took 5 hours to smoke.
Before You Go
- How to Choose the Best Wood for Smoking Turkey
- Beer-Brined Turkey: Thanksgiving with a Malty Kick
- How Long to Rest Turkey Before You Carve It
- Delicious Compound Butter for Turkey
- Dry Brine for Smoking a Turkey with Tons of Flavor & Crisp Skin
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Smoked Turkey Brine
- Large pot
- Brining bag or large bucket
- 2 quarts (1.89 l) water divided
- 1 1/2 cups (438 g) salt (not iodized)
- 1 lemon quartered
- 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme and rosemary
- 1 cup (220 g) brown sugar
- 3 cloves garlic smashed
- 2 tablespoons (20 g) whole black peppercorns
- 1 whole turkey 8-18 pounds
- 2 tablespoons (29.57 ml) olive oil
- 2 tablespoons (8 g) dry rub see the recipe here
- In a pot over medium heat, combine a quarter of the water with the salt, lemon, thyme, rosemary, brown sugar, garlic and black peppercorns. Simmer until the salt has fully dissolved, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
- Once completely cooled, combine the brine with the remaining water in a large enough container to hold the water and turkey (that will fit in your refrigerator).
- Submerge the turkey in the brine. Refrigerate for 12-20 hours (not longer than this!).
- Remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry with a paper towel. Set the turkey on a tray that can be placed in the refrigerator and allow it to dry for another 4-12 hours. (This step can be skipped, but this is how you get the skin really crispy).
- Coat the turkey with the olive oil and sprinkle on the dry rub.
- When ready to smoke, set the smoker temperature 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 the probe into the thickest part of a turkey thigh. Place the roasting pan on the grill grates, close the lid, and roast until the internal temperature reaches 165˚F. It will take about 30 minutes per pound, depends on the size of your turkey. You can place the turkey directly on the grates if you don’t care to catch the drippings in a roasting pan.
- The nutrition calculations do not include the brine, which is discarded.
- Do not leave the turkey in the brine for longer than 20 hours.
- If you cannot fully submerge the turkey, be sure to rotate it in the brine every 5-8 hours to ensure all parts get equally brined.
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Laura is a passionate home cook and grill enthusiast who has spent years perfecting her culinary skills, with a particular focus on grilling techniques and flavor combinations. Her fascination with the grill, smoke, and the mouthwatering results they produce has led her on an exciting journey to discover the best methods for grilling delicious and unforgettable meals.