While brining your Thanksgiving Turkey takes a little extra planning, it's worth it. This maple turkey brine gives your bird excellent flavor, moist meat, and crispy golden skin. Black and pink pepper, coriander, and orange peel give the brine an extra level of flavor.
What is it?
This maple turkey brine is a dry brine recipe, meaning that its salt, sugar, and spices act as a cure. Together they flavor the turkey, tenderize the meat, and help the skin turn crisp and brown.
Dry brining is an effortless approach that consistently produces moist, succulent, and deeply flavorful roast turkeys.
Why this recipe works
- Brining your turkey results in moist, flavorful meat and crispy skin.
- This recipe works particularly well for free-range and pasture-raised birds which tend to be flavorful, but a little tough.
- It's easy to do and yields delicious results. So, there's minimal effort for maximum results.
- Using maple sugar in this brine, as opposed to maple syrup, produces better results. Moister meat, crispier skin.
- While you can brine a turkey with white sugar and plain salt, this maple turkey brine introduces even more flavor. You have notes of citrus, spice, and rosemary.
- Dry brines are less work than wet brines which typically require more space. It's no fun trying to find room for a large stockpot stuffed with turkey and filled with cold water in your fridge - especially when you also have to worry about cranberry compote, stuffing, and other dishes, too.
Dry brines for poultry contain two primary ingredients: salt and sugar. In addition, they often contain aromatics, herbs, and spices which give the brine flavor.
For this maple turkey brine, you'll use maple sugar, coarse salt, herbs, spices, and citrus. In combination,
- Maple sugar has a woodsy flavor with notes of toffee and caramel. It partners particularly well with roasted turkey, citrus, and warming spices.
- Coarse sea salt helps to give the bird flavor, and it works in combination with the sugar to brine the bird.
- Rosemary gives the maple turkey brine flavor, bringing a vibrant herbal quality with underpinnings of citrus.
- Spices include black pepper, pink pepper, and coriander. These spices complement maple and citrus, pulling these two elements of the brine together.
- Citrus zest gives this brine recipe a cheerful, vibrant note.
Brining a turkey is easy, but it does take planning. That's because the maple turkey brine needs a few days to penetrate the meat. Beyond that, there are a few tips you'll want to keep in mind.
- Plan ahead. You need to brine this turkey about 2 days in advance. That means, defrosting it earlier, and clearing plenty of space in the fridge.
- You need the sugar to balance the salt. You might be tempted to only use salt; however, your bird will be too salty and, ultimately, unpalatable.
- Leave the bird uncovered in the fridge. As it brines, the skin dries out a bit. This results in succulent meat, and crispy skin. If you cover the bird, the skin will not crisp as easily.
- When you zest the oranges to make the brine, reserve them to stuff into the bird.
- Stuff the bird with aromatics, instead of stuffing. Onions, herbs, and citrus fruits will help flavor the bird from the inside out, and they also prevent the meat from becoming dry.
- Allow the bird to rest before you carve it. Resting the turkey will allow the juices to set, resulting in a moist bird.
Maple Brined Turkey Recipe
For the Dry Brine
For the Roasting Pan
- 1 (12-14 lb) turkey (giblets removed)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 yellow onions (quartered)
- 1 orange (halved)
- 2 lemons (halved)
- 1 cup chopped fresh sage (loosely packed)
- 3 sprigs chopped fresh rosemary
- 5 sprigs thyme
Brine the bird (48 hours in advance).
- Mix all the ingredients for the dry brine together in a small mixing bowl.
- Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey, and reserve them for the gravy. Gently loosen the skin of the bird’s breast and legs with a butter knife, and gently rub the dry brine between the skin and the meat of the bird. Rub the remaining dry brine on the outside of the bird, and inside its cavity.
- Set the bird on a rimmed baking tray that is small enough to fit in your refrigerator. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 24 and up to 48 hours.
Roast the bird.
- Heat the oven to 500 F.
- Arrange the bird in a roasting pan, and stuff its cavity with onions, oranges, lemons, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Arrange any remaining lemons, oranges, or herbs around the bird. Pour in the water.
- Tent the bird loosely with aluminum foil, and then turn down the heat to 425 F, place it in the oven, and roast for 45 minutes.
- Remove the foil, turn down the heat to 325F and roast it until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 F, about 1 ½ hours longer.
- When the bird reaches an internal temperature of 165 F, remove it from the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes before carving.
Variations + Substitutions
Substitute maple syrup for the maple sugar. Maple syrup is a little less expensive and a little more accessible than maple sugar. You can substitute maple syrup in equal portions to maple sugar; however, the turkey's skin may not crisp as easily and the brine may not penetrate as deeply.
Substitute brown sugar in place of maple sugar. It's a more affordable option, and you'll still have a rich flavor, moist turkey, and crisp skin.
Kosher salt works as a fine replacement for coarse sea salt if that's what you prefer.
Skip the pink peppercorns and add more black pepper. If you can't find pink peppercorns, which have a slightly sweet and deeply aromatic flavor, you can always use more black pepper.
Ancho chile added to the brine in place of pepper works beautifully.
Crushed bay leaves are also delicious when you add them to the dry brine or the roasting pan.
You can also use this maple turkey brine recipe on larger or smaller birds. But, you'll need to make adjustments to roasting times.
You should dry-brine a turkey about 2 days in advance. If you brine it too long, it will taste cured similar to bacon or corned beef. And if you brine it for too short a time, the brine won't have time to fully penetrate the turkey. That means less flavor.
No, the maple brine helps give the turkey flavor. Just pat the turkey dry to remove excess moisture and roast following your recipe's directions.
Yes, you can make a slow-roasted turkey from a brined bird.
Turkey is safe to eat when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 F. You should check both the thigh at the thickest point and the breast.
Allowing a roasted turkey to rest before carving it allows the juices to set, meaning moister meat. Plus this gives you plenty of time to prepare last-minute dishes and set the table.
You can make the maple turkey brine up to 6 months in advance. Store it in a tightly sealed glass jar at room temperature away from direct light and heat. The brine is also delicious on roasted chicken.