Thanksgiving is a time for tradition, and this recipe for Apple and Herb Brined Turkey with Cider Gravy has been on my family’s dinner table since we were a young party of 3. Brining my bird in a salty, sweet, apple cider and herb concoction for days before roasting keeps my turkey moist and delicious. The Cider gravy is like a cherry on top, with distinct apple notes infused with roasting juices, herbs, and aromatics. I’m so excited to share my recipe for our Thanksgiving Turkey, I do hope you give it a try!!
If you’re in the market for a shiny new Thanksgiving Turkey recipe, I highly recommend this one!!
Yes, I know this is a big commitment.. the Thanksgiving Turkey is the focal point of your whole feast! It has got to be amazing! And maybe it already is.. maybe your recipe needs no adjustments at all and you’ve perfected it already. As we all know, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, or should I say feather a bird in this case. But you are here reading this for a reason.. so perhaps, deep down … you know that you may need a little revamp on the turkey recipe you’ve been using. And, my friend, I’m here to help!
What I can tell you about this recipe, is that is tested and approved by ME and the hungry mouths that I feed, as well as numerous guests that we have hosted over the years! Praises have always been sung to this blessed bird! So I feel confident this could be a winner, winner turkey dinner for you too!
Let me break it down!
ON TUESDAY, WE BRINE
There is much debate about the concept of brining your turkey! A lot of back and forth, some culinary experts are PRO-brine, some are not. I can speak from my experience only, and I can say that I really do think that brining adds value to the turkey’s overall juiciness and flavor.
From a scientific perspective, the reason meat is brined is because muscle fibers absorb liquid during the brining period. This is a good thing because as the turkey roasts it naturally loses juices. So the idea is that since brined meat is in a sense juicier at the start of cooking, it ends up juicier at the end of cooking. Another way that brining increases juiciness is by dissolving some proteins. A mild salt solution can actually dissolve some of the proteins in muscle fibers, turning them from solid to liquid. This breaking down of the protein fibers is the reason the moisture is able to penetrate the meat, which … long story short is the way brining adds moisture!
Ok, you can take your thinking caps off now!
So about 48 hours before roasting (Tuesday before Thanksgiving) I start the brining process. First, I prepare my brining solution of water, apple cider, salt, sugar, garlic, onion, celery, cinnamon stick, rosemary, sage, and bay leaves in a large pot. There are also brining bags you can purchase if you don’t have a pot large enough to hold the turkey.
Next, take the fresh or thawed turkey out of the packaging, rinse under cold water (inside and out) and remove neck and giblets. I don’t use those, so I just discard them. Some people have a use for those organs, in which case reserve for later.
Then I slowly submerge the bird into the brining solution, cover, and put it in my second fridge. Yes, it takes up a lot of room! So if you don’t have a second fridge consider using a brining bag, ice, and a large cooler in the garage. You need to make sure that the ice is replenished though. As with any meat, it needs to stay below 40 degrees to remain safe to eat.
I let the turkey sit until Wednesday night, and then….
ON WEDNESDAY, WE DRY IT OUT
It is absolutely crucial that you give that bird time to air chill before roasting. Wet skin doesn’t crisp, and that turkey just took a 24-hour bath…. so you see where I’m going with this? It’s going to need some time to dry!
First, remove your bird from the brine and discard the liquid. I suggest doing this in the sink and make sure you empty the liquid out of the cavity too. Next pat dry with paper towels outside and inside. Try to get in the little armpit crevasses too.
Salt and pepper the cavity and then stuff the cavity with the onion half, lemon half, and sage/ thyme sprigs. Be careful not to OVERSTUFF the cavity, we are just looking to boost flavor with aromatics, a little goes a long way and overstuffing turkey is a big no-no! At the neck, place 1/2 apple under the excess skin flap with the rounded side facing out. This helps buffer the breast against heat and protects it from overcooking and helps the turkey keep a more appealing shape.
Tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Put the turkey on a rack set in a large roasting pan and tuck the wings under the body. Set your turkey breast side up on a roasting pan with rack, it’s very important to have a rack so that as the liquid drains to the bottom of the pan, the turkey is not sitting in it.
Put the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, apples, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, and thyme in the bottom of the roasting pan and let refrigerate 12 hours UNCOVERED.
ON THURSDAY, WE ROAST
Ok, it’s the big day now! Time to put the final touches on and get this little baby cooking!
When ready to begin, remove from the refrigerator and let the turkey sit at room temperature, 30 minutes. Position an oven rack in the lowest position. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Yes, that IS really high, and no you will not be cooking at this temperature. You just want that oven nice and hot as soon as you put the turkey in, and when you open the oven to place the turkey a large amount of heat is inadvertently lost. So having the temperature bumped up higher than necessary will ensure that you can maintain the right temperature in the oven on that initial cooking time.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat; whisk in the paprika, salt, pepper, chopped sage, and thyme. Let the herb and paprika butter cool slightly, then brush all over the turkey. Put 2 cups chicken stock and 1 cup apple cider in the bottom of the roasting pan.
Loosely cover the bird with aluminum foil, shiny side out (to deflect heat) at the very beginning. Tenting with foil keeps the skin from getting too dark too soon. You will remove the foil about halfway through cooking to let the skin brown. Place turkey in preheated oven and turn the heat down to 350 degrees.
Now LEAVE IT ALONE! You do not need to attend to Mr. Turkey for an hour. Every time you open the oven door, you affect the roasting temperature. Which is a recipe for uneven cooking, and trust me, we don’t want that!
After the turkey has roasted 1 hour, baste with the drippings. Continue roasting, basting every 30 minutes. You may add more chicken stock to the bottom of the pan if needed. Please note, every time you baste, or fuss with the bird in any way, remove from the oven place on a heat-safe surface, and close the oven door! Remember, even heat temperature, is so important.
When skin is golden brown and a thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 165 degrees F, (about 13 minutes per pound). Transfer the turkey to a cutting board, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest 30 minutes before carving; reserve the drippings for the gravy.
IT’S ALL GRAVY, BABY
So while the turkey is resting, you should begin making your gravy. Strain all the vegetables from the bottom of the roasting pan over a bowl to separate them from the liquid. Discard the veggies.
Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Cook until the mixture looks like wet sand, about 4 to 5 minutes. Slowly whisk in the remaining 1 cup apple cider, the remaining 2 cups of chicken stock, and reserved strained drippings from the pan.
Bring to a simmer and continue whisking, to ensure no clumps. It should less than 10 minutes for the liquid to thicken and reached a gravy consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Pour into a serving pitcher or bowl.
Apple and Herb Brined Turkey with Cider Gravy
- 6 quarts water
- 1 quart apple cider
- 2 cups kosher salt
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large onion roughly chopped
- 3 ribs celery quartered
- 1 head garlic cut in 1/2 equatorially
- 5 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 bunch fresh rosemary
- 1/2 bunch fresh sage
- 1 quart chicken stock divided
- 2 cups apple cider divided
- 4 tbsp butter
- ½ cup all-purpose flour more if needed
- 1 large onion quartered
- 2 ribs celery roughly chopped
- 2 carrots rough chopped
- 2 Granny Smith apples roughly chopped
- 1 bunch thyme tied together
- 4 cloves garlic smashed
- 6 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 14-16 lb organic fresh, free range turkey
- ½ onion quartered
- ½ lemon quartered
- ½ apple
- 2 sprigs thyme, plus 1 tablespoon chopped leaves
- 2 sprigs sage, plus 1 tablespoon chopped leaves
- 8 tbsp unsalted butter melted
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1½ tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp black pepper
Brine Turkey and Prep Turkey
- To brine the turkey: Combine all of the ingredients for the brine in a large container.Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey and add the turkey and let it brine in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
- To prepare the turkey for cooking, done 24 hours before roasting: Pat the turkey very dry with paper towels, inside and out. Salt and pepper the cavity and then stuff the cavity with the onion, lemon, and sage and thyme sprigs. In the neck cavity place 1/2 apple with the rounded side facing out—helps buffer the breast against heat and protects it from overcooking. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Put the turkey on a rack set in a large roasting pan and tuck the wings under the body.
- Put the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, apples, bay leaves, cinnamon stick and thyme in the bottom of roasting pan. Arrange the turkey on top of the veggies and refrigerate overnight UNCOVERED.
- When ready to begin, remove from refrigerator and let the turkey sit at room temperature, 30 minutes. Position an oven rack in the lowest position (remove the other racks); preheat to 350 degrees F.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat; whisk in the paprika, salt, pepper, chopped sage and thyme. Let the herb and paprika butter cool slightly, then brush all over the turkey. Put 2 cups chicken stock and 1 cup apple cider in the bottom of the roasting pan.
- Loosely cover the bird with aluminum foil, shiny side out (to deflect heat) at the very beginning. Tenting with foil keeps the skin from getting too dark too soon. Remove the foil about halfway through cooking to let the skin brown.
- Transfer to the oven and roast 1 hour. After the turkey has roasted 1 hour, baste with the drippings. Continue roasting, basting every 30 minutes, until the skin is golden brown and a thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 165 degrees F, (about 17 minutes per pound)
- Transfer the turkey to a cutting board, tent with aluminum foil and let rest 30 minutes before carving; reserve the drippings for the gravy.
- Strain all the veggies over a bowl to separate them from the stock/mixture. Discard the veggies.
- Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Cook until the mixture looks like wet sand, about 4 to 5 minutes. Slowly whisk in the remaining 1 cup apple cider, remaining chicken stock, and reserved strained drippings from pan.
- Cook until the mixture has thickened and reached a gravy consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Pour into a serving pitcher or bowl.