Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Greg's "Secret" Turkey Brine Recipe

Smoked turkey
For years, Greg has impressed family and friends with the juiciest, most flavorful and visually stunning smoked turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner --and yet he would never reveal his secret.

If you've wondered how you can keep your smoked or roasted turkey from drying out, or have wanted to cook a more flavorful and succulent bird, today is your lucky day. After much arm-twisting, some bribery and eventually blackmail (well, not really, but it sounds more dramatic that way), Greg has agreed to let me share his secret recipe for the perfect Thanksgiving turkey:

It's all in the brine. Yes, he brines the bird for at least a day -- at least 3 days if starting with a frozen turkey -- in his own special brine, the formula for which he had kept secret until now.

In addition to a turkey and the ingredients below, you will need a lidded container large enough to keep the bird completely submerged in the brine along with a few resealable gallon-size plastic bags in which to place ice (the ice is essential to keep the turkey safely chilled as it brines). We use a large insulated cooler because it can hold a pretty large turkey as it brines and keep it at the proper temperature using the bagged ice. In case you were wondering, you can't simply add ice directly to the brining liquid because the melting ice would dilute the brine, and diluting it would prevent the brine from working properly (a brine is a delicate balance of water, sodium, sugar and flavoring ingredients, and using the proper ratio of water to salt & sugar is essential to its success).

Without further ado, here is Greg's Secret Turkey Brine Recipe -- which also works wonders with chicken, duck, goose and other fowl.

For every gallon of water, add:
1 cup Kosher salt
1 cup sugar
Juice, pulp & rinds of 1 orange, 1 lime & 1 lemon
1 head of garlic (crushed)
1/4 cup black peppercorns (crushed)
1 to 2 Tbs red pepper flakes
Fresh Herbs: 2 or 3 large sprigs of rosemary, several sprigs or more of thyme, several sprigs of fresh sage

Note: The water-salt-sugar ratio is the most important part of the recipe; feel free to adjust the other seasonings to suit your tastes.

Mix up enough brine to completely submerge your turkey in a container with a lid that can also hold some sealed bags of ice to ensure the turkey remains at a safe cold temperature as if it were in your refrigerator (you don't need ice initially if starting off with a frozen turkey, but may need to add the bagged ice as the turkey thaws in the brine). Place the turkey, brine and ice bags in the container, cover and brine for at least 1 full day (we like to brine a fresh or thawed bird for 36 to 48 hours). You can brine a frozen bird if you put it in the brine at least 3 days prior to cooking. Discard brine once you remove the turkey for cooking.

Before roasting or smoking the brined turkey, pat it dry. You can now season the surface of the bird with a seasoning blend or dry rub for turkey if you wish. A nicely-flavored rub designed specifically for turkey is Historic Lynchburg Tennessee Whiskey Gobblin' Good Turkey Rub.

Greg does not recommend deep-frying a brined turkey because it may "explode" as it hits the hot oil -- the purpose of brining is to introduce more moisture into the turkey, and this additional moisture can cause the hot oil to splatter powerfully, and that in turn could spark a fire if hot oil hits the heat source for the fryer.

What's your secret to juicy, flavorful Thanksgiving turkey? Tell us in a comment below!

Zestfully yours,

PS: If you plan on deep-frying a turkey and want juicy, flavorful results, consider using a good injectable marinade, such as the Stubb's injectable marinades, which are currently on sale at the Carolina Sauces online store.


  1. This turkey looks amazing! Will have to try it with my next turkey.

    1. Thank you Carol! If you try it, please do let us know what you think. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!
      Zestfully yours,