The combination of words may change from family to family, but it is universally acknowledged by children everywhere that it takes one simple phrase to set up the most classic of dinnertime wars: “Eat your steamed vegetables.” Whether uttered over a weekday dinner, restaurant outing or the monumental I-slaved-over-the-stove-all-day-feast, you knew the battlefield was set as soon as the word “steamed” clattered loudly over the good china. As an adult preparing to create your own decadent spread this holiday season, I suggest going with a preparation method that avoids those childhood scars and asserts yourself as the grown-up carnivore that you have grown to be—and what could be more grown-up than incorporating craft beer into the cooking of a holiday meal with a good old-fashioned beer brine?
Though similar to marinating, brining is different in that turkey is soaked for 16-18 hours in a heavily salted concoction of herbs, spices and in this instance, beer. Add a little science, toss around the word “osmosis,” and you get a process in which moisture is drawn into the meat resulting in a tender and juicy turkey that has been enhanced by your chosen ingredients and tenderized by the addition of beer.
I decided to create a brine recipe that would make my holiday turkey an all-in-one meal. Typically I only use warm spices on pork, but with the heavy salt content present in the brine that would be applied to the turkey, my taste buds gravitated toward citrus and sugar in the hope that it would balance the saltiness that would inevitably be drawn into the meat. The citrus in this recipe was provided by sliced tangelos and a citrusy wheat beer. Be aware that you may want to adjust ingredients based on the beer you choose. For example, many people find that an IPA brings out the saltier and spicier flavors in food which means that you would be wise to add different herbs and spices to the brine if you have you heart set on using that particular style of beer.
Beer Brine for a Citrus Turkey
- 1 Turkey, completely thawed and rinsed (my small turkey weighed in at 6.04 lbs
- 3 quarts Water
- 1 quart Beer (32 ounces) (Note: A bomber can range from 22-25 fluid ounces and a six pack will usually add up to 72 ounces, but you should always check your bottle or packaging to be sure.)
- 6 Tangelos (or other citrus fruit)
- 2 cups Salt
- 1 cup Brown Sugar
- ½ tbsp Cinnamon
- ½ tbsp Ground Clove
- 1 tbsp Nutmeg
- 2 tsp Ground Pepper
- 1 Oven Bag
- 1 Roasting Pan
In a large pot combine the salt, sugar and spices with three quarts of water, stirring occasionally as it warms. When the mixture begins to boil, take it off the stove and allow it to fully cool before adding the beer. Make sure that the brine is completely cool before pouring it into the oven bag with the turkey because hot liquid will begin to cook the meat prematurely. Placing the brine briefly in the fridge or freezer will help to speed the cooling process as well as give you time to clean and truss your turkey if you so desire.
As soon as the brine has cooled and your turkey is ready to go, slice the tangelos and set them aside. If you want to baste the turkey with citrus or other flavors from your brine as it cooks, slice only four tangelos and save two, setting them aside with a small portion of brine in a separate container. For easy handling and transport from fridge to counter, I put the turkey into an oven bag and set the bag into a roasting pan with high sides that kept the bag from rolling and spilling. Once you have the turkey situated, pour the brine into the bag and top with the tangelo slices.
The turkey should remain in the brine for 16-18 hours, but you can adjust the time according to your cooking schedule. When you are ready to roast the turkey, remove it from the brine and thoroughly rinse, then thoroughly dry—otherwise, leaving water on the skin will end up steaming the turkey. (And who wants steamed turkey? Save it for the vegetables.) Cook your turkey as you normally would, but if you have decided to baste the turkey with the brine and tangelos you set aside, pause an hour into roasting and slice your tangelos in half so that you can squeeze them over the turkey after you have brushed a layer of brine over the skin.
I found that basting the turkey with brine and tangelo juice made the outer meat taste sweet with warm flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg, lightening the sugary base that had cooked the skin crispy. The meat underneath picked up a lot of the cranberry beer’s zest while retaining some of the semi-sweetness of the tangelos that sat in the brine alongside the turkey. Although they were unusual flavors for a holiday turkey, the moist and tender meat had all the fixings of family gathering without the actual dishes: cinnamon and nutmeg, pumpkin pie, cranberry-orange sauce and a cold glass of beer.
Makenzie Ladd, Store Manager & Beer Consultant - Sarasota