Brining a turkey is one of the most important things you can do for your turkey to ensure that it is juicy and tasty. I am not a scientist and I do not claim to fully understand exactly how it works but then, I don't really need to. The results are fantastic and that's all that matters.
Over the years, I have come up with several really good brines and I have included the recipes below. You do have options! My personal favorite is the buttermilk brine but the cranberry brine is also very good. If you just want something really simple to make sure the turkey is moist and flavorful, then the traditional brine might be for you.
Option 1: Traditional Brine
Pour the water into a large plastic foodsafe container. Add the salt and stir until it is completely dissolved. Then add the brown sugar and rub and stir until it dissolved as much as possible. If you do not have a container large enough to handle 2 gallons, you can mix it up 1 gallon at a time by halving the recipe.
Option 2: Buttermilk Brine
Pour the buttermilk and water into a large plastic food-safe container. Add the salt and stir until it is completely dissolved. Then add the rub and stir until it is dissolved as much as possible. If you do not have a container large enough to handle 2 gallons, you can mix it up 1 gallon at a time by halving the recipe.
Option 3: Cranberry Brine
Pour the juice into a large plastic food-safe container. Add the salt and stir until it is completely dissolved. Then add the rub and stir until it is dissolved as much as possible. If you do not have a container large enough to handle 2 gallons, you can mix it up 1 gallon at a time by halving the recipe.
Once you have chosen and made the brine that you want to use:
Put the turkey into a very large brining bag, a clean empty cooler or a large plastic food-safe bucket and pour the brine over the turkey until it is completely submerged.
Let the turkey brine for 10-12 hours or overnight in the fridge making sure the temperature of the brine is less than 40 degrees to keep the turkey safe from spoilage.
Once the turkey is finished brining, remove it from the brine, discard the brine and rinse the turkey really well under cold water.
Pat the turkey dry with a paper towel.
We are going to be using a concoction that I came up with consisting of my rub, butter and bacon, several of my favorite ingredients. We will put this under the skin where it can actually flavor the meat as well as the skin.
Bacon Butter Recipe
Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and run it until the butter is smooth. You may be able to use a blender for this if you don't have a food processor but I have not tried it and I don't know how well it would puree that bacon.
Update: Since I posted this recipe, a lot of people have commented and offered suggestions on how to make this better. One of my favorite suggestions was to freeze the bacon first to make it easier to chop up into smaller pieces. I think you could even put the bacon in the food processor still frozen to end up with a better blend.
Stop occasionally and scrape down the sides to make sure the end product is well blended and smooth.
You could make this ahead of time if you wanted, form it into a log then store it in the fridge until you needed it. I simply made mine while the turkey was brining.
In order to get the bacon butter under the skin, we have to use our hands to separate the skin from the meat all along the breast. The skin is pretty tough but still be gentle enough so as to not tear it if possible.
Once you can get in there with your hands, begin stuffing the soft bacon butter under the skin by the handfuls. Push it down into the areas all around the breast and even onto the legs if you can.
Once you have it under the skin, rub the remaining bacon butter onto the outside of the skin for good measure.
You can use ANY smoker to turn out a great turkey. Some smokers are easier than others but it all comes down to heat + smoke for a prescribed amount of time.
My turkey was about 12 lbs so I planned on it taking about 6-7 hours. Regardless of the plan, it doesn't come out of the smoker until it reaches 165°F in the thickest part of the thigh.
Use a water pan if you have one and I recommend a good flavorful smoke such as cherry, hickory, apple, maple, etc. depending on what you have available.
Once your smoker is setup and maintaining 230-240°F, it is time to get that turkey on the smoker.
I usually smoke the turkey breast side down for a couple of hours and then flip it over to breast side up to make sure it does not get too much heat and dry out but, for this one, I left it breast side down the entire time.
My thoughts were that the bacon butter will obviously melt and run downhill.. if the breast meat is downhill, well then that's exactly where I want the bacon butter to be.
I wanted the turkey to be as high and away from the heat as I could get it which was the 3rd rack from the bottom.
I left it alone for the better part of 5 hours and when I checked it, it was reading 150°F in the thickest part of the thigh. Right on schedule!
To get that really nice mahogany color and more good flavor on the outside of the skin, I mixed up some butter, rub and chopped parsley and brushed that onto the outside of the turkey a couple of times during the last hour or so.
Melt the butter in the microwave then mix in the rub and the parsley. Brush onto the turkey generously.
When the turkey hit 165°F using my new ChefAlarm thermometer by Thermoworks, I removed it from the smoker and set it on the counter.
Let it rest for about 20-30 minutes if possible before carving to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the turkey.
Here it is still breast side down:
I flipped it over to the traditional breast side up configuration before carving and serving: