This herb infused buttermilk-brined turkey brings together the tenderness of a brined turkey with the flavors of an herbal infusion and tangy buttermilk. It’s a simple approach to making a delicious Thanksgiving turkey that you will want to come back to year after year. It does take 24 – 48 hours to marinate after your turkey is thawed so plan ahead!
Looking for a moist, delicious Thanksgiving turkey that doesn’t take a lot of effort? This herb infused buttermilk-brined turkey is just what you need.
Inspired by Samin Nosrat’s Buttermilk Marinated Roast Chicken from (affiliate link) Salt Acid Fat Heat, this turkey recipe takes her basic buttermilk brine and infuses it with the flavors of sage, rosemary, and thyme.
The end result is a tender, juicy turkey, with all the traditional flavors of the Thanksgiving table. It’s a recipe you will want to come back to year after year.
Is it a Brine or a Marinade?
A brine’s job is to add moisture, and a marinade’s job is to add flavor, since this buttermilk brine is doing the job of both it could technically be called a buttermilk marinade as well.
On one hand, the salt and acid from the buttermilk help to break into the muscle fibers, plumping them up and help them to retain moisture. On the other hand, the acid from the buttermilk and the herbal infusion is adding flavors.
While you could do it in a two step process of a salt brine followed by the herb-infused buttermilk, a full turkey is already time consuming enough without an extra step. So, we are doing it together in one step.
Making an Herb Infused Buttermilk Brine
Making this herb infused brine is almost as easy as boiling water, which is how most brines begin.
The basics: boil the salt and water in a 3 quart saucepan. Once it boils and the salt melts stir in the herbs and peppercorns, cover the pot and let it steep, or infuse, for 5 minutes.
The hot water will draw the oils out of the fresh herbs, allowing them to infuse the buttermilk when they are blended together.
Tips for Brining a Turkey
Cool the brine down before adding the turkey
Hot water melts salt faster, but hot water on a raw turkey is a recipe for a food safety disaster. This is why we boil a minimal amount of water to melt the salt and infuse the herbs, then mix it with cold water before adding the bird.
A turkey brining bag makes this process a whole lot easier
I hate single use plastics as much as the next millennial, but as an adult I also realize they have their place. In my opinion, keeping the entire turkey submerged in the brine for 24 – 48 hours is a good place for a single use bag.
A brining bag allows you to restrict the space that the brine can occupy, allowing you to use less liquid and keep the whole bird submerged without the constant need of being rotated or flipped.
As you can see, I stored my brining turkey in a roasting pan and used the empty 2 quart carton to help restrict the space around the turkey.
In the name of food safety, a brining bag should not be re-used. Drain the liquid down the sink and discard any solids, being careful not to splash used brine around your kitchen.
A cooler can be your friend
A brining turkey can take up a lot of space in your fridge, especially as Thanksgiving or Christmas day draws closer and other things start demanding fridge space.
You can do your brining in an iced down cooler instead. Start with reusable ice packs in the bottom of the cooler. Place the bagged, brining turkey on top and cover with more ice – preferably cubes that can melt and fill in the space around the turkey.
Place the cooler in a cool area and check it every 4 – 6 hours for melting, adding more ice as necessary. If your climate cooperates, set the whole thing outside and let nature help keep it cool.
Roasting a Buttermilk-Brined Turkey
Roasting a buttermilk brined turkey is just like roasting any other turkey. If you have a roasting method you like and are comfortable with, by all means use it. In fact, you could also grill or fry this turkey.
The roasting method in this recipe comes from Samin Nosrat, because once you try it you will realize it’s simply the best way to get even results.
Before you fire up your oven, make sure you position a rack to hold the turkey in the center of the oven. For me and my 14 lb turkey, I had to remove one rack from my oven so that the roasting pan could sit just below the center rack. If you are roasting a large turkey or have a small oven, you may need to use the lowest rack in your oven.
Place the turkey on wire rack. This lifts it off the bottom of the pan, allowing heat to circulate and encourages as much crispy brown skin as possible.
Throughout the roasting process keep the turkey breast centered while rotating the legs between the left and right back corners of your oven. Those back corners are going to be the hottest parts of the oven, which helps the legs cook faster without the breast getting over cooked.
Herb Infused Buttermilk-Brined Turkey Recipe
Herb infused buttermilk-brined turkey combines the flavors of rosemary, sage, and thyme with tangy buttermilk for a deliciously moist and tender Thanksgiving turkey.
To round out your Thanksgiving table try these brown butter garlic mashed potatoes, garlicky green beans with fried onions, and oven roasted root vegetables. Looking for a turkey option to serve a smaller crowd? Try this hazelnut crusted turkey breast or see all my Thanksgiving recipes.
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- 12 - 15 lb turkey - innards removed
- 3 quarts cold water (divided)
- 1 cup coarse salt
- 1 TBSP black peppercorns
- 3 - 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 - 3 sprigs fresh sage
- 2 - 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 quarts buttermilk
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 1 head of garlic
- In a 3 quart or larger saucepan bring 1 quart of water and 1 cup of salt to a boil, stirring to dissolve salt. Once salt is dissolved remove pan from heat and stir in 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, 3 - 4 sprigs fresh thyme, 2 - 3 sprigs fresh sage, 2 - 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, 4 bay leaves. Cover and allow to steep 5 minutes. Uncover, add 1 additional quart of cold water and allow to cool 5 minutes more.
- Prepare the turkey by lining a large container with a turkey brining bag. A large roasting pan, stock pot, or 5 gallon bucket works well. Place the turkey inside the bag, add 2 quarts of cold buttermilk, the last quart of cold water, and the salty herbal infusion. Secure the top of the bag and squish to combine the brine together and coat the turkey. Make sure the turkey is covered with the brine. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours.
- Adjust the oven racks so that the turkey can sit in the center of the oven. Depending on the size of the turkey, you'll need to use the lowest or second to lowest rack placement, removing additional racks as necessary. Preheat oven to 400º.
- Remove the turkey from the brine, discarding the herbs, peppercorns, and liquid brine. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels and place breast side up in a large roasting pan lined with a rack. Cut onion into quarters, cut garlic in half, place both inside the turkey cavity.
- Place the turkey in the oven, with the breast centered and the legs pointing towards the back right of the oven. Roast 30 minutes, then rotate the legs to the back left of the oven, keeping the breast centered, and reduce the oven temperature to 350º.
- Continue to rotate the legs from left to right every 30 minutes until a meat thermometer in thickest part of the thigh reads 180º, the breast meat reads 165º, and the skin is crispy and golden brown. For a 14 lb turkey, it should take about 3 - 3 1/2 hours total roasting time.
- Remove turkey from oven, cover and allow to rest 15 minutes before carving.
Recipe inspired by Samin Nosrat's Buttermilk-Marinated Roast Chicken.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 361Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 206mgSodium: 786mgCarbohydrates: 1gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 54g