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Buttermilk Brined Turkey

Buttermilk brined turkey brings together the plump juicy texture of brined turkey with the tang of buttermilk and an infusion of rosemary, thyme, and sage. It’s a simple approach to making a delicious Thanksgiving turkey that you will want to come back to year after year.

Note: It does take 24 – 48 hours to brine after your turkey is thawed so don’t forget to plan ahead!

Sliced turkey breast and whole turkey legs on a bed of herbs.

A Tender Juicy Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe

While a classically brined turkey is soaked in a mixture of kosher salt, sugar, and water to add moisture, this buttermilk brined turkey takes it one step further, leveraging the acid of the buttermilk and herbs to add flavor.

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.

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.

Ingredients for buttermilk brined turkey.

What You’ll Need

This buttermilk brined turkey starts with a fresh or thawed frozen turkey and adds in a blend of herbs, spices, and aromatics to create a delicious turkey. Here is what you’ll need:

  • Turkey – 12 to 14 lbs
  • Buttermilk – use full fat if you can find it
  • Rosemary, thyme, sage – a classic Thanksgiving blend, you can often purchase these together in one package during the holidays.
  • Bay leaves – found in the dried spice aisle
  • Coarse kosher salt – The recipe is written with Morton Kosher Salt. If you choose to swap in Diamond Crystal, increase the volume measurement to 1 3/4 cup (the weight measurement stays the same.)
  • Garlic and Onion – aka the aromatics. These go inside the turkey while it roasts.

If using a frozen turkey under 18 pounds, move it to the fridge no later than bedtime on the Friday prior to Thanksgiving. A bird between 8 – 18 pounds can take between 3 – 5 days to thaw in the fridge. In order to brine it properly, you should start it on Tuesday evening. If you missed that deadline, you can thaw it in cold water using the chart below.

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How to Make an Herb Infused Buttermilk Brined Turkey

The easiest way to approach this turkey recipe is to break it down into three major sections: making the brine, brining the turkey, roasting the turkey.

Making an Herb Infused Buttermilk Brine

For this version of a buttermilk brined turkey, we start with an herb infused brine. Making it is almost as easy as boiling water, which is how most brines begin.

  • Dissolve the salt. Combine salt and 1 quart of water then bring to a boil.
  • Infuse the brine with herbs. Add the herbs, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Cover the pot and let it steep for 5 minutes.
  • Cool the brine. Add an additional 1 quart of cold water and allow to cool 5 minutes.
  • Measure the buttermilk. We will add it in the next step.
Turkey in a brining bag with an herb infused buttermilk brine.

Brining a Thanksgiving Turkey

Once your brine is prepared, the next step is as simple as combining everything together for the turkey brine recipe. Use caution though, as food safety is very important when handling raw poultry.

  • Set up the brining container. Line a large container with the brining bag and place the turkey in the bag. I use my roasting pan, but a large cooler or a 5 gallon bucket work as well.
  • Add the brining ingredients. Pour buttermilk, brine solution, and cold water carefully to prevent splashing raw turkey brine around your kitchen.
  • Securly close the brining bag. Make sure the entire turkey is submerged then refrigerate for 24 – 48 hours.
  • Remove the turkey from the brine. Discard brine then pat the turkey dry with paper towels.
Tied off brine bag in a roasting pan.

Roasting a Thanksgiving Turkey

Once your turkey has absorbed all those delicious flavors, it’s time to start roasting. Using an in-oven meat thermometer can save you some stress, but I always double check it with an instant read thermometer before I declare the turkey done.

  • Prep the turkey for roasting. Transfer turkey to a large roasting pan, breast side up, place aromatics in the turkey cavity. Preheat the oven to 400ºF and adjust the oven racks if needed.
  • Roast the turkey. Place turkey in the center of the hot oven with the legs pointing to a back corner.
  • Rotate the turkey. Switch the position of the turkey legs (one back corner then the other) to encourage even cooking and avoid burning.
  • Check the internal temperature. The turkey is done when an instant read thermometer registers 180º in the thickest part of the thigh and 165º in the deepest part of the breast.
  • Rest the turkey. Remove turkey from the oven, then allow it to sit in a warm location to rest 15 minutes or more before carving.
Oval granite roasting pan with a roasting rack.

Turkey Brining Success Tips

Whether this is your first attempt at brining and roasting a turkey or you’ve been doing it for years, here are a few of my favorite tips for getting it done right.

  • Cool the brine completely. Hot water is necessary to melt the salt and infuse the herbs, but adding a raw turkey to warm brine is a recipe for a food safety disaster. Even room temperature is too warm. Cool the brine completely then add the rest of the cold water and the cold buttermilk.
  • Use a turkey brining bag. A large brining bag makes this process easier and is a food safety win.
  • Keep the whole turkey submerged in the brine. Restricting the space around your turkey can help, but you can also increase the volume of brine if needed.
  • No fridge space? Use a large cooler. Place large 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. Check every 4 – 6 hours, draining the melted ice and adding more as necessary.

Turkey Roasting Success Tips

  • For extra crispy skin: Let the turkey dry out, uncovered, in the fridge for a couple of hours between brining and roasting. Also, place the turkey on a wire rack to lift it off the bottom of the roasting pan to allow heat to circulate.
  • Prevent burning. If your turkey skin is burning or cooking too quickly, cover loosely with a layer of aluminum foil.
  • For even cooking: Center the breast and point the legs towards one of the back corners (aka the hottest part of the oven). Rotate the legs towards the opposite corner every 30 minutes or so.
  • Keep your turkey moist: Use an in-oven thermometer to monitor the temperature while it’s cooking and double check it with an instant read thermometer. Over cooked turkey equals a dried out turkey.
  • Turkey roasting times are guidelines. Results will depend on both the weight of your turkey and the heat of your oven. Check the graphic below and adjust the timing as needed.
chart showing cook times for different turkey sizes 8lbs - 18lbs

Buttermilk Brined Turkey Variations

While the flavor combination in this buttermilk infused turkey is perfect for your Thanksgiving table, it very easy to change up this recipe and make it your own.

  • Swap the herbs. Combine basil, parsley, tarragon, or any other herb of your choice.
  • Trade the black peppercorns. White, pink, and green peppercorns add subtle flavor variations.
  • Use a different protein. Instead of turkey try this brine with chicken, game hens, or even pork loin.
  • Alter your aromatics. Instead of garlic and onion try halved citrus fruits, large chunks of ginger, or an extra bunch of herbs.
Sliced turkey breast and whole turkey legs on a bed of herbs next to a silver carving set on an orange silk napkin.

Serving Suggestions

This buttermilk brined turkey will be the shining star of your Thanksgiving table, but that doesn’t mean it should stand alone.

For a classic Thanksgiving table pair it with garlicky green beans with fried onions, cranberry apple stuffing, creamy mashed potatoes, brioche rolls and orange cranberry sauce.

If you want to be a little more adventurous check out these gorgeous roasted root vegetables, oven roasted sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts with almonds and feta, or this Greek quinoa salad.

How to Store and Reheat Buttermilk Brined Turkey

Cooked turkey can be refrigerated in air tight containers for 3 – 5 days. It can also be frozen for longer storage. Leftover turkey makes for good sandwiches, but it makes for great turkey soup, turkey tacos, or turkey pot pie. Reheat small portions in the microwave or larger portions in the oven.

Carved turkey on a bed of herbs with a thanksgiving meal in the background.

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More Tasty Poultry Recipes

Sliced turkey breast and whole turkey legs on a bed of herbs.

Buttermilk Brined Turkey

Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Brining Time: 1 day
Total Time: 1 day 3 hours 20 minutes

Buttermilk brined turkey combines rosemary, thyme, and sage with tangy buttermilk for a deliciously moist and tender Thanksgiving turkey.

Ingredients

  • 12 - 15 lb turkey - innards removed

Brine

  • 3 quarts cold water (divided)
  • 1 cup (241 grams) coarse kosher salt 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

Aromatics

  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1 head of garlic

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Remove turkey from oven, cover and allow to rest 15 minutes or more before carving.

Notes

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

Did you make this recipe?

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For the step by step version of this recipe, check out the Buttermilk Brined Turkey Story.

Zoë Sinner

Tuesday 23rd of November 2021

How much salt should you add to the brine if the turkey is prebrined?

Renee N Gardner

Tuesday 23rd of November 2021

Hi Zoe! I have not tested this recipe with a pre-brined turkey, so I cannot guarantee the results. I have done some digging on brining a pre-brined turkey and for every response that says don't do it, there is another one that says it's fine. Without knowing the solution levels in your turkey I can’t give you an exact answer, but I’m 90% certain that I would say use the salt. Here is why:

Brining helps a turkey to retain moisture and add flavor by achieving equilibrium between the turkey and the brining solution. The salt goes from an area of high concentration (the brine) into an area of low concentration (the turkey). The solution in this recipe is around 5%, while most pre-brined turkeys use a solution between 5% - 8% (that’s the solution, not the salt percentage in the turkey.) Brining it again in a solution at an equal or lower salt percentage should not substantially increase the total salt volume in the final product.

If I were in your shoes I would use the salt as it’s listed in the recipe. The exception would be is if there are people in your group that are salt sensitive or prefer a reduced salt diet. If that is the case, I would reduce the salt by half giving you a 2.5% brine solution.

I would think that the salt may be more magnified in the drippings or the homemade stock. If that’s the case, use no-salt added broth to thin the gravy and if you are making it homemade, don’t add salt to the stock until after it’s done cooking.

Whatever you choose to do, please report back and let me know how it turns out!

Happy Thanksgiving! Renee

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