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Recipe of the Day: Bourbon-Brined Turkey

This method guarantees a moist turkey
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Thanksgiving is a little over a week away, but there's no need to panic. If you haven't figured out how you're going to prepare your bird this year, there is one techinique that trumps the rest: brining. This year, try out this bourbon-brined turkey recipe. Not only will it leave you with a moist turkey, it'll also give you the fixings for the best pan gravy ever. 

The Best Thanksgiving Recipes

It doesn't matter if you deep-fry, roast or air-fry your turkey, the best way to start the process is to brine it. Keep in mind that brining takes time, so you'll need to prepare your turkey the night before Thanksgiving. . 

To prepare the brine, pour two cups of hot water, brown sugar and salt into a container large enough to hold your turkey. Once the sugar and salt has dissolved, stir in two cups of cold water and a healthy pour of bourbon. Add your turkey, and refrigerate the bird for at least four hours. You'll be left with a deliciously brined turkey and the leftover juices are perfect for a bourbon-apple flavored gravy. For an ideal holiday feast, serve the turkey with your favorite Thanksgiving sides, from mashed potatoes to cornbread and casseroles

Bourbon-Brined Turkey With Apple Bourbon Pan Gravy

For the turkey:

1 turkey, 13 to 15 pounds
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup coarse (kosher) salt
1/2 cup bourbon
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 large sweet onion, roughly chopped
2 large apples, quartered, cored, roughly chopped
Several sprigs each of (all fresh): sage, parsley, thyme, rosemary
Olive oil, coarse salt and pepper

For the pan gravy:

1/3 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons bourbon or ¼ cup dry red wine
Gravy darkener, optional
Fresh herb sprigs for garnish


For the turkey

Remove the giblets and neck packets from the cavity of the turkey.

Rinse turkey well.

Have ready a large food-safe plastic bucket or container.

Put 2 cups very hot water, brown sugar and salt into the container.

Stir to dissolve sugar and salt.

Stir in 2 cups cold water, ½ cup bourbon and pepper flakes.

Put the turkey in the brine.

Add enough cool water to completely immerse the turkey.

Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

Remove turkey from brine. Discard the brine.

Refrigerate turkey up to 2 days.

For broth, put the giblets (not the liver) and neck into a deep saucepan.

Add cold water to cover by 2 inches, usually 1 ½ quarts.

Simmer, adding water if needed, about 2 hours.

Strain into a bowl, discarding the solids.

Refrigerate broth for up to 3 days.

You should have about 4 cups broth.

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Put some of the onion and apple pieces in the turkey's neck cavity; use wooden picks to secure the skin over the cavity.

Tuck the wings behind the back.

Put the remaining onion and apple pieces into the body cavity.

Add herb sprigs.

Use wooden picks to pull the skin closed over the body cavity, but don't stress if it's not completely covered.

Put the turkey into a large roasting pan, breast side up.

Rub all sides with olive oil; sprinkle generously with coarse salt and pepper.

Gently pour 2 cups of the turkey broth into the pan.

Roast, 30 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Continue roasting the turkey, basting every 30 minutes or so with the pan juices and turning the pan occasionally for even browning, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers about 160 degrees, 2 to 2 ½ hours longer.

Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees; roast to brown the skin more deeply, about 10 minutes.

Remove turkey to a cutting board; tent with foil.

Let it stand about 15 minutes or so; the temperature will rise 10 more degrees. Turkey is deliciously juicy at 165 to 170 degrees.

For the pan gravy:

Meanwhile, set the roasting pan with the brothy juices directly over the burner.

Ladle off and discard any excess fat.

Heat the pan juices to a boil.

Dissolve the cornstarch and ½ cup of the remaining turkey broth.

Whisk some of the dissolved cornstarch into the simmering pan juices until boiling and thickened as desired (you may not need all the cornstarch mixture).

Add more broth if needed to adjust consistency.

Off the heat, add bourbon or wine; season with salt and pepper.

If desired, stir in a spoonful of gravy darkener for a richer color. You should have a generous 3 cups.

Use a spoon to remove the cooked onion and apple pieces from the turkey cavities to a cutting board. (Discard the herb sprigs.)

Cut onion and apple pieces into small dice.

Stir into the pan gravy.

Serve carved turkey with apple bourbon pan gravy.

Garnish with fresh herbs.


This recipe by JeanMarie Brownson appeared in the Chicago Tribune.