Cooking with Beer: Beer-Brined Turkey Recipe for the Holidays

A Guide to Your Holiday Drink Station

By Makenzie Ladd Originally published November 2019, updated October 2020

As we dive deeper into fall, some of our favorite foods and flavors come out from their summer hibernation and we get to indulge in their warm decadence once again. Thanksgiving dinner is the perfect time to highlight these delights all in one meal. At times, it may seem difficult to figure out how to make various dishes and flavors come together harmoniously, but a simple trick is to incorporate some key components from each into the main event: the turkey. Whether you’ve finally reached the milestone of hosting your first adult Friendsgiving, or simply looking to update your tired ‘ole turkey recipe, try incorporating a fan-favorite brew for your brine.

Brining and marinating are similar cooking techniques, but brining differentiates itself by having the turkey soak for 16-18 hours in a heavily salted concoction of herbs, spices and, in this instance, beer. Add a little science and toss around the word “osmosis,” which is the process in which moisture is drawn into the meat. This results in a tender and juicy turkey, enhanced by your chosen ingredients and tenderized by the addition of beer.

I decided to create a brine recipe that would make my turkey highlight the whole holiday meal. Typically, I prefer to use warm spices on pork, but with the heavy salt content in the brine, my taste buds gravitated toward citrus and sugar to balance out the flavors. The citrus in this recipe is provided by sliced oranges and a citrusy wheat beer like Blue Moon. Depending on your preferred flavor profile, you may want to adjust ingredients based on the beer you choose. For example, many people find that an IPA brings out the saltier and spicier flavors in food, which means that you’d want to add different herbs and spices to the brine.

Beer-brined turkey resting next to Thanksgiving dinner sides. 

Beer-Brined Turkey

  • 2 cups salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ tablespoon cinnamon
  • ½ tablespoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons ground pepper
  • 3 quarts water
  • 32 ounces wheat beer
  • 1 turkey, thawed and rinsed
  • 1 oven bag
  • 1 roasting pan
  • 8 oranges (or citrus fruit), sliced

In a large pot on medium to high heat, combine the salt, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and ground pepper with three quarts of water, stirring occasionally as it warms. When the mixture begins to boil, take it off the stove and allow it to fully cool. Once cooled, stir in beer.

Clean and truss your turkey as desired. Place the turkey in the oven bag and set it onto a roasting pan with high sides to prevent spilling. *Pour brine into the bag and top with 6 orange slices. Allow the turkey to sit in the brine in the fridge for 16-18 hours.

*Note: Hot liquid will begin to cook the meat prematurely. Brine must be fully cooled before pouring it into the oven bag.

Preheat oven as needed for the weight of your turkey. Before roasting, remove the turkey from the brine and thoroughly rinse and dry to prevent excess water from steaming. Save leftover brine for basting. Transfer turkey to a roasting pan and cook as needed. After one hour of cooking, squeeze 2 sliced oranges over the turkey and brush a layer of brine over the skin. Cook until the turkey has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit and desired crispiness of skin. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes to absorb the extra juices. Slice and enjoy!

I found that basting the turkey with brine and orange slices made the outer meat taste sweet with warm flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg, this lightened the sugary base that gave the turkey a nice crispy skin. The meat underneath picked up a lot of the wheat beer’s zest while retaining some of the semi-sweetness of the oranges that sat in the brine alongside the turkey. Although they are unusual flavors for a holiday turkey, the combination makes a moist and tender meat that pairs well with all the fixings.

Need some more inspiration to create the picture-perfect Thanksgiving meal? Check out our full Thanksgiving menu with delicious pairing options to create a holiday celebration that will set the bar high for future family functions.

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