posted September 12, 2023
Apple Spice Smoked Turkey Brine
Smoked turkey brine will add moisture, tenderness, and amazing fall flavors of apples, fresh herbs, and spices to your turkey! This turkey brine recipe is so amazing, it will likely become a regular for all your holiday gatherings.
Can You Brine and Smoke a Turkey?
This is a big question when it comes to smoking a turkey, and the answer is a resounding YES! You can brine and then smoke a turkey! In fact, I prefer to use this apple spice turkey brine before making my Smoked Turkey recipe. It’s amazing, I tell ya!
By brining the turkey first, you help to moisten it up and keep it tender while it is in the smoker. It also helps to even out the cooking time of all the meat of the bird, as some parts of the turkey will cook faster than others. Lastly, brining before smoking a turkey adds lots of flavor (especially with this apple spice brine!) so you won’t need any further seasoning!
Best Turkey for Brining
Important note! For this recipe, I recommend using an unbrined turkey (for obvious reasons!). If you are set on brining your own turkey, make sure you purchase a turkey that has not been pre-brined.
Most people don’t realize that the grocery store turkeys they are buying are pre-brined. You will see on the label things like “injected with a ___% saline solution” or “self-basting,” and both of those terms mean your turkey has been injected or brined before it was ever sold to you.
The people selling turkeys love to do this because they can charge more money per pound for what is essentially just saltwater. If you have a pre-brined turkey, I would recommend skipping this smoked turkey brine and going straight to either slow smoking or spatchcocking and grilling at a higher temperature.
Smoked Turkey Brine
There are several ways to brine a turkey. The most popular are either using a dry brine or a wet brine prior to cooking.
- Dry brine. Some folks prefer a dry brine of just a ratio of salt and sugar on the exterior of the bird. Dry brining cuts out the extra moisture with added water and relies on the moisture of the meat itself.
- Wet brine. I prefer using a wet brine for my smoked turkey, where the salt mixture is suspended in liquid and the turkey is left to marinate in the chilled brine before cooking. In a wet brine, you have the opportunity to infuse more flavor, like spices, herbs, and other flavorful liquids into your meat. That’s exactly what we’re going to do in this smoked turkey brine recipe. It’s all about adding tons of flavor before putting that bird in the smoke. Wet brining is a process that can take a day to get right, so be sure to plan ahead so you get the correct amount of time.
During the brining process, the salt actually changes the cellular structure within the bird and helps retain a lot of moisture while cooking. This process will also slightly change the texture of the meat. I love the tender texture I get with a brined bird, but some people think it is too soft and like a little extra chew from an unbrined bird.
That’s the joy of recipes, you kind of get the opportunity to test things out, see what you like, and adapt them for your own tastes.
How to Brine a Turkey
Let’s get this process started! Even though Thanksgiving can be stressful, this process doesn’t have to be. Plan a bit ahead, and you’ll be all set for the big day.
- Make the brine. Combine water, apple juice, salt, spices, and herbs in a large pot on the stovetop. Bring the contents to a boil.
- Chill completely. Remove the brine from the stove and stir in additional apple juice and ice cubes to bring the brine down in temperature. Allow to fully chill before adding a turkey. You don’t want to add the warm liquid to a raw turkey!
- Brine the turkey. Place the turkey in the solution and place everything in the fridge. You can brine in a large stockpot, in a big zip-top bag, or in a small cooler, just be sure the turkey stays submerged and that the brine temperature remains below 40 degrees F.
- Pat dry and smoke. Once your turkey is brined, pat it dry well with a paper towel to remove excess brine. You can rinse your bird, but take caution! Rinsing can help remove some salinity from the bird, but it comes at the risk of spreading bacteria. Your best options are to either pat dry with a paper towel after removing the bird from your brine, or gently submerge the turkey in a deep bucket or something full of cold, clean water.
This turkey should be sufficiently seasoned and not really require anything else in terms of a rub, but I do recommend coating lightly in oil or melted butter to help crisp the skin. If you do want to use a rub, try my Smoked Turkey Rub! It’s a great combo of BBQ and herbaceous flavors that really enhance the flavor of the turkey without being overpowering.
How Long to Brine a Turkey
Once you have your turkey brine made and ready to go, plan on brining your turkey for at least 8 hours. A good rule of thumb is to brine for around 1 hour for each pound of turkey, not exceeding 18 hours.
Do not brine for over 18 hours or you run the risk of your turkey becoming too salty or changing the texture of the meat too much. When in doubt, you can always remove your turkey a bit earlier than you originally planned.
Brined Turkey Recipes
Now that you know how to brine a turkey, try it out with these tasty smoked turkey recipes from Hey Grill Hey!
Smoked Turkey Brine Recipe
Thanks for using Hey Grill Hey recipes this holiday season. I can guarantee this recipe is going to be a keeper, and one you’ll use with every smoked turkey you make. If you want an even deeper dive into ALL THINGS SMOKED TURKEY, check out my Smoked Turkey Pitmaster Class. I’ll teach you everything you ever wanted to know about smoking the perfect holiday bird.
Are things looking a bit different around here? We got an upgrade! This post was originally published in April 2018. We recently updated it with more information and helpful tips. The recipe remains the same.
Simple Apple Spice Turkey Brine
- 4 cups water
- 4 cups apple juice
- 1 ½ cups kosher salt (or 1 cup table salt)
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 Tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 Tablespoon candied ginger
- 10 cloves
- 2 sprigs each rosemary, sage, and thyme
After the Brine is Cooked
- 6 cups ice cubes
- 4 cups apple juice
- 1 large apple (quartered)
- 1 yellow onion (quartered)
- Make the brine. In a large stockpot, combine the water, apple juice, salt, spices, and herbs. Bring to a boil.
- Cool. Remove the brine from the heat and stir in the remaining cold apple juice and the ice cubes. Allow the brine to fully cool before adding the turkey.
- Brine the turkey. Once the brine is fully chilled, add the turkey to the container you plan to brine it. Pour the apple spice turkey brine over the turkey and nestle the sliced apple and onion in the brine around the turkey. Brine in a container that can keep the turkey fully submerged in the brine. Also, keep your turkey and brine below 40 degrees F during the entire brining process. Brine your turkey for a minimum of 8 hours, and no longer than 18 hours, or approximately 1 hour per pound of turkey.
- Pat dry. Once your turkey has been in the brine for long enough, remove from the brine pat completely dry with a paper towel. Drizzle with a little cooking oil or melted butter for a crispier skin. You don't need to add any additional salt or seasoning to the exterior of the turkey before grilling or smoking. If you like, you can stuff the turkey cavity with the apple and onion slices from the brine.
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