Step up your turkey game during the holidays and be sure to impress your guests with this Traeger smoked turkey, infused with a brown sugar bourbon brine. This turkey is packed full of smoky-sweet flavors complemented by the natural flavors of the bourbon. The brown sugar bourbon butter glaze really takes it to the extreme and makes this an unforgettable centerpiece for your turkey-day feast! The best part… you have an excuse to sip on some bourbon while making the brine and glaze. Cheers!
What is brining?
Brining is quite simple. In its most basic form, you only need salt and water, plus a bit of time for the bird to soak. Brining works it’s magic through osmosis. Through osmosis, the salt and water will creep their way into the turkey, making it tender and moist. If you decide to add flavor and aromatics to your brine, they will also hitch a ride along with the salt and bring some deliciousness to the turkey.
How to thaw a turkey
Thawing a turkey is very simple. You have a few options for thawing it. You can place the turkey in the original packaging in the fridge. Allow 1 day for every 4 pounds that your turkey weighs.
My favorite way to thaw the turkey is to actually thaw and brine it at the same time. You can actually save tons of time by thawing your turkey in the brine because it helps the turkey thaw faster. After mixing your brining solution, ensure it is cool and put your frozen turkey in for a swim. Cover the turkey in the brine and refrigerate overnight. It will take approximately 30 minutes per pound to thaw it in the fridge. You will want to brine for some additional time, up to 24 hours more, once the turkey is fully thawed since the brine cannot absorb well into frozen meat.This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy.
Can you brine a turkey that is pre-injected with a salt solution?
Yes, you can! You may have noticed that the packaging on the frozen turkey you purchased at the store says that the bird already contains a salt solution. The birds are packed with a brine already in order to help the turkey freeze better and to preserve it up until you are ready to fire up the Traeger.
Some people will argue that if you brine a turkey that already is packed with a salt solution, you will make it too salty. However, the salt in the turkey and in the brine will want to reach equilibrium while it is soaking. If you make your brine way too salty, this could be a problem, but we shouldn’t have any issues since our brine is perfectly salted.
Fresh or frozen?
If you are still skeptical of whether or not you should brine your frozen turkey, you can make the decision real simple and not buy a frozen turkey. Grab a fresh turkey from the store. Then you won’t have to worry about thawing the turkey or potentially pumping it full of salt from the brine.
Ingredients for an always moist and tender turkey
You won’t want to skip the brine. I have smoked many turkeys, with and without a brine, and the brined turkeys are always way better. A great brine will have wonderful aromatics and flavors added to it, but, of course, you could simply brine in water and salt. For this Traeger brined turkey, I added some spices along with a healthy amount of bourbon to give it that extra kick!
Bourbon has a smokiness to it that really helps to complement the turkey after it spends hours in the smoke on the Traeger.
For the brown sugar bourbon turkey brine
- Cinnamon sticks
- Whole cloves
- Bay leaves
- Kosher salt (or regular table salt)
- Brown sugar
For the turkey
- Fresh or frozen turkey, thawed
For the brown sugar bourbon glaze
- Brown sugar
- Soy sauce
How to make the perfect brined smoked turkey on your Traeger
Smoking a turkey can sometimes feel overwhelming, but really it can be broken down into just a few steps. Since we will be brining this turkey, you can spread it out over a couple of days and not feel overwhelmed.
Day before the feast
You will want to ensure your turkey is mostly thawed the day before your turkey feast. If it isn’t thawed yet, you can thaw the turkey while brining. Be sure to give it 30 minutes of thaw time per pound of turkey while it is brining. This means for a 15-pound turkey, it will take about 7-8 hours to thaw in the brine. Then you will want to ensure it spends more time, up to 24 hours, in the brine to soak up those delicious flavors.
Step 1: prepare the turkey
Remove the turkey from the packaging and take out the giblets, gravy packet, metal cages, and pop up thermometer. You can save the giblets to make a gravy or stock. Everything else can be discarded.
Step 2: make the brine
Before smoking the turkey on the Traeger, it has to soak in the bourbon brine. Bring the water to a boil and add the cinnamon sticks, cloves, bay leaves, salt, and brown sugar. Allow these flavors to steep in the hot water. Remove the turkey brine from the heat and add the bourbon. Stir until the sugar and salt are completely dissolved.
Step 3: cool the brine
Cool the brine down with ice cubes. We want to be sure that the brine isn’t hot since this can promote bacteria growth.
Step 4: get a bucket or container
Place the turkey in a large container. I used a large, food-safe brining bucket. You can use the crisper drawer in your fridge. Or, if you have some 5-gallon buckets hanging around, you can use these liners. You will want to be sure that whatever container you do use, you will be able to fully submerge the turkey in the brine.
Step 5: brine the turkey
Dump the cool brine over the turkey. Add slices of lemon and oranges and other aromatics that you would like to include. If the brine isn’t covering the turkey completely, add some cold water to the brine, and mix it well. Cover the turkey and place it in the fridge overnight.
Step 6: make the glaze
Add the bourbon, brown sugar, butter, and soy sauce to a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 4 to 5 minutes stirring frequently. You can place the glaze in the fridge overnight and when you prepare the turkey the next day, simply warm it up briefly. You can warm it up in the microwave in 30 seconds intervals, being sure to stir it. Be careful not to heat it too much, you can easily burn the sugars and ruin the glaze.
Day of the feast
Now we can get down to business and get this turkey smoking! Be sure to plan for plenty of time to let the turkey cook fully and rest before serving. You will need to smoke the turkey on the Traeger for about 13-15 minutes per pound.
Step 1: glaze the turkey
Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it, and pat it dry. Place the turkey on your roasting pan and, using your basting mop or brush, coat the turkey with the brown sugar bourbon glaze. Use your hands to lift the skin from the turkey, slide your hands under the skin all the way up to the upper breast meat and around to the wings and thighs. Also, be sure to coat the meat under the skin with the glaze.
Step 2: stuff the turkey
Some of the spices will have fallen out of suspension in the brine and be sitting at the bottom of your brining bucket. You can use these leftover spices and the citrus which was used in the brine to stuff in the cavity of the turkey.
Step 3: smoke turkey on the Traeger
Place your thermometer in the thickest part of the breast and smoke the turkey in your Traeger at 300°F for one hour. After that, increase the temperature to 350°F and smoke until the internal temperature reaches 160°F – 165°F (see the notes in the recipe).
Step 4: keep on glazing
Baste the turkey with your brown sugar bourbon glaze every 30 minutes. It is important to close the lid of the Traeger quickly during this process so you can regulate your temperatures appropriately.
Step 5: cover and rest
Once the turkey reaches the desired internal temperature, remove it from the Traeger and cover it with aluminum foil. Allow it to rest for 20 minutes. Resting the turkey will allow the juices to reabsorb into the meat and, if you took the bird out at 160°F, ensure it reaches the USDA recommended temperature of 165°F during the carryover cooking.
Tip: carryover cooking occurs after you remove your meat from the smoker and allow it to rest. You can expect large pieces of meat to increase about 5°F during the carryover cooking.
Step 6: slice and serve
Slice the turkey and serve! All of the white meat will come from the breast while the dark meat will come from the legs and wings. Arrange them on the platter accordingly so your guests can take their pick. You can use the dripping in your roasting pan for a delicious gravy!
Timetable for a Traeger smoked turkey
Here is a general guideline for how long it will take to finish cooking this bourbon brined turkey on the grill. Use this as a guideline to plan your dinner but make sure you cook the turkey to the proper temperature.
This timetable is based on the temperature settings in the recipe card. The Traeger is initially set at 300°F for 1 hour then increased to 350°F until it is finished cooking. If you use a different temperature, the timing will change. You will also affect the time if you open the grill frequently or leave it open too long.
- 8 to 10 pounds = 1-3/4 to 2.5 hours
- 10 to 12 pounds = 2.5 to 3 hours
- 12 to 14 pounds = 3 to 3-1/2 hours
- 14 to 16 pounds = 3-1/2 to 4 hours
- 16 to 18 pounds = 4 to 4-1/2 hours
- 18 to 20 pounds 4-1/2 to 5 hours
Tip: if you have a different sized turkey, calculate the cooking time based on 13 to 15 minutes per pound.
What else is cooking?
This Traeger smoked turkey breast is wrapped in bacon and smoked until tender and delicious!
Another one of my favorite recipes for that turkey day feast is this wet brined Traeger smoked turkey. It is just as tender and delicious but more of a traditional smoked turkey.
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For the brown sugar bourbon brine
- 4 cups water (plus additional water later)
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 cup kosher salt (or 3/4 cup regular table salt)
- 2/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup bourbon
- 1 orange, sliced
- 1 lemon or lime, sliced
- 3 cups ice cubes (to help cool the brine)
For the turkey
- 1 (14-lb.) whole fresh or frozen turkey, thawed
For the brown sugar bourbon glaze
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup bourbon
- 8 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
Brown sugar bourbon brine:
- Remove the giblet and gravy package from inside the cavity of the turkey. Remove or discard any plastic or metal cages or pop-up thermometers. Tie the drumsticks together with kitchen twine.
- Get a container that is large enough to hold the turkey and enough water to cover the turkey.
- Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Toss in the cinnamon sticks, cloves, bay leaves, salt, and brown sugar. Remove from heat, add the bourbon and stir until the sugar and salt dissolve.
- Add the ice to cool the brine down. Make sure the brine cools down to room temperature before the next step. Add more ice if necessary.
- Place the turkey in the container and add the brining liquid. Toss in the orange and lemon slices.
- Top off the container with cold water. Make sure the turkey is completely submerged. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Make the brown sugar bourbon glaze:
- Add the bourbon, brown sugar, butter, and soy sauce to a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 4 to 5 minutes stirring frequently. Set aside for later.
Smoke the turkey:
- Preheat the Traeger grill to 300°F.
- Rinse the turkey and pat it dry. Place the turkey in a roasting pan and baste it with the bourbon glaze. Loosen the skin and brush the glaze underneath the skin. Tuck the wings under the back of the turkey (see video).
- Stuff the cavity of the turkey with the orange slices and spices that were used in the brine.
- Stick a leave-in thermometer into the thickest part of the breast. Place on the Traeger grill and close the lid.
- After the turkey cooks for 1 hour, turn the heat up to 350°F. brush it with more of the glaze. Rotate the turkey so it browns evenly. Make sure you close the lid quickly so the Traeger stays hot.
- Continue to baste the turkey every 30 minutes until the temperature on the meat thermometer reaches 160°F to 165°F (This usually takes 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours for a 14-16 pound bird) (see notes).
- Remove the turkey from the grill, cover with foil, and let rest for 20 minutes.
- The brown sugar bourbon glaze can be made in advance. It will get thick when it cools down. You can thin it out by warming it up briefly.
- If it takes more than 4 quarts of water to cover the turkey then make more brine solution at a ratio of ¼ cup of kosher salt (or 3 tablespoons table salt) to 1 quart of water.
- Remember to wash your sink well after you rinse the brined turkey to avoid cross-contamination.
- The FDA recommends cooking turkey to an internal temperature of 165°F. I remove the turkey when it reaches 160°F. The carry-over heat usually brings the temperature up to or over 165°F. I recommend you follow FDA guidelines.
- If you have a larger turkey the cooking times will be longer. Cook the turkey based on temperature. See the post for general timing guidelines for this Traeger smoked turkey.
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Nutrition InformationYield 16 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 128Total Fat 5gSaturated Fat 3gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 2gCholesterol 19mgSodium 7231mgCarbohydrates 13gFiber 1gSugar 12gProtein 2g
Nutrition information is a guideline only, is calculated automatically by third party software, and absolute accuracy is not guaranteed.