Brining the Birds

Not much beats the scent of a turkey in the oven at Thanksgiving. Except, maybe, the scent of a cider-brined turkey in the oven at Thanksgiving. Apples and turkey fighting for space in your nostrils…what more could you want?

Pastured and Free range birds are exceptional holiday treats (maybe I’m biased, but I truly believe it). To get the most out of your turkey, however, it’s crucial to understand that it’s not just another Butterball.

Free range and pastured poultry are generally athletic beasts, which means they are much leaner birds than their industrial supermarket counterparts. When you cook your turkey keep this in mind – baste frequently. I love a turkey that’s been brined. The meat is juicier, and I use apple cider as a base, so the turkey takes on a tinge of appley goodness and the cooking smell is unreal.

Brining is easy. Don’t be afraid of the seemingly vast quantity of salt. It does make a better turkey and you won’t notice it in the end.

Here’s how I make the best holiday turkey. You need to start the prep for this two days in advance, but believe me, it’s worth it!


-4 litres apple cider (unsweetened and buy local if you can)
-4 litres cold water
-1 cup kosher salt (don’t use table salt -it isn’t the same)
-6 Tbsp. Pickling spice
-10 bay leaves (less if the pickling spice contains bay leaf)
-1 delicious free range or pastured turkey

Reserve 2 cups of cider. Place 1 litre of cider in a stockpot with the spices and bring to a boil. Stir in the salt. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Cool completely and then add the water, as well as all the cider EXCEPT the reserved 2 cups.

When you remove the turkey from it’s bag be careful not to damage the bag. It makes a great container for the turkey and brine.

Rinse the turkey well, then place back in the bag. Carefully fill the bag with the cider brine and tightly seal with a zip tie. Place the bagged turkey seal side up in a cooler and pack ice around it. Leave for 24 hours.

Remove the turkey from the bag and rinse inside and out well. Line a roaster pan with a few layers of paper towel and set the turkey In the pan. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350. Remove paper towels from the turkey roaster and pat the turkey dry. Stick a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the turkey’s thigh and place it in the oven.

Place the reserved 2 cups of cider in a small saucepan and add 1/2 cup of butter. Throw in 1/4 cup brandy if you’re feeling decadent. Heat over medium, stirring occasionally, until the butter has melted and the ingredients are well blended. This is your basting glaze.

Baste the turkey every 1/2 hour with the glaze, until the temperature on the thermometer reaches 175 F. Cover the bird with foil when it starts to brown.

When the turkey is done remove it from the pan, tent it with foil, and let it rest 30 minutes before carving.

You can use the drippings from this turkey to make gravy, but be careful to add them slowly…the salt comes out in the roasting and if you add too much you may end up with salty gravy.

3 thoughts on “Brining the Birds

  1. Almost had a turkey brining catastrophe, I thought the fridge self was a bit wet and sticky when I pulled the bird out to rinse it, but didn’t think much about it. Got the bird and the brine in the bag and it sprouted a big leak, almost on the floor!

    Under control now though.

  2. Hey Sue,

    I’m considering trying this. Can I put the turkey in the fridge for 24 hours instead of on ice?


    1. Barbara, that’s fine if you have the room. I never do, so the cooler is a good alternative. It also means that if the brine leaks out, it only leaks into the cooler instead of your fridge. I guess it really depends on the size of your turkey.

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