Moist and delicious turkey infused with the flavors of fall… parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. 🙂 And don’t forget the apple! My Herb and Apple Brined Turkey requires an overnight soak in an aromatic brine, but the juicy results will convince you the extra step is worth the trouble!
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine
~~ Scarborough Fair/Canticle, Simon and Garfunkel
Ever wonder about the significance of these 4 herbs in the timeless song Scarborough Fair? The lyrics tell the story of a man trying to attain his true love.
In Medieval times, the herbs mentioned in the song represented virtues that were important to the lyrics. Parsley was comfort, sage was strength, rosemary was love, and thyme was courage. I often think of the song when cooking with this lovely combination of herbs. They speak of fall – my favorite time of year.
Each year when planning a holiday menu, I build it around a theme – loosely. I like to have the majority of the dishes harmonize with one another; in other words, the flavors complement rather than match one another.
My “theme” this year is apples and herbs. Thus far, my Thanksgiving menu includes this Herb and Apple Brined Roasted Turkey, and Roasted Delicata Squash With Crispy Sage Browned Butter and Apple Bourbon Sauce. I have a few food blogger friends that will help me complete the menu. My menu should be published and available Monday of Thanksgiving week, so keep an eye out for it!
Given my household of 2, we opted for a small 12 pound turkey. My husband Mark has the official role of briner at our house after years of smoking meats. The recipe we chose for the brine is Food and Wine Magazine’s Apple Brined Turkey. I have roasted a lot of turkeys with many flavor combinations and cooking methods, and this is one of our favorites. The breast meat is very moist – not spongy or watery – and full of flavor.
In an attempt to provide “process shots” (and a better feature photo), I updated this post in November 2019. The process shots are helpful, but the photos from 2016 to 2019 are quite different!
How to Make Herb and Apple Brined Turkey
The Benefits of the Brine
If you have not brined a turkey, you really ought to try it… unless of course you prefer dry turkey. 😉 I have heard skeptical souls remark that they prefer their turkey not “pickled.” Haha. There really is sound science behind this method. I won’t bore you with the science, but brining the turkey does result in a more moist and flavorful bird. For more on the science behind the method, see The Quick and Dirty Guide to Brining Chicken and Turkey.
Start with High Heat for Crispy Skin!
In 2016 I opted to start with Alton Brown’s Classic Brined and Roasted Turkey method. We love the crispy skin, and I was intrigued by starting the turkey at 500°. Alton Brown suggests 30 minutes on high heat before reducing heat to 350°, but I was hesitant. I went with 500° for 20 minutes, and reduced the heat to 325° until the turkey internal temperature reached 160°.
I have always respected Alton Brown’s scientific approach to cooking (my Dad and my husband are scientists), and I trust him. He does not recommend basting, and that made me nervous at the time. However, I am no longer a skeptic. I didn’t baste at all in 2019, and while the turkey was almost too browned and beautifully crispy, it was one of the most moist turkeys I’ve ever made!
Preparation and Roasting
- Make the brine. The turkey needs 8-12 hours in the brine, and needs an additional hour to dry prior to roasting, plus the time to stuff with aromatics and rub the herb butter under and over the skin. Plan accordingly!
- Dry the turkey. You can do this 1 of 2 ways: 1. Air dry overnight in the refrigerator (requires brining during the day) or 2. Air dry 1 hour and pat dry an remaining moisture. Dry bird=crispy skin!
- Prepare the turkey. Make the herb butter and prepare the aromatics. Rub the herb butter into the cavities (both ends) before filling the cavity with the onion, apple, and pear wedges. Then rub the herb butter under the breast skin and all over the exterior of the turkey.
- Roast the turkey. Preheat oven to 500°. Set the prepared turkey on a v-shaped rack in a deep roaster. Remove all but one oven rack, and place the one rack on the second lowest position. Roast 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 325°. Note: If the breast is browning really fast, you may want to cover with foil. Continue roasting until breast internal temperature reaches 160°. Tent with foil and rest 30 minutes before carving. Save drippings for gravy.
Tips and FAQ
- If you have a tried and true method of cooking a turkey, feel free to use it.
- I typically brine the turkey overnight (make the brine just before bed). Then, I remove from the brine, set to dry in the refrigerator until about 6 hours before dinner. I remove from the fridge 1 hour before roasting to let take off the chill, make the herb butter and prep the aromatics. Prepare the turkey, and put it in the oven.
- It is important to tuck the wings under the breast, or tie the with kitchen twine. Cover them if they’re getting too brown.
- When the internal temperature of the breast is at 160 degrees, I remove the turkey from the oven, and completely tent it with foil and a towel. Do not be tempted to snitch for at least 30 minutes! Do you want a juicy turkey or not? The resting time keeps the juices inside the bird where you want them…
- Your turkey will cook more evenly and faster if you start it out at room temperature so remove the turkey from the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting.
About how long does it take to cook a turkey using this method? 2 1/2 to 3 hours for a 12-16 pound turkey is a “ballpark” figure. Turkeys vary in so much in size and ovens vary as well; it’s impossible to get more specific.
Does it matter whether I start with a frozen and thawed turkey or a fresh one? I have done fresh organic turkeys, cheap frozen turkeys, and everything in between in nearly 40 years cooking turkeys. While the taste of a high quality free-range turkey is different from that of a farm-raised domestic crowded turkey, both work well with this method. Just make sure you’re starting with a safely thawed turkey!
Can I stuff this turkey? I won’t tell you no, but I don’t recommend it. Alton Brown agrees with me! It’s too easy to contaminate the stuffing when raw turkey juices seep into it. I find the aromatics – onions, apple, pears – add lovely flavor. Make dressing in a casserole separately.
How to Use Leftover Turkey
I can only take leftover turkey once or twice, and I’m DONE! I set out to create a healthy Mexican recipe that uses leftover turkey. It was a home run!
When we ran out of turkey, I bought a rotisseries chicken so we could have it again… Is the suspense killing you? Haha. Check out my Healthy Mole Verde Bowls. You won’t regret it!
Pairing Thanksgiving Dinner with Wine or Beer
If you’re at all like me, pairing wine (or other adult beverages) with Thanksgiving dinner is challenging. We enjoy a dry gewurtztraminer or rosé, as the acidity plays well with the richness of the food. Pinot noir or sangiovese are good choices if you prefer a red wine.
My choice in craft beers would be a Belgian dubbel or a Scotch ale. Lastly, you might consider a Thanksgiving cocktail with wonderful fall flavors… Try my Apple Pear and Sage Martini: An Autumn Cocktail or my Pumpkin Kentucky Mule with Ginger and Spice!
In all the busy-ness of the season, take time to enjoy your loved ones, good conversation, and certainly delicious food!
- 3 cups apple juice
- 1 green apple, quartered
- 1/2 navel orange
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
- 4 tarragon sprigs
- 1 medium bunch of thyme
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
- 8 sage leaves
- 1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- 2 cups light brown sugar
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 turkey
- 3 sticks unsalted butter, 1 pound, at room temperature
- 3 tablespoons chopped thyme
- 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
- 2 tablespoons chopped sage
Prior To Roasting
- sea salt
- fresh ground pepper
- 1 onion, quartered
- 1 large apple, cut in wedges
- 1 pear, cut in wedges
- sprigs of rosemary and sage
Brine the Turkey
- In a pot, combine all of the ingredients except the turkey and add 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and add 12 cups of cold water. Let stand until cool. Add the turkey and refrigerate for 12 hours. Weight the turkey if not submerged.
- Set a V-shaped rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Remove the turkey from the brine and transfer it to the prepared rack; pat the turkey dry with paper towels and refrigerate it uncovered for 12 hours. You need to start roasting with a dry turkey!
- Mix the ingredients for the herb butter in a medium bowl - thoroughly.
- Gently separate the turkey skin from the breast meat. Rub half of the herb butter over the breast meat under the skin. Spread the remaining herb butter all over the skin of the breast and legs; season with salt and pepper. Set the turkey in a V-shaped roasting pan set in a rimmed baking sheet, and tuck the wings under it. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 500 degrees (475 convection roast).
- Cook turkey 20 minutes, then lower heat to 325 degrees.
- Cook until the breast reaches 160 degrees internal temperature. It is important to tuck the wings under the breast, and cover them if they're getting too brown. When the internal temperature of the breast is at 160 degrees.
- Remove the turkey from the oven, and completely tent it with foil and a towel. Rest 30 minutes.
- Carve, and serve. Reserve pan drippings if desired.
Do use an instant read thermometer! Cooking time is not important, internal temperature is. You don't want a dried out bird! Stuff the cavity if you must. I prefer to add aromatics to the cavity.
Macronutrients are an approximation only from MyFitnessPal.com. I used 6 ounces of roasted turkey breast.
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- Food Thermometer, Beemoon Digital Meat Thermometer -- Instant Read (2-4s) For Grilling Cooking Food BBQ or Candy, Wireless Waterproof For Kitchen, Oven, Grill, Water, Beer, Milk, Bath Water Probe, Ste
- Wusthof Classic 2-Piece Hollow-Ground Carving Set
- HIC Harold Import Co. 43188 Pro V-Shaped Wire Roasting Rack
Serving Size:6 ounces
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 321 Total Fat: 13g Carbohydrates: 0g Protein: 48g