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7 Best Bourbon for Turkey Brine (2024 Updated)

Best Bourbon for Turkey Brine

Almost everyone cooks turkey on holidays, especially during Christmas dinner. But if you’re looking for a creative way to level up the taste of your turkey, better brine it with bourbon. We’ve gathered the best bourbon for turkey brine (2024 updated) and the ultimate recipe for you to try in the upcoming holiday celebration. Here’s the list.

Top 7 Best Bourbon for Turkey Brine 

7. Cody Road Bourbon

hand holding Cody Road Whiskey

Average Price: Around $35 for 750ml (Drizly)

Alcohol Content: 45%

Why We Like It:

Cody Road has vanilla, fruity sweetness, and light cinnamon spice with a smooth, creamy finish. Its 90-proof bottle has a bit of a kick and a slight burn on the throat.

Cody Road is a wheat bourbon with a 70% blend of corn, 20% wheat, and 10% barley on its mash bill.

This kind of bourbon results in a sweeter and softer whiskey. [1]

Its vanilla-forward aroma and pronounced sweetness from its mashbill are perfect for cooking dishes and desserts.

6. Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky

Bottle of Makers Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky

Average Price: Around $32 for 750ml (Drizly)

Alcohol Content: 45%

Why We Like It:

Instead of the usual rye content in mashbill, Maker’s Mark is made of winter wheat, making it easy to drink bourbon.

Its flavor profile is never sharp because of the limestone water used.

Maker’s Mark’s richness of sweet oak, fruity essence, and clean finish can also be your best friend in the kitchen, from simply deglazing it to complex sauces to brines.

5. Wild Turkey Bourbon

Wild Turkey Bourbon Bottle on top of a wooden table

Average Price: Around $27 for 750ml (Drizly)

Alcohol Content: 50.5%

Why We Like It:

This iconic bourbon is aged between six and eight years in the barrel. It has a classic bourbon flavor of vanilla, caramel notes, and a hint of sweetness from the oak. 

Wild Turkey is one of the excellent bourbons for cooking because of its complex tasting notes.

Its bottle has the right balance of spiciness and sweetness that complements a savory dish.

4. Tenth Ward Distilling’s Smoked Bourbon

Tenth Ward Distilling’s Smoked Bourbon bottle with glass and vintage pocket watch

Average Price: Around $44 for 750ml (Drizly)

Alcohol Content: 45%

Why We Like It:

Tenth Ward Smoked bourbon is a ’newborn’ style bourbon that is aged for about five months. It has a smoky-forward, sweet aroma and scotch-like tasting notes.

This smoked bourbon has prominent wood and caramel notes, with hints of smoke and oak finish.

The smokiness of this bourbon is perfect for achieving the toasty flavor of the turkey.

3. Woodford Reserve Bourbon 

woman pouring Woodford Reserve Bottle on a jigger

Average Price: Around $40 for 750ml (Drizly)

Alcohol Content: 45.2%

Why We Like It:

Woodford Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a fine and iconic whiskey with more than 200 flavor notes.

This straight-wheat bourbon is made from corn, wheat, rye, and malted barley. [2]

From bold grain and wood flavors to spice, sweet aromas and floral and fruit notes, Woodford Reserve is a great addition for cooking for an extra level of spiciness and complexity of flavors.

2. Jim Beam Apple Bourbon

hand holding Jim Beam Apple Bourbon

Average Price: Around $18 for 750ml (Drizly)

Alcohol Content: 35%

Why We Like It:

This Jim Beam Apple version is surprisingly smooth and juicy but not overpowering.

It is a premium blend of the original Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and apple liqueur.

Its fresh burst of green apple flavors enhances the rich bourbon making it a great option for cocktails, desserts, and other recipe dishes that calls for savory and fruity dishes.

1. Bulleit Bourbon Whiskey 

Bulleit Old Fashioned Cocktail

Average Price: Around $33 for 750ml (Drizly)

Alcohol Content: 45%

Why We Like It:

Bulleit Bourbon has a round profile that uses rye in its mash bill. Its corn, rye, and malted barley combination result in a bold, gentle spicy bourbon with a clean finish.

“You should brine your turkey. Don’t even think about not brining your turkey. Ever.”

– Kimbal Musk, Chef/Restaurateur

Bulleit bourbon is an excellent stand-alone spirit, but it’s also one of the best bourbons to use in your kitchen, whether in brining meat, making sauces, or savory dishes. 

How To Brine Turkey With Bourbon 

Prep Time: 24 hours

Total Time: 28 hours

Ingredients: 

Turkey

  • 1 whole Turkey, not pre-basted (10-12 lbs)

Brine

  • 1cup Bourbon
  • 4L water 
  • 1cup Kosher salt
  • ¾ cup Brown sugar
  • ¾cup Maple syrup
  • 1tbsp Black peppercorns
  • 1pc Orange, cut into squares
  • 1pc Lemon, cut into squares
  • 1tsp Whole cloves
  • 1pc Cinnamon stick
  • 2pcs Bay leaves

Herbed Butter

  • 2–4tbsp Butter, room temperature
  • ½tbsp thyme, chopped
  • ½tbsp rosemary, chopped
  • ½tbsp sage, chopped
  • 1tsp black pepper

For Turkey Stuffing

  • 2pcs Carrots, quartered 
  • 1pc Orange quartered 
  • 1pc Onion quartered 
  • 2sprigs rosemary
  • 5sprigs thyme

Instructions: 

For The Brine

Prepare the turkey, thaw if frozen, remove the giblets and neck, and trim all excess fat. For the brine, put two liters of water in a large pot and boil it over medium heat.

Add salt, sugar, maple syrup, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and bay leaves to steep in the boiling water.

Remove the brine from the heat and add the bourbon.

Let the brine cool a room temperature, and add the two liters of cold water and the orange and lemon.

Soak the turkey in the brine and let it sit in the fridge for three to 24 hours.

After Brining

Take the turkey from the brine and let it cool at room temperature. While waiting, combine all the herbed butter ingredients in a small bowl and preheat the oven to 325°F.

Dry the turkey with paper towels and place it on an oven rack with the breast side up.

Start stuffing the turkey with half of the carrots, oranges, and onions with rosemary and thyme.

Roasting Turkey

Scatter the other half ingredients into the rack surrounding the turkey. Get the herbed butter mixture and generously coat the turkey.

Place it in the oven and roast for about three hours.

Baste the turkey with chicken broth every hour and after three hours, or until it meets a 165°F inside, remove the turkey from the oven.

Let it rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.

FAQs Related to Best Bourbon for Turkey Brine

What does bourbon turkey brine taste like?

A bourbon turkey brine has sweet, toasty, and smoky flavors.
It is packed with incredible aromas from the herbed butter coating with the juicy, sweet, and smoky flavor from the brine. 

Can you use other alcohol other than bourbon to brine turkey?

Yes, you can use other alcohol other than bourbon to brine turkey.

You can replace it with another whiskey, like scotch. But you can also try replacing it with brandy, rum, or cognac.
 

What role does bourbon play in turkey brine?

Bourbon makes the brine taste better by giving it a little sweetness and making the turkey more interesting. It also helps tenderize the meat while infusing it with a rich, caramel-like essence.
 

Which bourbons are best for turkey brine?

Opt for high-quality bourbons with robust flavors. Some well-liked options are Woodford Reserve, Maker’s Mark, and Knob Creek. However, any bourbon that you enjoy drinking will likely work well in the brine.

How much bourbon should I use in the turkey brine?

The amount of bourbon you use depends on how much you like its flavor and how big your turkey is. As a general guideline, aim for around 1/2 to 1 cup of bourbon per gallon of liquid in the brine. Change the amount according to how much you like the taste.

Can I substitute bourbon with another alcohol?

Yes, you can swap bourbon with other drinks like whiskey or rum if you want. Just remember, each one will give your turkey a slightly different taste.

Do I need to adjust the salt content if I’m using bourbon in the brine?

No, you don’t need to adjust the salt content specifically because of the bourbon. Stick with your regular brine recipe and add or change the seasonings as you like.

Should I use bourbon in both wet and dry brines?

Yes, bourbon can be incorporated into both wet and dry brine recipes. In a wet brine, it blends with the liquid component, while in a dry brine, it can be mixed with the salt and spices before rubbing onto the turkey.

Can I taste the bourbon in the finished turkey?

The bourbon flavor in the finished turkey will be subtle but noticeable, especially in the meat closer to the surface. It adds a nuanced complexity rather than an overpowering taste of alcohol.

Do I need to adjust cooking times or temperatures when using a bourbon brine?

No, there’s no need to adjust cooking times or temperatures when using a bourbon brine. Follow your usual cooking instructions for roasting or smoking the turkey.

Should I inform guests if I’ve used bourbon in the turkey brine?

It’s considerate to inform guests if you’ve used bourbon in the turkey brine, especially if they have dietary restrictions or preferences regarding alcohol consumption.

Can I reuse the bourbon brine?

It’s not recommended to reuse the bourbon brine due to food safety concerns. Once the turkey has been brined, discard the brine to prevent any potential bacterial contamination.

Final Thoughts 

You can level up your bourbon-brined turkey dish with our top bourbon recommendations, plus a great recipe for the next holiday or simple family gathering celebrations.

For sweeter and softer flavor notes, you can use Cody Road or Makers Mark, but if you want a bolder flavor, go for Woodford Reserve or Bulleit.

Brining and roasting turkey will take time, but these bourbon selections will never disappoint you in having a delicious turkey brine dish.

References:

  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/bradjaphe/2018/05/18/is-wheated-whiskey-the-next-big-thing-in-bourbon 
  2. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-11/here-comes-the-wheat-whiskey-woodford-starward-bernheim 
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