9 ratings

Brined and Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey

I'm proud to say that I've never cooked a turkey the traditional way in my entire life.

I'm proud to say that I've never cooked a turkey the traditional way in my entire life. Here’s why: When you break down the whole bird into parts, you can cook each part in the most forgiving and painless way possible. Simply brine and smoke the breast and marinate and braise the legs, and boom — it's done! When it comes time to serve that bird, you’ll be the hero who cooked a juicy, tender Thanksgiving turkey that everyone will talk about for years to come. I’ll be damned if anyone cooks a whole turkey again after trying this process. — Adam Sappington

Recipes and Photos from HEARTLANDIA by Adam and Jackie Sappington. Copyright © 2015 by Adam Sappington and Jackie Sappington. Photography © 2015 by John Valls. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


  • 12 Pounds turkey
  • 4 Cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 Cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 Cup ground fennel seed
  • 1/4 Cup whole allspice berries
  • 1/4 Cup whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 Cup juniper berries
  • 5 star anise
  • Finely grated zest of two oranges
  • 3 medium celery stalks, trimmed, peeled, and thinly sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 Cups hickory chips, for smoking
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 8 Cups chicken stock


One day before serving, on a large cutting board, remove the legs and wings from the turkey, keeping both breasts intact and the spine attached, and set aside.

In a large pot, combine 2 quarts water with the sugar, salt, fennel seed, allspice, peppercorns, juniper berries, star anise, and orange zest. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve. Once the liquid is hot and the sugar has dissolved, remove the pot from the heat.

In a large stockpot or container, place 2 quarts ice cubes. Pour the brine over the ice cubes and stir to incorporate and cool down the brine. (The brine should feel lukewarm. If it is still hot, add a little more ice.) Place the turkey breasts in the brine; cover the container with a lid, aluminum foil, or plastic wrap; and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the celery, carrots, onions, rosemary, thyme, and sage. Season the turkey legs with salt and pepper. Add the turkey legs to the bowl and toss to combine. Cover the bowl with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.

The next day, soak the wood chips according to the package instructions and preheat a smoker to 200 degrees F. Remove the turkey breasts from the brine and pat dry. Place the wet hickory chips over the fire or in an electric hopper and smoke the turkey breast for 3 hours. Place a wire rack on a large baking sheet and transfer the turkey breasts to the wire rack to rest.

Meanwhile, arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the turkey legs from the vegetables and set the vegetables aside. In a large Dutch oven set over medium heat, warm the oil. Place the turkey legs skin-side up in the pot and lightly brown them on all sides, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the turkey legs from the pot and set aside.

Add the vegetables to the pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pot to incorporate the brown bits. Return the turkey legs to the pot, skin-side up, and add the stock. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then transfer the pot to the oven and braise the turkey legs for 2 hours or until they are fork-tender.

Remove the turkey legs from the oven and transfer them to a cutting board. Pull the meat off the legs, but don’t shred it. Transfer the meat and vegetables to a large serving platter. Slice the turkey breasts and arrange the meat on the platter. Dig in.