Vanilla-Brined Thanksgiving Turkey

Imagine the family gathered around the table and you present that beautiful bird for Thanksgiving dinner!  Well, you can, with the help of Heather McPherson of “The Orlando Sentinel” and her ‘Recipe of the Week.’

Brining is a seasoning process that flavors the entire turkey, not just the skin. When brining, a raw turkey is soaked in a water mixture for a number of hours while refrigerated to help it retain moisture during the cooking process. There are many recipes for the brining liquid.

Vanilla-Brined Thanksgiving Turkey

16-18 servings with leftovers

16- to 20- pound whole turkey, giblets removed, cleaned and patted dry

Vanilla brine:

3/4 cup kosher salt

2/3 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup hickory smoked salt

2 tablespoons ground white pepper

1 tablespoon ground cardamom

2 cinnamon sticks

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

1/2 gallon vegetable stock

1/3 cup vanilla extract

1/2 gallon heavily iced water


Vanilla bourbon butter:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

3 tablespoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons bourbon

Coarse salt and pepper to taste



1 green apple, halved

1 yellow onion, halved

1/2 bunch fresh thyme

1/2 bunch fresh rosemary

1 cinnamon stick


1. Preheat oven to 450F. Place the first 8 ingredients of the brine in a large pot and simmer until the spices dissolve. Allow to cool completely. Pour the cooled stock mixture into a large container (bucket) and stir in vanilla and ice water. Completely submerge the turkey into the liquid, breast side down, and brine for 10-16 hours, refrigerated.

2. While the turkey is in the brine, make the vanilla bourbon butter. Place the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together until completely combined. Set aside.

3. When ready, remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry. Stuff the cavity of the turkey with aromatics and rub the skin, both under and over, with the vanilla bourbon butter. Season the turkey with salt and pepper.

4. Tie the legs together tightly, tuck the wings under the back, and transfer the bird to a roasting pan. Place the turkey into the oven and roast for 30-40 minutes, allowing the skin to brown. Remove the turkey from the oven and cover the breast with aluminum foil to prevent burning.

5. Reduce the oven temperature to 350F and continue to roast the turkey for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, basting every 30 minutes. Thirty minutes before the turkey is ready to come out of the oven, remove foil from the breast and continue to roast until an instant read thermometer reads 161F. Remove the turkey from the oven, loosely covered with foil and allow to rest for 20-30 minutes before carving.

Adapted from Spice Islands

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