Cider Brined Turkey & A Thanksgiving Menu!

Cider Brined Turkey & A Thanksgiving Menu!

A couple of years ago, I watched an episode of Rachael Ray that changed my life!  That might be a bit of an exaggeration.  It didn’t change my life, but it did change the way I cook turkey…that could maybe count as life-changing.

Previous to that year, I had only cooked turkey a couple of times and it was a little bit, well, lacking.  Most of the time, I left the turkey cooking up to the grandmothers.  Ham is more my thing anyway.  Did I tell you I make a mean ham?  Sorry…I got sidetracked (but I do make good ham).

Anyway, Rachael did a fabulous thing to her turkey.  She brined it.  It wasn’t as if I had never heard of brining something, it’s just that it sounded so complicated.  Rach (I call her that, but she doesn’t know me so it’s okay) made it sound so simple.  And it looked soooooo good.

So the next turkey dinner became my project and I nailed it!  The flavors were amazing and the skin was nice and crispy.  It was fabulous and I now have three ways I prefer my turkey:  brined, smoked, or deep-fried.  Since that time, I’ve tried it on chicken legs as well.  It’s pretty darn good.

Now if you want Rachael’s recipe, you can go to her show website and search for Apple Cider Turkey Breast.  I’ve pinned it several different times and when I try to view the pin, it always says “not found,” so searching for it on her site might be the easier route.  It comes with recipes for Cranberry Sauce and Butternut Squash with Sage Butter–both of which sound uh-may-zin, but I haven’t tried them yet so I couldn’t tell you if they are or not.

Before you think this whole post is a pitch for Rachey and her Amazeball turkey brine, let me tell you a story.  It goes like this:  I bought a turkey–not a breast, a whole turkey–which I was going to cook for my Momma’s birthday.  I let it “thaw” on the counter for a little while and I let it sit in the fridge for almost two whole days.  Now please don’t lecture me if that is not the proper protocol for turkey thawage.  It didn’t work anyway.  Two days later and the thing was still almost a solid lump of ice.  Also, while the turkey was trying to thaw, my internet went out.  FOR THREE DAYS.  For a blogger, that’s almost tragic.  It wouldn’t have been a big deal, except that I have a nasty little habit of not writing down recipes that I use from the internet.  This isn’t the first time this has happened to me and you would think I would learn, but I haven’t.  And when the turkey was thawed, I had no recipe and my Momma had to go home.  Boo.

I wasn’t about to let a 13-pound turkey go to waste though and figured I had committed enough of the recipe to memory that I could recreate it.  Eh, close…but that only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, right?  I left a few things out and doubled a few things and tripled a few things and it turned out even better than before.  I even got the ultimate compliment from Spizzie.  She said, “This is awesome!  And I don’t even really like turkey!”  It must’ve been good, because the two of us at a good half of the breast for supper–with dressing of course!

I don’t have pictures of the brining process or any of the preparations really.  And it was only after we had butchered it that I thought to snap any pictures at all.  I’m sharing it anyway!

Cider Brined Turkey

(Inspired by, but not the same as, Rachael Ray’s)

Whole Turkey–size of choice

1/2 Gallon of Apple Cider

1/2 Gallon of water

1 orange, sliced

1 onion, roughly chopped

6 cloves of garlic, whole

1/4 cup salt

1 cup brown sugar

2 Tablespoons whole peppercorns

Fresh Sage–large handful, with leaves

2 stalks of celery–roughly chopped

Fresh Thyme–handful, sprigs and all

1/4 cup butter, softened (or not, but it’s harder to do that way.  Not that I would know…)


Mix everything but the turkey, butter, and pepper in a large stockpot and heat until sugar and salt melt.  Stir and let cool.  Add your turkey.  If you are using a breast instead of a whole turkey, you can omit the water altogether.  I just added enough to cover the turkey.  (It was a BIG turkey.)  You can put the turkey in a bag with the brine, but I just left mine in the pot and rearranged the entire contents of the refrigerator until I made it fit.  Let the turkey soak in the brine overnight.

When you are ready to cook, preheat your oven.  Drain the brine off of the turkey and pat dry.  Here’s where Rachael and I differ most.  She uses olive oil and salt and pepper.  I give my little previously feathered friend a butter massage.  Everything’s better with butter, y’all!!  I also didn’t add any extra salt, as I was terrified that I had oversalted the brine already!  (The whole “from memory” thing…)  I did sprinkle it with pepper, but not so much as to induce a sneezing fit.  I also took some of the herbs, onions, celery, oranges, and garlic and stuffed them inside the cavity of the turkey.  Then I wedged some of the herbs under the skin.  That part is hard after the buttering.  Have you seen the commercial where she’s cooking and the turkey flies out of her hands and through the window?  Yeah, something like that.  You should probably do the herb thing before the butter massage.

Now, there are a gazillion different opinions on the best way to cook a turkey, so you do whatever you like best.  I preheated my oven to 350 degrees and cooked the turkey for 15 minutes per pound.  I started out with an aluminum foil tent for the first hour or so and then removed it so the skin could get good and brown and crispy.  You can kind of see that here…on the parts I hadn’t already eaten the skin off of.  Oops.

It was so good.  Crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside.  You could do a lot with the leftovers too, if you have any!

On to my Thanksgiving Menu.  If I were hosting Thanksgiving, which I am not, I have a set list of things that I really, really like to eat with my turkey.  And ham, if you are having that as well.

  • Sausage Balls.  I know you probably get sick of hearing about these, but I promise they are a staple at every holiday gathering in our family.
  • Dressing or Stuffing.  Whatever you call it, however you fix it!
  • Mashed Potatoes.  With butter.  Amen.
  • Gravy
  • Sweet Potato Casserole.  I know it’s also a potato.  That is a moot point.
  • Corn (grown in Granny’s garden and frozen) or corn casserole
  • Green Beans (also grown in the garden and cooked with bacon)
  • Pineapple Au Gratin.  Probably the strangest dish my very picky father-in-law loves to eat.  I’m happy to make it if it makes him happy though!
  • Broccoli Casserole.  My Momma’s recipe only.  I need to borrow that sometime.
  • Yeast rolls.  Homemade is best, but Sister Schubert’s run a close second.  Although sometimes I feel like I’ll have to take out a small loan in order to afford enough of them.
  • Dessert.  Something pumpkin, something apple, and/or something chocolate.  Examples are:  pumpkin pie, pumpkin roll, apple stack cake, chocolate pie, chocolate chip cookies.  Ooo…and maybe oatmeal cookies.  And pound cake.  Or chocolate cake.  Or…yeah, it doesn’t really matter about dessert, as long as there is some!

I think that list is long enough.  I will be making some of these things and taking them to Granny & Pappy’s on Thanksgiving.  These dishes all make great leftovers.  They are also pretty similar to what I cook for Christmas dinner at my house.  I’m really looking forward to that!

Now it’s your turn:  Have you ever brined anything and what will you be eating for Thanksgiving dinner?

A Little Christmas Every Day

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  1. My husband taught me a good turkey tip – if you put squares of butter under the skin, it really helps to keep it moist and flavorful. I can’t believe I went years without trying that! I’ll have to look into Rach’s recipe 🙂

    • I mostly believe that you can never have too much butter, so I’ll add some under the skin next time I bake a turkey!!

  2. I’ve never brined a turkey, but I’ve always wanted to. I usually deep fry my turkey and use a Cajun dry rub and the reason I do it is because it’s so much more moist and has a crisp skin. I will definitely try this!
    Alli recently posted…Chocolate Thumbprint CookiesMy Profile

    • I love, love, love deep fried turkey. My husband does those sometimes and they are fabulous. We use a rub on ours, but one of my family members injects their with a cajun marinade before they fry it. That stuff is so good you’ll about lick up to your eyebrows trying to make sure you get it all!!

  3. This looks amazing!! The best way to know that something tastes as good as it sounds is when you don’t even remember to take a photo!!
    Tiffany recently posted…No Worry – I Choose Faith #NaBloPoMoMy Profile

    • LOL…I like that!! I read a recipe post years ago that I still remember. It was for a biscuit recipe that didn’t have any pictures. She said they got snatched up and eaten so fast, she didn’t have time to snap even one pic! We had half of our turkey eaten before I even thought about the camera and I didn’t even try to set up extra lights. I just snapped a couple and went back for seconds. At least I got the good side…the other side of that turkey looked like a wild animal had mauled it!

  4. Your menu sounds absolutely delicious! My mom used to make sausage balls from scratch that were absolutely delicious. I haven’t had them in years, but you’ve reminded me that I may just need to give them a try on my own.
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    • Thank you! I love to make menus. I generally overdo it though! Sausage balls are a favorite here. I didn’t make them once. I was very sorry about it too!

  5. Lord, you are dedicated!!! I’m not a big cook so I am ever so grateful that my FIL brings the turkey to our house every year! This year, though, my husband has a brand new smoker and is dying to try it out!
    Amy Albers recently posted…Rock n Roll Savannah 2014: Miracle In The South!My Profile

    • Teehee…I’m going to start telling everybody that I’m really dedicated to my fridge and my stove and that’s why I can’t be dedicated to the rest of the house! Smoked turkey is so very fabulous. It makes great sandwiches if you have any leftover!

  6. This sounds so good! I love cider (the alcoholic kind lol) and never thought to marinate the turkey with it! I think I may have to cook a turkey breast this way because I am going out of town to meet family and they are cooking the turkey.

    • Lol…you should definitely try it…with or without the alcohol!! I guess either would work really! And if you don’t want to do a whole turkey or a breast, I’ve used it on chicken legs. Makes them really tender!

  7. I’ve brined two turkeys. It really makes for a whole new turkey eating experience!!! I used different ingredients but I am definitely going to try your recipe out

    • I think you’ll like it! The best thing about it is that you can omit the ingredients you don’t like or change it up to suit your preferences.