Buttermilk has long been used as a tenderizing marinade for fried chicken, so when we ran across recipes for buttermilk-brined turkey we thought it was a concept we’d like to try. We decided to test our brine on two different types of turkey – a minimally processed fresh turkey, and a frozen turkey that had been injected with up to 7% turkey broth solution. Both our turkeys turned out moist, tender and full of flavor without being salty, which is good news for folks who can’t find an unprocessed turkey and still want to give brining a try. Be sure to check our recipe notes for guidelines on preparing the brine for the two different types of birds.Print
Buttermilk and Honey Brined Turkey
Our kitchen-tested buttermilk turkey brine produces a juicy, flavorful bird and, with a few adjustments, can be used on both fresh and frozen turkeys.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
- Total Time: 3 hours
- Yield: 6 to 8 servings with leftovers
- 6 cups water
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt (2 teaspoons if using an injected turkey – see notes below)
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 cup honey
- Peel from 1 orange, cut into strips
- 3-1/2 to 4 quarts buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon whole allspice
- 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 12 sage leaves
Turkey and Pan Gravy Ingredients:
- 10 to 12 lb turkey (see recipe notes)
- 1 fresh orange, cut into eighths
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 8 fresh sage leaves
- 3 tablespoons butter, softenend
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 to 6 cups chicken broth, divided
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- Place the water, salt, sugar, honey and orange peel in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Remove the neck, giblets, liver, etc. from the turkey and reserve for gravy or stock (if using frozen turkey, be sure it has defrosted completely). Rinse the bird inside and out and pat dry. Place the allspice, peppercorns, thyme, rosemary and sage inside the cavity and put the whole bird in a large food-safe plastic bucket or brining bag.
- Combine the water-salt mixture with 1 quart of the buttermilk and pour into the bucket/bag with the turkey. Add at least 2-1/2 quarts of additional buttermilk. Make sure the turkey is fully submerged in liquid and the cavity is filled with liquid. If not, add more buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate for up to 18 hours.
- Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse, pat dry and discard the liquid. Season the cavity with salt and pepper and place the orange pieces, rosemary, thyme and sage inside. Tie the ends of the drumsticks together with kitchen twine. Set aside for about 1 hour at room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and spray a roasting pan and rack with nonstick spray.
- Once the turkey has lost its refrigerated chill, work about 1/2 tablespoon of the butter under the skin on each side of the breast, massaging afterward to distribute the butter as evenly as possible. Take the remaining butter and rub it into the outer skin of the breast and each of the drumsticks.
- Place the turkey on the roasting rack breast side up. Form a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil into a v-shape to shield the entire turkey breast from drying out and browning prematurely. Spray very thoroughly with nonstick spray and form the foil around the breast.
- Pour 2 cups of chicken broth into the roasting pan and place the turkey in the oven. Roast for at 400°F for 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to 325°F and roast for an additional 1-1/2 to 2 hours, basting with the accumulating pan juices every 45 minutes. Remove the foil from the breast for the last 45 minutes of cooking.
- Test for doneness after 2 hours total cooking time using a reliable meat thermometer. When done, the internal temperature should be 165°F in the thickest part of the thigh. Allow to rest for a minimum of 20 minutes before carving.
Easy Pan Gravy:
- While the turkey is resting, skim any excess fat from the pan juices and add enough chicken broth to equal 3 cups of liquid total. Place in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup cornstarch with 1/3 cup water. Add to the simmering broth and continue whisking until thickened. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Transfer to a bowl or gravy boat for serving.
Choosing a turkey:
Our first choice when purchasing turkey has always been a minimally processed fresh bird, particularly when you are using a brine. If, however, you’d still like to try brining and you need to buy frozen, here are some guidelines for purchase.
Most frozen turkeys are injected with a broth/salt solution that makes up about 7% or 8% of the bird’s total weight. Using our buttermilk brine for this type of turkey should not result in an excessively salty flavor ~ just reduce the kosher salt in the brine to 2 teaspoons.
Note: We don’t recommend brining a turkey that contains higher than 8% solution.