Sweet Tea Brined Turkey
This is a recipe that is very special to my heart.
Most of you know that my husband passed away last year. We were married for 17 years – ever since right out of high school. During that time, we made many, many Thanksgiving dinners together. And with the term ‘made’ – I mean, I did all the cooking while simultaneously swatting his hand out of pots, pans, & baking dishes. 😉
When that turkey came out of the oven, that was Mike’s favorite time. He stood there, carving knife in hand, looking like a kid waking up in a toy store on Christmas morning. You’d think he actually enjoyed the carving of the turkey, and I’m sure that there is some part of him who did enjoy that whole process…. but I knew him better than anyone and I know the real reason he wanted to always be the one to carve it. He who carves the turkey also gets the first bite. Carve two slices, eat one slice. And repeat. 😉
Although, he did like to take to facebook and brag about the size of his carving knife – you know, the manly thing to do on Thanksgiving. 😉
That man loved to eat, and he loved my cooking most of all. We’ve had a Herb Roasted Turkey that I had made for years & years but a few years ago, we got the idea to try to try something new. After hearing tell of someone baking a chicken that had soaked in a sweet tea brine – we thought that sounded like the perfect thing to try with our Thanksgiving turkey. So, 3 years ago… a few weeks before Thanksgiving – Mike and I created our own rendition of a sweet tea brine for our turkey.
We came up with the seasonings, flavors, proportions, cooking time, everything. I was so proud, he was so proud…. We were SO proud of our creation.
Mike even went back to Facebook to share our turkey. He made sure to emphasize that the turkey was dark because of the tea… not because it was burnt. There is a difference, you see. 🙂
Actually, that’s one thing we fixed. That turkey was DELICIOUS – but the next time, we used a couple less tea bags and that allowed the skin to not be ‘tea dyed’ so much in the color (as you can obviously tell from the pictures – haha).
We were going to share it on the blog the following year, but sadly – that was to be Mike’s last Thanksgiving with me and our kids. He passed away in July of 2015 at only 33 years old – and as much as I wanted to post the turkey to honor him last year, I wasn’t yet in the state of mind that allowed me to share it.
This year though – this year I’m sharing it. I’m sharing it because I’m thankful that this recipe exists. I’m thankful of the memories I have creating this dish with my husband. I’m thankful that I can still see the look on his face, clear as day in my mind, when that turkey came out of the oven. His eyes just lit up.
One of the hardest lessons that I’ve had to learn is being thankful when you don’t feel like you have anything to be thankful for. I struggled with that last Thanksgiving… majorly. I pushed away any sense of tradition because it all felt too empty without Mike… too much was missing. But, this year – I’m trying to take a different outlook. I want to use our traditions in a way to remember & honor him. After all, they were our traditions. We created them together – we lived them together. When I break down – and boy, I do still break down… I try my hardest to think of all the things I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for the 17 years I had with Mike. I’m thankful for the 3 beautiful children that we created together. I’m thankful for so much, I really am.
Before I shed anymore tears, I think that now is a good time to start talking about some of the details of this recipe.
The brine isn’t your typical sweet tea. Instead of white sugar, it uses brown sugar (and salt because it is a brine after all) – and there are other flavors thrown in to hit some of the savory notes like garlic, onion, peppercorns, & oranges. It really is spectacular.
You soak the turkey in the brine for at least 12-24 hours or as many as 36-48 hours. Just make sure the brine is completely cool before you go to soak your turkey in it because you don’t want to cook it at all until you put that baby in the oven. I have a large stockpot that I use to soak my bird in, but you can also use a food safe bucket with lid (you can find them at Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, etc). If your fridge is too full to fit it in to soak, you can put that sucker outside in a cold place as long as it’s a cold enough night (like 42 degrees or below).
The results are a super juicy & flavorful turkey – one that’s I’m pretty darn proud of. Mike was pretty darn proud of it too. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did creating it.
I love you, Mike. Happy Thanksgiving in Heaven. I’ll be forever thankful for you.
Sweet Tea Brined Turkey
- 1.5 gallons water or more to cover the turkey completely
- 10 family sized tea bags
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 large onion sliced
- 3 navel oranges thinly sliced
- 1 heaping Tbsp black peppercorns
- half a head of garlic
- 1 whole turkey
- Bring the water to boil in a large pot and add the tea bags. Turn off the heat and let steep for 10 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients (except for the turkey) & simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat & cook completely. Soak the turkey with the cooled brine, breast side down, in a clean bucket, large pot, or a cooler with ice. Let it soak for at least 12 hours & up to 48 hours, flipping the turkey halfway through.
- Remove from the brine, rinse well, and pat dry.
- At this point, I like to rub the turkey with a little melted butter & simply season with salt & pepper. I stuff the inside with a large onion that's been quartered & 1 stick of butter, but you don't have to do that if you don't want to. It's great just with the brine!
- Preheat your oven to 275 degrees. Cook at 275 for about 10 minutes per pound. A 20 pound bird would need about 3.5 hours while a 15 pound bird would need about 2.5 hours. After that time, baste the bird really well with the pan juices. Bump the heat up to 350, remove the foil, and return the turkey to the oven until the meat thermometer reaches 165 degrees - basting every so often.
- Let the turkey rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. I let mine rest for 45-60 minutes myself.