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Economical, Holidays, Main Dishes, Stuffing Stuff, Thanksgiving, Turkey

Apple Cider Brined Turkey Breast

by Nick

“I’m going to have to email your Mom…”

My wife, Betsy, replied, “Yep.”

I had just made the best roasted turkey of my life and the planned Thanksgiving menu was going to have to come to a screeching halt to accommodate it.

Betsy and I normally spend Thanksgivings with her side of the family and over the years they’ve slowly relinquished control of most of the meal to me.  There are, of course, exceptions.  Betsy’s mom is always in charge of mashed potatoes and gravy because I can’t imagine that I could improve them in any way from her versions.

So, I’m normally in charge of the bird, stuffing, rolls, one or two sides, and maybe a pie or two if I’m feeling frisky.  Normally, I just use Alton’s fantastic turkey brine recipe that makes a very solid bird.

Unfortunately though, I’m not sure I can ever go back to that recipe after trying the brine in this post.  Hands down, best roasted turkey I’ve ever had.

I just did a turkey breast for this version, but you could easily cook an entire turkey with the same brine mixture.  I intend to do just that in about 10 days.

Yield
Serves 4-6.
Prep Time
Total Time

Just a moment please...

Print Recipe Apple Cider Brined Turkey Breast

Ingredients

  • Note: If you want to do a whole turkey, just double this recipe.
  • 1 whole turkey breast (5-6 pounds)
  • 1 quart apple cider
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns
  • 4 whole star anise pods
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3 scallions, sliced
  • 3 inches fresh ginger, sliced thick
  • 3 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • A few sprigs of cilantro
  • 10 cups cold water
  • For cooking:
  • 1 green apples
  • 1 lemon

Helpful Equipment

Directions

1) Mix the cider, salt, soy sauce, and sugar in a medium pot and bring it to a simmer to dissolve the salt and sugar.

2) Add all the other brine ingredients except the turkey and the cold water. Let the brine simmer for about 5 minutes. Then kill the heat and let the brine slowly cool to room temperature.

3) Mix cold water in with brine and submerge turkey breast in brine. If you don't have enough brine to cover the whole turkey breast, just make sure the actual breast meat is submerged in the brine.

4) Stick this in the fridge overnight to brine.

5) When ready to cook, preheat oven to 475 degrees. Rinse off turkey breasts with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Discard brine.

6) Slice apples into 1/4 inch slices. Add two slices of apple and the lemon (cut into eighths) into the cavity of the turkey.

7) Set turkey, breast side up, in a roasting pan on a bed of the sliced apples.

8) Cook turkey breast at 475 for 30 minutes. Then remove and insert digital thermometer.

9) Turn oven heat down to 350 degrees and cook turkey until it registered 165 degrees in the thickest part of the breast, probably about another 75-90 minutes. If you don't have a probe thermometer, I would check the temperature after 60 minutes and go from there.

10) Once the turkey is done, wrap it in foil and let it rest for 30 minutes.

11) Slice off each breast and slice them across the grain into 1/8-1/4 inch slices.

Adapted from November 2011 Bon Appetit.

Preparing the Brine

I’m not going to get into the science of why brining is good, but basically it results in a cooked turkey that’s much more moist than its unbrined brother due to the way that salt reacts with the proteins in the meat.  Just trust me.  It’s good and worth the time.

I’ll admit, there are a lot of ingredients in this brine.  They all serve a purpose, but if you can’t find them all, don’t feel like you can’t make this brine.  At the end of the day, I’d say 80% of the flavor comes from the apple cider.  As long as you have that, you can make this happen.

The base of the brine and really all you need to make this if you’re in a pinch.

basics

The basics of a brine.

Of course, if possible, any of these spices will just up the flavor complexity of the brine.  Use as many of them as you can, but don’t freak out if you’re missing one.

Bring the cider, brown sugar, soy sauce, and salt to a simmer in a medium or large pot.  Then add in all your spices and herbs.  The only prep I did to my spices was chop my garlic cloves and scallions in half and slice my ginger into coins.  Then just toss everything in the pot.

togetehr

This will smell good.

Let this simmer for about 5 minutes, then kill the heat and let it slowly cool to room temperature.  This will give plenty of time for the flavors to infuse into the brine.

Once the brine is room temperature, add the cold water and you’re ready to brine.

Brining the Bird

If you’re doing a full bird, make sure you have a large bucket or pot that can fit your entire bird.  Most years, I use a small cooler for this honestly.  It works great.

I was just doing a turkey breast though so I just used a large bowl and make sure that my breasts were submerged in the brine.  When I do it with a full bird, I’ll make sure the whole bird is submerged.

brining

That’s a big bowl FYI.

Whatever device you use, cover it well and place it in a refrigerated place overnight.  Depending on the temperature, sometimes I’ll just stash my turkey cooler setup outside somewhere or in a cool garage for the night.  Just make sure your temperature outside is around or under 40 degrees and make sure rodents can’t get to it.

Cooking the Bird

When it’s time to cook, take your bird out of the brine and discard your brine.  There’s no reason to keep it.  It’s done all it can do to help us out.

Then rinse off your turkey really well with cold water.  The brine is very salty and you don’t want it coating the bird.  There’s plenty of flavor soaked into the bird.  Trust me.

So rinse off the bird and then pat it dry with some paper towels.

At this point I’d recommend adding some lemons and apple slices to the cavity of the bird.  This will just give it a bit more flavor and moisture as it cooks.

stuff

Stuffed with flavor.

The next step is very far from necessary in my mind, but Bon Appetit recommended it so I tried it out.  I’m not entirely sure what it accomplished.  Basically you just set the turkey on a bed of apple slices in the roasting pan.

It did make it a bit easier to take the bird out of the roaster after cooking because it wasn’t stuck to the pan at all.

I would call it an element of flare.  It’s not necessary though by any stretch.

apples

A bed of apples…

Lately I’ve used Alton’s technique when it comes to cooking turkey and it works really well.

Basically, you start the turkey in a super-hot, 475 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Then pull the turkey out and insert your probe thermometer if you have one.  Turn the oven down to 350 degrees and continue to cook it until it reaches 165 degrees internally (thickest part of the breast in my case here, or thickest part of the thigh if you’re cooking a full bird).

This was my breast after 30 minutes cooking in the super-hot oven.

NOTE:  If you’re using a probe thermometer you can’t have it in for this part of the cooking.  It could melt.

browned

After the high heat bake.

Total cooking time for your bird at this point will depend on a huge number of factors so I’m not even going to try.  I’ll tell you that my 5-6 pound turkey breast here took about 70 minutes to finish cooking at 350 degrees.

If you’re doing a whole turkey, obviously this will be much longer, but in the past, my turkeys have finished in about 3 hours.  The quick, hot cooking period at the beginning really speeds up the overall time.  I can’t even imagine cooking a turkey without some sort of thermometer so just rely on yours to tell you when the bird is done.

If you are cooking a whole bird though, I high recommend watching Alton’s videos (sound!) to learn how to use a foil triangle to keep your breast meat from drying out.  It cooks a lot faster than the dark meat so by covering it in foil, you can make sure the breast meat and dark meat are perfectly done at the same time.  It’s a crucial technique and easy to do.

Resting and Slicing

Once your bird hits its temperature, pull it out, cover it in foil and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.  This is maybe the most important part of the whole process.  If you slice right into it, all the juices will run out and you’ll have a much dryer bird.

For my breasts, after they had rested I just sliced them off the breast bone so I could slice them up nicely.

cut

These breasts are around 2 pounds each.

Then I slice them across the grain into thick coins.  This is how I carve a full turkey also.  It’s makes sure everyone gets some of the crispy skin and just makes it a lot easier to serve.

sliced

Very juicy.

I know you can’t smell this, but I’ll hold it up really close anyway.

It has a really faint apple cider and spice taste and smell that’s just out of this world.

piece

Delicious piece of turkey.

Well, this has been a long post, but it’s an important one.

You still have over a week to make this happen for Thanksgiving.  I highly, highly, recommend you give it a shot.

Have you brined a turkey?  Have you apple cider brined a turkey?  Leave a comment!

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47 comments on “Apple Cider Brined Turkey Breast

  1. That brine sure sounds good…I really should try it…I always just do a plain salt and sugar brine, mainly for the moisture it adds. Then, we cook the turkey on the weber. It is soooo good. We cook a turkey on the weber every year, even if we go elsewhere for Thanksgiving Day. We just have to have it.
    Thanks again! Karen in MD

    1. Heya, I’ve only injected turkeys when I deep fry them. I usually just use a store mix (cajun or something). Or like a honey/mustard mix.

      I wouldn’t recommend injecting though after this brine. The brine is super-flavorful and injecting on top of this would be too much I think.

  2. You’ve sold me. I’m doing Thanksgiving for the first time this year and this will be on the menu. Thanksgiving is always with my husband’s extended family and for years Uncle Gary was the turkey man–he does it on the Weber grill and it’s amazing–but since they retired it’s on me this year. I’m not nearly ready to try the grill so this is a perfect way to take it in a different direction and still get a delicious bird.

    So when are we going to see some stuffing recipes??

    1. The stuffing I make is from Shape Magazine several years ago. It is sourdough bread and sweet italian sausage in it. My husband pleads with me to make this every year for him.

  3. :( You have no idea how hard it is to find a fresh turkey around these sticks.
    And all the frozen ones I have found so far all have sodium injected so I can’t do a brine no matter how much I want to.

    But this does look divine and the good eats link was most helpful. I love that show!

  4. I’ve never brined anything before, but now I’m going to have to. Now, who can I invite over to try it on?…

  5. My husband and I are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time this year, so we cooked a trial-run turkey last month to make sure we could do it successfully. We used Alton Brown’s brine then smoked the turkey, and it turned out phenomenal. After reading this, though, I may try to convince my husband to give this brine a shot rather than using Alton’s. Looks delicious!

    1. This brine plus smoked would be amazing. If you’re already using Alton’s recipe, it’s just a small change, so you should give it a shot. Let me know how it turns out!

      1. Yeah, my wife and I alre also big fans of Alton’s recipe, but I wouldn’t mind giving it an extra bit of flavor. Really looking forward to this one.

  6. So you’re sure this one is better then the Alton Brown brine?! That’s always my go to, and that was my plan this year but now I am intregued by this one. Think I should just bite the bullet and switch it up without doing a tester? You’ve never lead me wrong before.

    My other question was do the drippings make good gravy?

    1. I think it’s definitely better. The apple flavor is subtle but really nice and it turns out just as moist.

      I didn’t make gravy with my drippings this time around, but I think it will be very good. I found a bunch of recipes online for apple cider gravy which is basically what you would be making. The apple cider flavor would be subtle I think, but will be good.

      I plan on making gravy with my drippings when I do this next week. I think it’ll work great.

      1. Is anyone else having a hell of a time finding szechuan peppercorns anywhere? Ive tried grocery stores and specialty markets. Next stop is the asian market all the way across town, but I wouldnt have thought it would be THAT hard to come across.

        Im still really excited to try this. I just picked up some local fresh honeycrisp apple cider. I may even toss in some Crispin alcoholic cider in there just for funsies, plus then I have an excuse to have a 6 pack or so in the house.

        Thanks again Nick, You rock my kitchen!

      2. I had to order mine online. They are tricky to find. They are completely optional though… not necessary to have… the brine would still be awesome without them!

  7. Hi Nick,
    Well I brined a roaster chicken yesterday and I’m going to cook it later. The brine smelled wonderful so I’m really excited to see the outcome. I’ll let you know….wish me luck.

  8. This looks AMAZING! I am a huge fan of brining turkey, and this brine is very intriguing! Can I ask what brand of kosher salt you used? Morton kosher salt and Diamond Crystal are different, and I want to make sure my brine doesn’t turn out too salty! Thanks so much!

  9. I’m totally going to try this recipe this weekend for our supper club – thanks Nick!

    As an interesting aside, the apples under the turkey aren’t just for show. They simultaneously keep the turkey from sticking to the bottom of the pan while keeping the pan moist so that the juices don’t burn. Then you can use them for gravy! (Incidentally, I discovered this from James Peterson’s “Cooking”, which is the most informative cookbook I own.)

  10. Well, I bought a turkey breast and the apple cider-way more than a quart- so I guess I have to do this now. I’m excited and scared. I’d hate to ruin $20 worth of turkey!

  11. I have been apple cider brining for the last 3 years and it is hands down the most flavorful turkey brine I have ever used. I use the basic ingredients but not the spices, I would try your spicing this year but I am cooking for my husband’s family and they are less than adventurous when it comes to flavors so it can wait til my turkey in July dinner.

    I do float citrus, peppercorn, sage, rosemary in the brine, but I’m with you, it’s the apple cider that makes the difference.

    @KittyMom755, no way can you ruin turkey with this brine, you could just use the apple cider and salt and still have a more flavorful turkey than if you did nothing.

  12. I cooked a turkey today for a family dinner (it isn’t Thanksgiving up in Canada) after brining it with this recipe. The result = AMAZING! The meat was moist, flavourful, and delicious. The dark meat had picked up more of the flavour than the breast meat and it was perhaps the best turkey I’ve ever had. However, by far the best part of the whole process was the gravy! I placed apples in the base of my roaster as recommended and by the end of the cooking time I had a large volume of apple scented awesomeness. I thickened it and added some spices and it was the star of my meal. I’ll give this recipe an unqualified two thumbs up!

    Enjoy Turkey day!

    Thanks for the recipe Nick

  13. I made this today for our Thanksgiving. It was hands down the most flavorful and juicy turkey I’ve had in a long time…and I didn’t even have half of the ingredients. I used the 4 4 then added garlic, powdered ginger and the fruit while baking. It was delicious! I may never make turkey any other way!

  14. This sounds wonderful, but I would like to try this brine with pork tenderloin for company (apples and pork, of course) this weekend…..would I change anything other than just swapping the protein?

      1. Thanks – should I cut down the brining time since pork tenderloins are so much smaller than brining just a turkey breast? I don’t want to “cook” them with the salt if I brine overnight.

  15. I have a question: after the brine cools to room temperature, do you remove the spices before immersing the turkey? Or do you brine with everything in the liquid? This is my first attempt at brining. Thanks all.

    1. Hey Linda,

      I brine the turkey and just leave all the stuff in the liquid. Don’t worry about straining it or anything. When you rinse the turkey off the next day just make sure to rinse it well to get all the peppercorns and stuff off of it.

      Good luck! I makes for a great bird. :)

  16. I didn’t use your brine (my turkey was a frozen breast injected with a salt solution so I figured that would just make it inedible), but I used the cooking method, and it TOTALLY ROCKED!!! So thank you for making my second attempt at a turkey a success! :-)

  17. Best. Turkey Brine. Ever.

    I omitted scallions, shitake and used plain peppercorns. I stuffed sage compound butter and lemon slices under the skin and roasted at 325 all the way. I loved the bed of apple slices!

    I have to admit the brine smelled a bit odd but WOW — produced one flavorful turkey breast that received rave reviews.

    This is now my official turkey brine recipe. Sorry Alton Brown!

  18. As I type this, the brine is simmering on the stove. As has been mentioned, I didn’t have everything, but substituted ground cinnamon for the stick and used red pepper flakes for the peppercorns. Amazingly, I did have the anise pods and ginger root. I put a whole sprig of rosemary into the brine and eliminated the cilantro.
    I plan on doing a test run with a turkey breast before thanksgiving and then repeat for the actual holiday.
    I also have a couple of Cornish hens in the freezer and will brine both of those also to see how it works on different fowl.
    The brine smells amazing and I have great confidence the taste will be equally delectable.
    This Thanksgiving will be something out of the ordinary!

    1. Hey Mike, that brine sounds delicious! It’s really flexible once you get the basics down.

      Let me know how the final result turns out. :)

      Cheers,
      Nick

  19. Hi Nick, ever since I was a little girl my family has bought frozen turkeys & they’ve always brined them with wine. This year my mom will be out of the country & so I’m taking up the tradition of our thanksgiving dinner & I’m dying to try this recipe out. But I already bought a frozen butterball turkey. Are you telling me I can’t brine it since it’s not a fresh bird? I mean would you recommend it? I’m new to all of this & would really appreciate your guidance. Thank you :)

    1. Hey Linda, you can definitely still brine it! You just need to thaw it first. You can’t brine a frozen bird while it is frozen, if that makes sense.

      Luckily you have plenty of time. Just thaw it slowly and then brine it the day before thanksgiving and let it sit overnight.

      Also, if you’re doing a whole bird, be sure and double the brine recipe. Also, don’t fret if you don’t have or can’t find all the spice additions. I’ve done with a bunch of times now and sometimes I live out some of the harder to find spices and it still turns out great.

      Good luck!

      1. Nick thanks for your advice! My turkey was a HUGE success! Very moist & juicy. Full of flavor and the apples & lemons inside the turkey definitely added to the flavor. I also blended the bed of sliced apples into the turkey gravy. It was so good, folks were fighting to pass the gravy lol. Thank you very much for this recipe. I will use it every year from now on :)

  20. wow I wish I would have seen this before I purchased most of the ingredients for my turkey! We are hosting our 1st dinner this year its usually at my moms or inlaws I figured I’d give mom a break shes only been doing it for me for 27 years lol

    My question is regarding the brining… can I brine it with the same ingredients that I am using for the Turkey or is there something thats a must? If this helps we are doing a maple glazed apple cider with sage, thyme and onions (probably forgetting some stuff :D) I never thought to brine (had no idea what it was) until I started reading about it on almost every article online so I am very intrigued and would love to save my bird from possibly drying out.. Thanks!

    btw I am definitely printing your recipe for next year looks and sounds yummy!

    1. Hey Leticia, You can really have a lot of flexibiity with teh brine although if you’re doing anything too odd, I might recommend a test before the big day which is probably too late for that now.

      THe key part of the brine is to make sure the sugar/salt/liquid ratios stay the same. I would think you could definitely add sage, theme, and onions without issue and maybe some maple syrup (but not a lot).

      If you happen to have any of the other aromatics laying around that I recommend, I would toss them in also (garlic, scallions, ginger, peppercorns, etc.)

      Definitely don’t mess with teh salt, liquid, soy sauce, or sugar amounts though. That could throw off the brine balance. Good luck!

  21. Made this last year – fantastic! Very easy and really good result. Came back to do it again – after all the requests for it this week, I’ll have to write it down. I didn’t add all the seasonings, but it was so delicious and tender it didn’t matter. Thank you for sharing it. New favorite!

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