Bourbon-Brined Smoked Turkey 12.000

James M. Thresher for The Washington Post

Smoke Signals Nov 17, 2010

Turkeys take well to the grill. Their size accommodates long hours of smoking, and their mild flavor benefits from the woodsy infusion of light wood smoke.

You'll need 2 cups of pecan or applewood chips that have been soaked in water for at least 1 hour.

Make Ahead: The turkey needs to be brined in the refrigerator for 12 to 20 hours. If you don't have space in the refrigerator, set up a cooler with ice.

Servings: 12 - 14
  • For the brine
  • 14 cups water
  • 4 cups apple juice, preferably unsweetened and unfiltered
  • 1 cup bourbon
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups salt
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 12 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 4 strips lemon peel (little or no pith)
  • For the brine and bird
  • One 15-pound turkey (giblets removed)
  • For the rub
  • 2 tablespoons ground sage
  • 2 tablespoons dried rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • For the bird
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large onion, cut into quarters
  • 1 medium tart apple, such as Granny Smith, cored and cut into quarters
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, cored and cut into quarters


For the brine: Line a large mixing bowl or clean bucket with a 2-gallon resealable plastic food storage bag or a large brining bag; add the water, apple juice, bourbon, brown sugar, salt, bay leaves, peppercorns, onion, garlic and strips of lemon peel, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Place the turkey in the brine and seal, pressing out as much air as possible. Refrigerate for 12 to 20 hours, repositioning the turkey halfway through as needed to make sure the bird is evenly brined.

Rinse the turkey and pat it dry; discard the brine.

For the rub: Combine the sage, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper in a small bowl.

For the bird: Soak the 2 cups of pecan or applewood chips for at least 1 hour.

Prepare the grill for indirect heat: If using a charcoal grill, light the coals. Drain the water from the wood chips. If using a gas grill, place 1 cup of the chips in a smoker box or an aluminum foil pouch punctured with a fork on top to release smoke.

If using a charcoal grill, place a drip pan beneath the grates on the indirect side of the grill. When the coals are white-hot, scatter 1 cup of the wood chips directly onto the coals. If using a gas grill, place a drip pan directly on the flavorizer bars, briquettes or lava rocks. Place the smoker box or foil pouch between the grate and briquettes, close to the flame. Preheat on high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to medium (350 degrees).

Coat the cavity and skin of the turkey with butter. Coat the cavity with 2 tablespoons of the rub, then use the remainder of the rub to coat the buttered skin of the bird. Place the onion, apple and fennel pieces in the cavity.

Place the turkey, breast side up, on the indirect side of the grill, over the drip pan. Cover the charcoal grill and leave the vents open. Close the lid of the gas grill.

After 1 hour, add a dozen briquettes and the remaining cup of chips directly onto the charcoal fire. If using a gas grill, add the remaining chips to the smoker box or remove the foil pouch and replace it with a second pouch. Baste the turkey with drippings every 20 minutes until it is done.

After 2 hours, insert a meat thermometer into thickest part of the breast without touching the bone. The bird is done when the temperature reads 170 degrees (between 2 and 3 hours).

Transfer the turkey to a cutting board. Discard the onion mixture in the cavity, if desired. Let the bird rest for 15 minutes before carving.

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Recipe Source

From Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin.

Tested by Sarah Meyer Walsh.

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