Many people love to brine a Thanksgiving turkey. It’s an annual tradition for most people, but for me, in recent years, it’s been a quest to change the game and turn people into fans of tequila. Obviously, there is a spread of tequila available for consumption any time people visit my house, but for Thanksgiving, I go an extra mile and actually brine a turkey in tequila! Today I’ll share with you how to brine a Thanksgiving turkey with tequila as well as give general pointers on the brining process, which is something I’ve been building on for over 12 years.
How to Brine a Thanksgiving Turkey
If you aren’t in the know about what a turkey brine is, it’s basically the way you season and marinate the bird. Just like you’d season a steak or ribs before grilling, you can brine a turkey and add additional flavor to the end result.
It’s worth noting that I roast my birds the old school way – in the oven. For even more full disclosure, I roast one turkey the traditional way with a savory brine recipe, because let’s face it, some people freak out when they hear the word tequila! Having a classic version for people is also a great test of people’s prejudice because almost nobody wants to taste the spicy tequila roasted turkey, but then when they have a piece, or two, or three, they quickly ask how on Earth I made that bird so juicy and flavorful!
No matter which route you go with your turkey brine, keep in mind these simple tips:
There is no wrong way to do a brine! You can add whatever you want to influence the overall flavor profile of your turkey, so get creative!
Never attempt to brine kosher turkey or a turkey that is self-basting. You’ll end up with a very salty end result.
Thaw your turkey before you brine it. If you don’t, you’ll have a very hard time getting the turkey to absorb the brine and you’ll also get the added water that the thawing turkey will kick off. I can’t stress this point enough!
My Easy to Learn Turkey Brining Process
Remember, you must thaw your turkey before cooking it. I’ll have some additional FAQ’s in the bottom of this post about things that could go wrong or natural questions people ask about roasting turkey, so if you need a quick thaw technique, refer to the end of this recipe.
Make sure to give ample time to unthaw your turkey.
Once thawed, remove the neck and giblets from the inside of your turkey. You’ll want it nice and clean before you move on to rinsing the entire bird.
Once you rinse the turkey, you can place it in your roasting pan and pat it dry with paper towels.
Once dry, the turkey will go in an oven bag or even better, a “brine bag.” I buy the brane below at Whole Foods but I’ve seen numerous brands on Amazon that offer turkey brining bags and kits that will suffice. I’ll link out to them as I come across them and update this page.
Make sure to buy a brine bag large enough for your turkey.
Note: never use a garbage bag or tub. It can be contaminated, and you don’t want that messing up your prized turkey.
You’ll have this in a refrigerator for about an hour for every pound of turkey you are going to cook, so in my case I usually cook two 20-24 pound birds so they normally go in the fridge all brined up on Wednesday morning and come out on Thursday morning. Having a beer fridge or extra refrigerator in your garage or basement definitely helps in times like these!
How to Make a Peppery Tequila Turkey Brine
Here’s a recipe for the brine I’m making in 2020. I tend to modify it slightly every year to try to add more heat as well as tequila! In past years I’ve used a liter of tequila, but this year I’m using more.
- 8-10 cups of water
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 cup brown sugar (white can also be used if you dislike brown)
- 2 bottles of reposado or anejo tequila (I used 1.75's this year.)
- 1 gallon of apple cider or apple cider vinegar
- Orange rinds
That’s what you’ll need for the actual brine mix. Of course, you’ll want to roast the turkey with some aromatics, and that’s where I get the peppery infusion.
- jar of cayenne pepper (3 tablespoons for the brine and the rest for the rub)
- 2 tablespoons sage (used for the rub)
- 2 tablespoons thyme (used for the rub)
- 2 tablespoons rosemary (used for the rub)
- 8 poblano peppers
- 2 jars of pickled jalapeno peppers to stuff inside the bird
- 2 red peppers
- 2 finely sliced jalapenos
- 8 small limes
- chili lime rub
- oranges, carrots, apples to stuff inside the bird (optional – I’m using only oranges this year on this turkey as I want it to be citrus / pepper / heat, just like my favorite tequilas!)
Some of the items you’ll need for your brine and rub.
Alter your turkey brine as you see fit. Everyone has their own set of preferences in life, and I urge you to follow your gut here. For example, I eat my steaks at a level that’s lesser cooked than rare. It’s called “blue” or “Pittsburgh blue” in most establishments. However, I have friends that like theirs well done (that’s a crime btw) and some who even dip theirs in ketchup. Let’s not get me started on how much that bothers me! Point being, you may dislike the heat I bring to this recipe, so feel free to dial it down if you wish.
Preparing the Turkey Brine
Start by bringing about half of the water to a rolling boil. Add your brown sugar, salt, and then let it dissolve. Turn off the heat once this happens.
Next, add the rest of the brine to the mix as well as all of the remaining ingredients. Stir this very vigorously so it’s all mixed around as much as possible.
Next, you’ll take your dry turkey and set it in the brine bag. Using two people is always best because one can secure the bag while the other inserts the turkey. You don’t want to drop the turkey or spill your brine, as that’s an epic fail and you’ll have to start over, so use two people and be careful. Lastly, pour in the tequila and add some ice. Tie a solid knot so that you prevent any leaks and insert it in your refrigerator.
You are now in “brine mode.” As stated above, let it sit here about an hour for every pound the bird has. Make sure to try to rotate the bird every few hours so that the brine covers the bird in all areas and so that you get an even distribution of coverage.
On Thursday morning, or afternoon if you cook your turkey later on or in the evening, remove your turkey from the brine and let it sit for a few minutes while you pat it with paper towels.
Take a minute to admire your masterpiece, you’ve worked hard to get to this moment!
How to Roast a Brined Turkey
You won’t do anything different in the oven with your brined turkey compared to when cooking with an unbrined turkey, so you won’t need to modify anything in terms of roasting procedure.
When it’s time to get down and cook this bad boy, I like to add a lot of heat around the bird. I’ll cut up all types of peppers I can get my hands on and surround the bird with them. You can add anything your heart desires, but I recommend onions, lemon, garlic, and peppers. You can add these inside the turkey, and I even add some surrounding the turkey just for presentation and extra aromatics.
The last step is to pat the entire turkey with a rub. A good rub will not only add flavor but also encourage a crispy skin. Mine will be of a spicy variety as I’m really trying to get the spiciness and peppery flavor through the bird this year. You’ll see that the larger the bird, the more difficult it becomes to get your flavor profile to come through. You really have to give it a lot of spice to have it appear in the end result, so don’t ever worry about making your turkey “too spicy.”
Most recipes call for a broth to be used around the roasting pan. This year, I’m using less vegetable broth and adding lime juice as well as juice from pickled jalapenos in addition to some more tequila. This should really kick up the aromatics and bring out some lovely scents in my house!
Please share your thoughts and experiences with this recipe and I’d love to hear any modifications you suggest as I’m always looking to sample new ways to brine turkey!
Tequila Brined Turkey Pics
You will need a roasting pan, aluminum foil, and oven mits.
(We’re assuming you have an oven, a turkey, and all of the brining fixins!)
Cook your turkey about 20 minutes per pound.
The turkey will be fine with the brine, but adding a rub may help you get extra crispy skin.
To get the maximum effect of crispy skin, let your turkey completely dry before putting it in the oven. Adding butter or oil to the skin will help it cook even better!