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Smoky Tea-Brined Turkey


Chef notes

Lapsang souchong is a special Chinese black tea that has been smoked dried over pinewood fire. The result is a delicious, slightly smoky and juicy bird — without smoking up your kitchen.


  • 1/4 cup smoky tea, such as lapsang souchong
  • 3 cups kosher salt
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 whole turkey (about 15 pounds)
  • 1 whole orange, quartered
  • 4 onions, peeled and quartered
  • 1 head garlic, cloves peeled and removed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • olive oil, for brushing



If your tea is loose, prepare a sachet, using a bit of cheesecloth and twine.


In a good-sized soup or stock pot, bring 9 quarts of water with the kosher salt and sugar to a boil. Add the tea sachet, turn off the heat and allow the brine to cool completely. Remove sachet and discard. The brine can be made a day or two ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator.


Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey's cavity. Submerge the bird in the prepared brine, cover and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Remove from the brine and place on a baking sheet, breast side up, lined with a wire cooling rack. Place uncovered overnight (or at least 12 hours) in the refrigerator for the skin to dry out. This will help achieve a crispy skin.


When you are ready to cook the turkey, remove the bird from refrigerator and let come to room temperature, about 2 hours or so.


Preheat the oven to 350 F.


Stuff the cavity of the bird with the orange and as many of the onion wedges as will reasonably fit, saving the rest of the onion for the bottom of the roasting pan. Gently tuck the wings back behind the body and tie the legs together to cinch up the cavity.


Place the bird breast-side up on a rotating rack within a roasting pan. Add the remaining onion wedges to the bottom of the pan along with the garlic cloves and bay leaves. Add the cider then top with enough water so there is a good quarter inch of liquid in the bottom of the pan. Brush the turkey generously with olive oil and place in the preheated oven.


Monitor the turkey for perfect coloring, covering the bird with foil if over browning. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 F and the juices run clear, about 3 to 3½ hours, depending on your oven and the size of your bird. Remove from oven and let rest, covered with foil, for at least 20 minutes before carving.