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Pre-Thanksgiving: Brined and Grilled Turkey

November 21, 2010

If you have never eaten a brined turkey, you need to get on that ASAP.  Even people who don’t like turkey like brined turkey.  We also grill our turkey, which provides for fast cooking, nice flavor and a free oven to cook all of those sides.  In our family, it also gives the men-folk an excuse to sit outside and drink beer.  Everyone wins!  Another tweak that I do in comparison to many brining recipes is to extend the brining time.  Many recipes only call for 24 hours, but I brine for 4 to 5 days.

This year, we decided to cook two smaller turkeys, as this fits in our grill better.  This also offered the opportunity to prepare two different recipes and compare (as it the way of latenightjam).  For a nice twist, we went high-brow vs. low-brow: New England Autumn vs. the Florida 40.

Low-brow vs. High-brow: the showdown!

The high brow turkey brine is a tried-and-true variation for a Cooking Light recipe that my family has used for a few years now.



  • 8  cups  apple cider
  • 2/3  cup  kosher salt
  • 2/3  cup  sugar
  • 1  tablespoon  black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
  • 1  tablespoon allspice
  • 8  (1/8-inch-thick) slices peeled fresh ginger
  • 2  bay leaves
  • 1  (12-pound) fresh or frozen turkey, thawed and insides removed
  • 6  cups  ice

Remaining Ingredients:

  • 4 tbsp. butter, softened
  • 2 granny smith apples, quartered
  • 2 onions, peeled and quartered
  • 2-3 large springs of sage
  • 2-3 large springs of thyme

Boil the apple cider with the salt and sugar until dissolved.  Add spices, and combine with ice in a large pot.  I generally line  the pot with a turkey-sized oven bag, for an extra seal.  Add the turkey, and add water as necessary to ensure the turkey is covered.  If you can’t cover the whole turkey due to the size of your pot, flip the turkey every 24 hours.  The night before you plan on cooking the bird, take it out of the brine and discard brine and oven bag.  Rinse the turkey thoroughly inside and out.  Place in aluminum pan and return to the refrigerator.  This allows the skin to dry out overnight and yields a crispier skin.

New England Classy Brine

Fire up the grill to heat it up.  Stuff the inside of the bird with the apples, onions, and herbs.  This provides moisture and flavor.  Rub the outside of the bird with the butter- not the most glamorous job, but Julia Child would be proud.  Place on the grill in an aluminum pan, breast side down and covered with aluminum foil.  30 minutes later, flip the bird over – this is a tricky, two-person job!  Recover with the foil, and cook until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone.  Try a few spots to be sure.  If you can help it, don’t rely on the pop-up thermometer, as they tend to only pop up when the turkey is overdone.  However, brining does provide a great safety net for moisture, and so does give you some room for error.

Inside job: what goes in to the New England Classy Bird

The biggest challenge of all: finding room in you fridge!

The hardest part: fitting everythng in the fridge

Now the Low-Brow “Florida 40” brine was born out of thinking about cheap ingredients that would still impart a tasty flavor.  The brine recipe follows, and the cooking instructions after that are the same as the New England variation.



  • 2 40 oz. bottle of cheap beer (we used Bud)
  • 1 canister of frozen orange juice
  • 2/3 cup salt
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp. chili pepper
  • 4 cups water

Remaining ingredients:

  • 3 oranges, quartered
  • 3 sprigs rosemary (OK, I know this isn’t too low-brow, but it tastes good!)
Dissolving the salt and sugar into the beer

Heat 1/4 of the beer with the sugar and salt until dissolved.   Add to the rest of the beer, along with orange juice concentrate, water and spices and a large pot lined with an oven bag.  Follow instructions listed above for the other turkey.

Florida 40 filling

At this point in the post, you might be wondering “Where is the picture of the finished turkey?”  Well friends, I have to apologize; by the time the turkeys we off the grill, our guests had already arrived and I forgot to photograph the finished product.  As consolation, I can say that there wasn’t much left to photograph afterward!  And in case you are curious, at least in the opinion of many of our guests, the Florida 40 was more liked!  Its more savory flavor was preferred, and I also suspect that the alcohol in the beer created a greater difference in solution concentration outside the turkey which led to a greater flavor infusion.  Which is sciency-talk for beer makes food taste better.

Let me know if you try one of the recipes!


The finished turkey at my parents' house



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