How to Brine and Cook a Turkey with Golden Crispy Skin

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golden thanksgiving turkey

With the holidays in full swing, it’s difficult to really blog and cook for company – Thanksgiving was a good example of my inability to photograph, edit, write, post AND entertain my guests all at once (I don’t recommend trying this, fellow bloggers). But in true Starving Chef fashion, I couldn’t resist at least documenting the bird from brine to bone.

This year was my first ever year where I was in charge of cooking the bird for the big day. I accepted it as a challenge and picked up a nice thirteen pound turkey from my local market. Now I’m not one to particularly like turkey; it’s a dry, generally flavorless bird if not cooked properly. The key to getting a juicy bird that’s full of flavor is actually not the cooking process itself, but the brine.

The best brine comes from my girl The Pioneer Woman, who strongly influenced this recipe and definitely is the one to attribute to my delicious Thanksgiving day turkey. This brine works well on chicken too, which I have done in the past, though prior to my blogger days.

The key to a flavorful brine is to let it cook until the orange rinds are totally tender and have absorbed a lot of water and apple cider. The next key to a perfect brine it to let it cool completely before pour it over the bird. I used a brining bag and let the turkey soak in the brine for at least sixteen to twenty four hours leading up to cooking.

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.

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.

golden thanksgiving turkey
golden thanksgiving turkey

For my first ever turkey, I think he came out pretty great. I popped him int the oven at 350 F for forty five minutes covered with foil, then removed the foil and continued to cook him until he started to get brown. I basted him in his own juices every twenty minutes and rotated his position in the oven every hour to try to get the most even browning possible. Overall, the turkey took about three solid hours to reach an internal temperature of 160 F.

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!

Happy Holidays!

golden thanksgiving turkey

How to Brine and Cook a Turkey with Golden Crispy Skin

The Starving Chef
The key to getting a juicy bird that's full of flavor is actually not the cooking process itself, but the brine.
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, add the water and apple cider and bring to a simmer. While the water is heating, remove the peel from three oranges and roughly chop. Reserve the insides of the oranges for the turkey.
  • Add the orange peel, garlic, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, salt and peppercorns to the brine. Bring to a rolling boil for 10 minutes then remove from the heat and let cool entirely – about 3-4 hours.
  • Place the turkey, breast side down, in a large bringing bag and place in a large pan or roasting dish to contain any possible leaks. Pour the cooled brine over the turkey then let the turkey soak in the brine for at least 16 hours and up to 24 hours, rotating once about halfway through.
  • One hour prior to cooking the turkey, remove the turkey from the brine. Discard the brine. Place the turkey in a large sink full of cool water. Let the turkey soak to remove excess saltiness, for at least 15-20 minutes. Let the butter come to room temperature while you wait.
  • Remove the turkey from the water bath. Use paper towels to pat the turkey completely dry, lifting the skin to dry the flesh beneath as much as you can. Let the bird air dry another 10-15 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 F. Use the room temperature butter and with your hands rub the butter all over the turkey, including under all the skin you can. Cover the turkey completely in butter.
  • Place the turkey in a large roasting pan breast side up. Cover with foil and place into the over. Cook while covered for 45-60 minutes. Remove the foil from the bird, and rotate the bird, as needed, in the oven for even cooking.
  • Raise the temperature of the oven to 375 F with one hour to go. Rotate the bird every 30 minutes to an hour to ensure even cooking. Baste the bird with the butter and fluids in the roasting pan every 20 minutes.
  • Remove the bird from the oven and use foil to tent around the bird. Let the bird rest for at least 20 minutes before slicing. Use the excess drippings in the pan to make a simple gravy.
  • Slice the turkey, starting at the breast bone and slice down the ribs on each side of the breast. Remove the wings and legs. Serve alongside a large Thanksgiving or Christmas feast, and enjoy! Happy holidays!
Keyword turkey
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