Want a perfectly moist roast turkey recipe for your Thanksgiving dinner? The secret is an easy turkey brine that tenderizes the meat and keeps it juicy — EVERY TIME. Brine the turkey the day before cooking so the bird has time to absorb the flavors before it goes into the oven. This Bourbon Maple Brined Roast Turkey is a winner every time. No sweat.
This post has been updated from its original publish date in 2014.
The Argument For Brined Roast Turkey
I’ve sampled turkeys with and without brining and hands down, the brined roast turkey ALWAYS wins. That’s because the process of brining, not only adds flavor, but it also adds moisture to the bird. The salt and sugar in the brine, plump the cells of the turkey through osmosis, making it tender, juicy and FLAVORFUL. It’s a step I refuse to skip. If you’re looking for a reliable way to make a perfect roast turkey, this is it.
A brine can be as simple as salt and water. Really, that’s all you need to plump up those cells and infuse flavor, however, if this is your Thanksgiving turkey, you may want to add a few other ingredients to make it more interesting. I think the Bourbon Maple combination with whole spices is perfection.
Ingredients For Easy Turkey Brine
- Kosher Salt
- Brown Sugar
- Maple Syrup
- Whole Peppercorns
- Allspice Berries
- Bay Leaves
- Cinnamon Stick
Tips For Making Bourbon Maple Brine
Making the brine is simple and only takes a few minutes to assemble. The only trick is to:
- Make sure the brown sugar and salt have completely dissolved in the water.
- Strain the brine to remove the whole spices – otherwise you’ll be picking peppercorns and cloves out of the bird.
- Cool the brine to room temperature before adding the bird. The ice should do this for you, but test it to make sure (you don’t want to poach your bird).
- Make sure you have a container big enough for the brine AND the turkey.
Best Brining Container For Moist Turkey Recipe
I invested in this 12 quart food storage container a few years back (found it at a restaurant supply store) and it has been a game changer for me. I’ve brined my own corned beef in it, brined several chickens at a time and if you’ve ever needed to soak country ham, this is the way to go.
You wouldn’t think that covering the turkey in brine would be a hard thing, right? Well, it’s not, but you may want to heed these tips before covering the bird with easy turkey brine.
Tips For Covering the Turkey with Brining Liquid
- Place the turkey in the receptacle BEFORE you start to pour in the brining liquid. When you fill the container with the brine and add the turkey, if the container isn’t large enough, the turkey will displace the brining liquid and you’ll have a BIG MESS on your hands.
- Depending on:
- How Tall You Are
- How Strong You Are
Pouring the brine over the turkey may be a challenge…
I’m a little over 5 feet tall (and fairly strong) despite that, this storage container resting on a standard height counter top hits me just a few inches below my shoulder. Lifting a full stock pot to shoulder level and pouring the contents over the turkey is a bit cumbersome, if not downright foolhardy. If you’re vertically challenged, like me, place the storage container (and turkey) on a low table or even on the floor to fill it.
Another Housekeeping Note
Make sure you’ve cleared a large enough space in the fridge for the turkey to brine. For me, that meant throwing out last week’s leftovers and rearranging the condiments to other shelves – it was a production.
Preparing To Roast The Turkey
- Once you’re ready to cook the turkey, remove it from the brine and place it in a large roasting pan.
- Pat the turkey completely dry (both inside and out) with paper towels.
- Roughly chop the vegetables and scatter about half of them in the roasting pan.
- Loosely stuff the bird with the other half of the veg and herbs, leaving half an apple to rest in the neck cavity to fill the space. Fold the turkey neck over the apple. Neutral veggies like onions and celery, carrots, apples adds moisture and aromas etc.
Note: I don’t actually serve these veggies, they are just there for the roasting process.
Compound Butter For Brined Roast Turkey
For a golden, crispy skin, I like to coat the outside of the turkey with an herb compound butter. This is really simple to make, just combine the softened butter with the fresh herbs, kosher salt and black pepper and smear it all over the outside of the bird and between the skin and the flesh.
Adjusting Your Oven Racks & Other Tips
- Most of us automatically keep our oven racks right in the center of the oven. That’s fine for most cooking, but the turkey is BIG. Bigger than most things you’re probably roasting. Make sure to adjust your oven racks so that the turkey fits in it with about 3-5 inches of room between the bird and the heating element (if it’s too close, it will burn the top of the turkey before the meat is even done.)
- Baste the turkey every hour with chicken broth over the legs and breast.
- If your oven cooks unevenly, you’ll want to rotate the pan 180° each hour to ensure even cooking.
- If the breast meat starts to get too dark, place a piece of tin foil over it. That will allow the meat to continue to cook without burning the skin.
How Do I Know When The Brined Roast Turkey Is Done?
The turkey is done when the meat reaches 165°. To make sure I’ve got it right, I use a good oven thermometer with a probe and an alarm like this ChefAlarm from ThermoWorks. <<< Click on this affiliate link for special deals.
The nice thing about this probe is that it stays in the turkey and TELLS YOU when it’s ready. No hovering, no wringing your hands together with worry… It TELLS YOU… I also have the Thermoworks Thermapen Mk4 which is a fantastic multipurpose instant read thermometer and I’d recommend either one for ensuring a perfectly cooked and perfectly moist turkey recipe.
This Bourbon Maple Brined Roast Turkey is a thing of beauty. With a burnished, golden skin and tender, juicy flesh, it’s what you want in your Thanksgiving turkey. In case you’re wondering, I don’t stuff my turkey. Instead, I make two casserole dishes of stuffing (one for each end of the table, that’s fair, right?) and plenty of gravy.
What To Serve With Bourbon Maple Brined Roast Turkey:
- Tangy Glazed Stovetop Brussels
- Fall Corn Saute
- Warm Apple Butternut Farro
- Lightly Spiced Cranberry Sauce with Apples
- Easy Mushroom Gravy
- Homemade Crescent Rolls
- Garlic Herb Parker House Rolls
- 21 Thanksgiving Vegetable Side Dishes
- 48 Stuffing Recipes
More Moist Turkey Recipes & Other Holiday Mains:
- Whole Smoked Turkey with Cider Gravy
- Parmesan Apple Stuffed Turkey Tenderloin
- Homemade Ham with Brown Sugar Mustard Glaze
- Spatchcock Grilled Turkey with Cider Gravy
- Chard and White Bean Stuffed Leg of Lamb
- Herb Crusted Pork Loin with Pan Gravy
- Cherry Apple Stuffed Pork Loin
- Round Up of More Holiday Entrees
Maple Bourbon Brined Roast Turkey
- turkey brining bags or 12 quart pot or receptacle
- large roasting pan
- turkey baster
- 12-14 pound turkey neck, giblets and liver removed
For The Brine
- 4 quarts water divided
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
- 3/4 cup maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon whole allspice berries
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 6 bay leaves
- 8 cups ice
- 1/2 cup bourbon
Aromatics For The Turkey
- 5 carrots rough chop
- 2 large onions rough chop
- 4 stalks celery – including leaves rough chop
- 2 granny smith apples cut into halves
- 6-7 sprigs thyme
- 5-6 sage leaves
- 6-7 sprigs parsley
- 1-2 cups chicken broth for basting
For The Herb Compound Butter
- 4 tablespoons butter softened
- 5-6 large sage leaves chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves chopped
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
FOR THE BRINE:
- Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large stock pot. Remove from heat and stir in the kosher salt, brown sugar, maple syrup, black peppercorns, cloves, allspice, cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Stir until the salt and sugar are completely dissolved and let it rest for 15-20 minutes. Place a sieve over a large bowl and strain the brine to remove the solids.
- Add ice to the brine and stir until the ice melts. Add an additional 4-8 cups of cool water or until you have about 4 to 4 1/2 quarts of liquid. Stir in the bourbon.
BRINING THE TURKEY:
- Remove the offal items (neck, giblets, heart and liver) from the turkey and save for gravy. Use a large food storage container, stock pot or brining bag to hold the turkey and the brine. Add the turkey to the container and pour the brine over the bird. Seal up the container and brine for 12-18 hours in the refrigerator, turning the turkey over at least once during the brining process.
MAKING THE COMPOUND BUTTER:
- In a small bowl, combine the butter, sage, thyme, salt and pepper together with a fork until smooth and creamy.
- Set the oven rack to the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°.
ROASTING THE TURKEY:
- Remove turkey from brine and dry thoroughly with paper towels.
- Place one half of the granny smith apple into the "neck" cavity of the turkey and cover with the excess flap of turkey neck skin. Loosely fill turkey cavity with about half of the carrots, celery, onion, and thyme, sage and parsley. Scatter the other half in the bottom of the roasting pan. Place the turkey in the pan, resting on the vegetables. You can also use a turkey rack in the pan if you have one, but resting it on the vegetables accomplishes the same thing.
- Liberally coat the outside of the turkey with the compound butter.
- Place turkey in the oven and roast for 1 hour. After one hour of cooking baste the turkey with chicken broth every hour or so until the broth has been used, then use the drippings for basting the turkey. Roast the turkey for about 2 to 2 1/2 more hours or until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees. Remove the turkey from the oven and tent it with aluminum foil. Let the turkey rest for 20 minutes before carving.