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Brined Holiday Turkey with Herb Gravy

What’s the secret for your best-tasting, juiciest holiday turkey ever? Brining—a centuries-old trick that the pros use. Soaking the turkey in salt water is simple and it really works. Brining encourages the tightly wound proteins in the meat to uncoil, bump into each other and form a web of sorts that sets in the heat of the oven, trapping flavourful moisture. Don’t worry though, you don’t have to be a scientist to appreciate how tasty this turkey will be.


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1 10 - 25 pound fresh turkey
2 cups table salt
2 cups brown sugar
2 gallons cold water
4 onions, peeled and halved
4 large carrots
4 stalks celery
1/2 stick butter, melted
lots freshly ground pepper
for the herb gravy
3 cups water, chicken broth or cider
1 cup whatever wine you\\\\\\\\
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme, tarragon, rosemary or chives
Salt and Pepper


Tools needed:
An insulated picnic cooler large enough to submerge the turkey
A few “blue ice” freezer packs, placed in freezer bags to keep packs from being contaminated
A large roasting pan
An accurate meat thermometer to gauge exactly when the turkey is done

For the brined turkey, place the bird upside down in the insulated cooler.
Whisk the salt and sugar in the cold water until they are thoroughly dissolved. Pour this brine over the turkey, turning the bird a few times to mix the salt and sugar thoroughly. If it is not fully submerged, make a bit more brine using the same ratio of salt, sugar and water. Add the freezer packs to the cooler and place in a cool place for 12 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse well under cold running water. Thoroughly dry it with paper towels or clean kitchen towels. Remove any excess moisture and dry out the skin so that it will brown well.
With the onions, carrots and celery, fashion a bed in the roasting pan for the turkey to rest on. Brush the turkey thoroughly with the melted butter. Season with lots of freshly ground pepper but not salt; the brine is sufficient for salting.
Roast turkey for 1 hour and then, without opening the oven, turn the heat down to 300°F (150°C) and continue roasting for 2 to 3 hours longer, depending on the size of the turkey. This dual-temperature method will first brown the turkey and then slowly finish it so it doesn’t dry out from the initial high heat.

After 2 1/2 hours, open the oven and begin checking the temperature every 15 minutes or so. Continue roasting until the breast and thigh meat have both reached at least 170°F (77°C). As a rough guideline you can plan on about 12 minutes cooking time for each pound of turkey.

When done, cover the turkey with foil and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving to give the juices inside the meat a chance to calm down and evenly redistribute themselves throughout the turkey.

For the all-important gravy, pour off most of any accumulated fat, carefully reserving the juices. Add the liquid of your choice to the pan along with the wine and any reserved juices, scraping the bottom of the pan to dissolve all of the browned bits. Pour all of the liquid into a small saucepan, scraping every last bit of flavour out of the pan. Bring it to a simmer.

Dissolve the cornstarch in a splash of water and add to the pan, whisking until the gravy thickens. Whisk in some fresh herbs, then taste, season and enjoy!


  1. Lyne said: On Jan 7, 2014

    My in-laws have followed this recipe twice now and it is amazing! I will try it myself next time.

  2. Denise said: On Dec 26, 2013

    Wonderful recipe! It turned out to perfection and was a big hit! The flavour was amazing.

  3. Ant said: On Dec 21, 2013

    Oven’s died on me so gonna do turkey on bbq ha ha fingers crossed.

  4. Rose said: On Dec 15, 2013

    Do you have the stuffing recipe for your “brined turkey”, I cannot seem to find it.
    thank you

  5. Tammy said: On Nov 17, 2013

    Thank you Chef Michael, for yet another ‘perfect bird’!

    Even though it’s not Thanksgiving, we like turkey so much (especially now that your method makes it so easy!) that we have it whenever we feel like it…so to us, Nov.16 seemed liked a great day!

    A few years ago, I’d never heard of brining a turkey – I thought, “like pickle brine? Ew” But I watched you do it and I thought, hey, that looks a lot easier than the way we had been cooking turkeys (taking it out every half hour to baste it) and once I tied it this way, I never went back.

    I always forget: to cover or not to cover? But I check your website and ah, no cover. That’s right. I love how, once the brining is done and the turkey’s in the oven; that’s it – I don’t have to do anything else with it until it’s close to being finished and I have to double check with the meat thermometer. No more fiddling about with basting, and it always turns out soooo good!

  6. Mark said: On Oct 14, 2013

    Well we had this turkey recipe today …………….. Awesome. Way to go Chef Michael :)

  7. Tom said: On Oct 13, 2013

    your way of cooking turkey is great the most tender turkey i ever head
    thank you

  8. Bill said: On Oct 9, 2013

    I watched this episode on TV and the turkey was not covered – it was set in a roasting pan; as for the veggies below the bird, the first time I discarded – the next time I pureed with a hand blender then strained everything for gravy – was amazing gravy

    • Melissa said: On Oct 11, 2013

      I never thought of doing that with the vegetables. SMART!
      I usually put mine in the fridge until the day after and use them in my turkey soup.

      • Amy said: On Oct 13, 2013

        Wow those are both great ideas. I used to discard them. A great way to use everything. I always make my turkey this way and the turkey always turns out amazing! My mother in law who used to do a stuffed turkey every thanksgiving and my husband, didn’t believe in putting the turkey in a brine. They both ate their words and the most moist turkey when they tried it ;o)
        Thank you very much chef Michael!

  9. Cindy said: On Oct 1, 2013

    Did anybody ever get the answers to a few of the questions that were asked in the comments?:

    1) Is the Turkey covered while roasting (I would think so)

    2) What was done with the bed of vegetables that the turkey was
    sitting on

    3) Was there a good stuffing recipe that went along with this Turkey?

    Listening Thanks,

    • ronda said: On Oct 8, 2013

      Hello, I am also wondering the same thing Cindy is wondering – do we cover the turkey while it is cooking? I would assume so to keep it moist but the recipe doesn’t indicate this. Please advise sooner than later…….THANKS :)

      • Melissa said: On Oct 11, 2013

        DO NOT cover the turkey while roasting it.

      • Melanie said: On Oct 12, 2013

        I have brined my turkey according to this recipe for the last few years – also the hot oven followed by the lower roasting temperature as he suggests.
        The results are the most moist and flavorful turkey my family has ever had. Do not cover it and yes, puree the veggies for your gravy. Delicious!

    • Mark said: On Oct 14, 2013

      Never cover any meat in the oven. That’s a good way to loose all the moisture from inside the meat.

  10. news said: On Feb 7, 2013

    Attractive section of content. I just stumbled upon your web site and in accession capital to assert that I get actually enjoyed account your blog posts. Anyway I

  11. Nathaniel said: On Dec 26, 2012

    Tried this recipe for the Christmas turkey today. Worked very well, although the bird was noticeably (but not objectionably) salty.

    Mant thanks!!

  12. steven said: On Dec 22, 2012

    i would like to know do you roast or bake a turkey

  13. Elsa said: On Nov 6, 2012

    I did this recipe and was fabulous! Thanks

  14. Michelle said: On Oct 13, 2012

    when roasting the turkey do u cover it in the oven or just leave it uncovered??

  15. Dustin said: On Oct 4, 2012

    DO you use a lid or tin foil or nothing?

  16. Angie said: On Jan 1, 2012

    My turkey always turns out pretty darn good, so it was hard to convince my hubby to go along with this brining process, but it’s one week after the first brined turkey ( which was 13lbs). And here we are on new years day with a 24lb bird brining once again! Chef Michael, you’re not just a fabulous chef but a wonderful person!! Thanks for sharing these beautiful nuggets of culinary happiness ;)). All the best for 2011!!

  17. Jessica said: On Dec 26, 2011

    I made my turkey twice this way. so yummy! Even my picky 2 year old ate it! I use a lot of Michael Smith’s recipes

  18. Patty said: On Dec 26, 2011

    What do you do with the vegetable base the turkey was sitting on? Thanks.

  19. Don said: On Dec 25, 2011

    Just awesome again. Never a doubt with your recipes

  20. Cheryl said: On Dec 25, 2011

    I made this recipe last year for my ENTIRE family and I blew their socks off!! They were raving about how juicy and nicely browned the turkey was. I didn’t have any left overs for soup so this year I bought a bigger bird. Thank you Thank you Thank you. I am so happy I found your recipe.

  21. Lily said: On Dec 19, 2011

    I really like your recipes. My dad and I are going to try that on Friday .tell Gabe he is cute
    From lily Veitch

  22. Rick said: On Nov 23, 2011

    Our daughter did the tuukey for Thanksgiving this year with Michael Smith’s brine soulution. Best turkey I have ever had.

  23. Amanda said: On Oct 10, 2011

    Learned this trick in a class a Christmas in November at the Jasper park lodge a few years ago have been loving it ever since.
    I line the cooler with a clear leaf bag for easy clean up. Then you can cinch up’ the extra bag and clip it – you need less brine.
    In a soft sided cooler you can put it in the fridge with the ice packs on the outside – no cross contamination.
    For my fellow canadians 2 gallons = 7.5 liters
    By putting the Bird in upside down I am assuming this is breast side down as Tom does not like to perch on his head?!
    Happy thanksgiving. Enjoy the best bird you have EVER tasted!

  24. Karin said: On Aug 28, 2011

    I’m assuming that you do not cover the turkey with foil or a lid while roasting?
    Do you have a recipe for a stuffing to go with this turkey?
    I did try the brining method last Christmas. It was theeee best turkey I’ve ever made and I’ve made a few in my time.
    Thank you

    • Peter said: On Oct 4, 2011

      eah everyone says they got the best turkey happening at Thanks Giving.Well if its not been in a brine I doubt it!

  25. Jesse said: On Apr 9, 2011

    This recipe is so delicious, who wants to wait for the next holiday? The most tender turkey I have ever made and less hassle than the traditional recipes.
    Thanks to a good friend for suggesting your web site.

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Brined Holiday Turkey
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For an extra special treat, you can use apple cider instead of water to brine the turkey. You can also infuse the brine with a few cups of pickling spices by heating it a day or two in advance