Perfectly Golden Crispy Skin Turkey: The Ultimate Brine and Butter Guide

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golden thanksgiving turkey

What’s Up, Hungry People!

With the holiday season upon us, multitasking through the whirlwind of blogging and hosting isn’t for the faint of heart. Take it from me this Thanksgiving; trying to snap pictures, tweak, write, publish, and entertain simultaneously was a wild ride—one I won’t board again while playing host. But hey, the journey from brine to bone must be chronicled, right?

This year marked my inaugural trot as the turkey commander-in-chief. I snagged a plump thirteen-pounder from my local haunt, ready to tackle the infamous Thanksgiving turkey challenge. Here’s the deal: turkey gets a bad rap. Without some culinary love, it’s usually as dry and dull as cardboard. But, let me tell you, the magic is in the brine, not just the roast.

rosemary brine for turkey

Hat tip to the iconic Pioneer Woman for inspiring the brine that’s behind my hit of a Thanksgiving turkey. It’s versatile too—works a charm on chicken, which I’ve tried before my blog took flight.

thanksgiving turkey ingredients

Here’s What You Need

  • Water: Base for brine, dilutes salt and carries flavors into the turkey.
  • Apple Cider: Adds a tart sweetness to the brine, tenderizing and flavoring the meat.
  • Orange Peels: Infuses brine with citrus notes, complementing the turkey’s savoriness.
  • Garlic: Imparts a strong, aromatic flavor to both brine and turkey.
  • Rosemary: Herbaceous touch that adds depth to the turkey’s flavor profile.
  • Thyme: Offers a subtle, earthy flavor to the brine.
  • Bay Leaves: Contributes a distinctive aroma and complexity to the brine.
  • Salt: Essential for brine; helps moisture retention for juicier turkey meat.
  • Peppercorns: Adds a spicy kick to the brine, infusing the turkey with warmth.
  • Turkey: The centerpiece, a canvas for the brine and seasonings.
  • Butter: Ensures moistness and golden, crispy skin when roasted.
  • Red Apples: Sweetness to stuff the turkey, pairs well with savory flavors.
  • Oranges: The flesh stuffed inside imparts moisture and a fruity undertone to the meat.
simmering brine

Let’s Cook!

The secret to that oh-so-flavorful brine? Letting it simmer until the orange peels practically beg for mercy, sopping up all that juicy goodness from the water and apple cider. And patience, folks—it’s vital to let the brine cool its heels before dousing your bird in it. A brining bag is your friend here, letting the turkey marinate for a solid 16 to 24 hours is the way to go.

washing turkey

A few hours before cooking the bird, let it sit in a cool water bath to help reduce the saltiness of the brine. Don’t worry, the turkey won’t lose all the salt it has soaked in, but it certainly won’t be overwhelming this way.

The next step is extremely important to perfect, crispy and golden brown skin on your bird: PAT THAT BABY DRY. I mean really get in there with a handful of paper towels. Get beneath the skin, under the legs and wings. You want the bird completely dry before you butter it up. Some recipes even recommend letting the bird sit at room temperature for a bit to continue to dry.

buttering turkey

You are also going to need to rub the bird down in butter if you want to achieve a nice golden skin – so if you are squeamish to touching raw meat and separating the skin from the flesh of the bird, you might want to assign this task to someone else. But truly, this step is the MOST IMPORTANT step to getting that bird perfect.

Turkey Brining and Cooking Tips

  • The Right Salt Ratio: Make sure to use the correct salt-to-water ratio to avoid an overly salty turkey.
    • The amount of salt in the brine is crucial; too much can ruin your bird, and too little won’t season it sufficiently. A general rule is to use 1 cup of salt per gallon of water.
  • Brine Cooling Time: Allow the brine to cool completely before adding to the turkey.
    • Adding hot brine to the turkey will start cooking the bird prematurely and can lead to bacterial growth. Always cool the brine to room temperature, which usually takes a few hours.
  • Brine Soaking Duration: A full 16-24 hours of brining ensures optimal flavor and moisture.
    • Don’t short-change the brining time. A turkey that hasn’t brined long enough won’t absorb all the flavors and moisture, leaving you with a less-than-stellar result.
  • Patting the Turkey Dry: Thoroughly drying the turkey is critical for crispy skin.
    • After removing the turkey from the brine and water bath, dry it meticulously inside and out with paper towels. A dry skin will result in that coveted crispy finish after roasting.
  • Room Temperature Butter: Soft butter spreads more easily and evenly.
    • Softened butter will not only coat the turkey more effectively but also help the seasonings stick to the bird and ensure an even, golden brown skin when roasted.
  • Butter Under the Skin: Separating the skin and adding butter directly on the meat.
    • Gently lifting the skin and spreading butter underneath helps to directly season the meat while keeping it moist during the cooking process.
  • Turkey Rotation: Rotating for even browning.
    • Turn the turkey during cooking to ensure it browns evenly on all sides. This prevents one side from drying out before the other side is cooked.
  • Resting Time: Let the turkey rest before carving to lock in the juices.
    • Resting allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, ensuring that your turkey will be moist and flavorful when sliced. 20 to 30 minutes should suffice for proper resting.
golden thanksgiving turkey

For my turkey debut, it was all applause. He made his grand oven entrance at 350°F, foil-cloaked for the first act of forty-five minutes. Once the foil came off, it was all about the browning spotlight. Baste duty every twenty and a rotation routine every hour ensures a uniformly bronzed star. After about three hours and an internal temperature of 160°F, it was curtain call.

I then tented him under some foil once I removed him from the oven and let him rest for about thirty minutes prior to serving. During that time I used the excess juices to make a simple gravy and used the still hot oven to reheat my corn bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, onions, and squash. I also served potato soup and a cranberry brussels sprouts dish made in the slow cooker all morning. Fortunately for me (and my fam) we’re functioning with two ovens this year – I’ll never know how I got so spoiled!

Carving Tips

Here’s how to carve your turkey for the grand presentation:

  1. Let the Turkey Rest: Make sure your turkey has time to rest after roasting. This pause is crucial for keeping the meat juicy.
  2. Remove the String: Snip away any trussing strings. They’ve done their job; it’s time for them to bow out.
  3. Start with the Legs: Begin by separating the leg from the body. Cut through the skin, find the joint, and guide your knife through.
  4. Separate the Thigh from the Drumstick: Dislocate and slice through the joint connecting these two pieces. The correct spot ensures a clean cut.
  5. Slice the Thigh Meat: Flip the thigh over to skin-side down and cut parallel to the bone to remove the meat.
  6. Carve the Breast: Make an initial deep cut at the base of the breast, then slice downward to remove the meat in one large section.
  7. Remove the Wings: Detach the wings by cutting at the joint. No need to wrestle; a good knife finds the gap easily.
  8. Slice the Breast Meat: Against the grain, slice the breast for maximum tenderness.
  9. Arrange and Serve: Present the carved turkey on a platter, ready for your guests to indulge.
thanksgiving feast

Happy Holidays!

Alright, Hungry People, let’s wrap this feast up! You’ve got the game plan for a turkey that promises to steal the show with its juicy goodness and buttery glory. This bird’s been brined and buttered, roasted and rested, and now it’s ready to hit your table with a bang.

Remember, the best part about cooking is making it your own, so feel free to play around with the spices in the brine or the fruit in the stuffing. Just keep that turkey moist and flavorful, and you’re golden. Now, go forth and make this the star of your holiday spread.

And don’t forget, the biggest compliment to your chef skills will be the sound of silence as everyone stuffs their faces – so Enjoy!

golden thanksgiving turkey

How to Brine and Cook a Turkey with Golden Crispy Skin

The Starving Chef
Savory and moist brined turkey with a butter rub and fruit stuffing.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 6 hours
Cook Time 3 hours
Total Time 9 hours
Course Christmas, Thanksgiving
Cuisine Holidays
Servings 8



  • 10 cups water
  • 3 cups apple cider
  • 3 orange peels
  • cup garlic minced
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 10 sprigs thyme
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 ½ cup salt
  • ¼ cup whole peppercorn


  • 13-15 lb turkey
  • ½ cup butter room temperature
  • 2 red apples chopped
  • 3 oranges peels removed


  • In a large pot, combine the water and apple cider. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat.
  • While waiting for the water to heat, peel three oranges and roughly chop the peels. Reserve the peeled oranges for later use with the turkey.
  • Add the chopped orange peels, minced garlic, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, salt, and whole peppercorns to the pot to create the brine. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil for 10 minutes, then remove it from heat and allow it to cool completely, approximately 3-4 hours.
  • Place the turkey breast side down in a large brining bag set inside a large pan or roasting dish to catch any leaks. Pour the cooled brine over the turkey, ensuring it is completely submerged. Brine the turkey for 16 to 24 hours, rotating it once halfway through the brining time.
  • One hour before you plan to cook the turkey, remove it from the brine and discard the brine. Rinse the turkey by placing it in a sink full of cool water to remove excess salt, soaking for 15-20 minutes. While the turkey soaks, allow the butter to reach room temperature.
  • Remove the turkey from the water and pat it dry with paper towels, including under the skin. Let it air dry for an additional 10-15 minutes to ensure the skin will crisp up when cooked.
  • Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Rub the room temperature butter all over the turkey, under the skin, and on the outside, to cover it completely.
  • Stuff the cavity of the turkey with the reserved orange insides and chopped red apples.
  • Place the turkey breast side up in a large roasting pan. Cover it loosely with foil and roast for 45-60 minutes covered. After this time, remove the foil and continue to roast, increasing the oven temperature to 375°F (190°C) and rotating the turkey every 30 minutes to ensure even cooking. Baste the turkey with pan juices every 20 minutes.
  • Once fully cooked, remove the turkey from the oven and tent it with foil. Let it rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.
  • Carve the turkey by starting at the breastbone and working down and around the ribs. Separate the wings and legs as desired.
  • Serve the turkey with your favorite sides at a festive gathering and finish with a hearty gravy and serve with generous portions. Happy holidays!
Keyword turkey
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