Thanksgiving is upon us. Everyone knows what to expect. Turkey in the oven, hopefully not dry, but if so, the gravy boat to the rescue. The turkey will taste like, well, turkey. The skin will be nice and crispy no matter what, but what will the bird taste like? If the answer is turkey, then you are missing the proverbial gravy boat. Yes, it tastes like turkey, but that’s just the canvas of this masterpiece we call the holiday bird. That taste profile needs to be expanded upon with broad, bold brush strokes of flavor. How about adding the sweetness of a hard pear cider by brining it in a sweet beer? What about adding some smoke flavor to the turkey and on top of that, adding some smoky vegetables that soak up the turkey drippings as it is grilled making this cider brined grilled turkey breast a one pot meal? If you are so brave as to try this, what will you have? A new holiday tradition in which you will ask yourself every year why it took so long to change from the bland bird to a sweet, sultry, smoky turkey. I’ll hand it off to dad to show you exactly how to do this truly fabulous fowl…
First, the turkey breast must be prepared for brining. A 7.5 lb. bone-in turkey breast was purchased. This breast was previously frozen but I normally prefer fresh turkey when available. The whole breast and innards are pictured:
The spare parts shown will be set aside and refrigerated for use later in this recipe:
This grilling recipe calls for the turkey breast to be boneless. So…how will that be accomplished? Simply cut along next to the bone in the center and remove each half:
Both halves are separated from the carcass. I’m certainly not a professional meat cutter because there appears to be a bit of meat still left on the bones, but don’t discard them. Save them for turkey soup or stock. Turkey soup is a traditional day-after Thanksgiving dinner in our family:
Ingredients for the Brine:
1 quart hard pear cider
¼ cup salt
¼ cup brown sugar
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
2-3 bay leaves
1 tbsp. whole peppercorns, crushed
In the picture above, you can see both apple cider and hard pear cider. I did one breast in the apple and one in the pear. The pear was so much better, so I’m going to cover that in this recipe.
Combine all ingredients and the boneless breasts in a re-sealable plastic bag and refrigerate (turning occasionally) at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.
Next a dry rub.
Cider Brined Grilled Turkey Breast Dry Rub Ingredients:
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp oregano
½ tsp cumin
Set that aside and for now prep the wet rub:
Wet Rub Ingredients:
Repeat dry rub ingredients from above and then add ingredients below
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp mayonnaise
***Editor’s Note ~ Dry rub and wet rub with similar ingredients? Seems a little redundant. I thought the same thing. It will make sense in a minute***
This is a one pot meal in that we will make a smoky, veggie stew along withe the cider brined grilled turkey breast.
The Vegetable Ingredients:
16 oz parsnips, sliced
6 stalks celery, sliced
12 oz baby carrots
10 oz pearl onions, peeled (option: 2 medium onions quartered)
2 bay leaves
2 portabella mushroom caps, peeled and chopped
5-6 sprigs fresh thyme
12 red “B-size” potatoes, quartered
6 purple potatoes, quartered
12 fresh brussel sprouts, stem removed
64 oz turkey stock
A confession here…I probably could’ve used half the vegetable ingredients listed. The leftovers will not go to waste as smoked veggies are tasty with any main course. My other option would be to grill 4 breast halves for a better meat-to-vegetable ratio. I have no regrets as the vegetable pan was beautiful and delicious.
Does the dark brown color of portabella mushrooms in the lower right of the above picture turn you off? Suggest peeling them. I have an obsession with peeling mushrooms so bear with me please. It isn’t necessary but I really prefer doing it:
Breast halves are removed from the brine. Wet rub is applied under the skin of each breast half and the skin is placed back over the breast (use toothpicks to hold the skin in place if you pulled too much of it free):
Dry rub applied to the outside skin:
The grill is set up for indirect grilling with coals to the right and left or the flank method:
Unsoaked Apricot wood chunks were chosen for this grilling recipe but apple, peach, pear, or any fruitwood would suffice:
Roasting pan and roast rack set between the coals, although it will be be easier to add the veggies without the roasting rack:
Then add the parsnips and the thyme:
Celery, pearl onions, baby carrots, and brussel sprouts next:
Then red and purple potatoes are added along with the bay leaves:
Mushrooms and 32 ounces of turkey broth round out the vegetable medley for this grilling recipe:
Only thing missing is the roasting rack:
The brined and rubbed turkey breast halves are mounted on the roast rack and the spare parts are dropped into the vegetable mix for added flavor. The roast rack enables the apricot wood smoke to encircle the meat. Halfway through the cook time the roast rack will be removed and the turkey breast halves will be added to the veggies and broth:
The lid is lowered and I’m off to search for proper refreshment while the grilled turkey breast smokes. Expected cooking time, grill temp at 325-350, will be approximately 75-90 minutes or until the breasts reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Twenty minutes in and the breast halves are browning and the broth is beginning to simmer:
I felt my one-pan effort wasn’t grilling fast enough so more coals were added and spread directly under the pan then the charcoal grate was raised one notch. Another 32 oz. turkey broth and the mixture began bubbling nicely as the sun disappeared on this beautiful, but breezy, day.
After 30-40 minutes on the grill the roast rack is removed with silicon/oven safe gloves and the turkey breast halves are nestled into the vegetable medley for the last part of the cook:
Your guests will be impressed with the whole dinner in one pan, which will allow you to enjoy the meal without the last minute stress of trying to time several dishes simultaneously.
Where’s the probe thermometer? I decided to rely on the little pop-up timer provided with the bird breast:
The ingredients have been grilled for one hour and 30 minutes on the grill and the breast halves are browned nicely and the vegetables are cooked through and full of great smoke flavor:
The grilled turkey breast halves are removed from the pan to rest, foil-covered, for 10 minutes:
Make sure to remove the bay leaves, giblets and neck and discard while the cider brined grilled turkey breast rests.
Both turkey breast halves are sliced:
The pan o’ veggies is ready to serve.
I prefer to serve this grilled one-pan meal in a bowl with a bit of broth and turkey slices on top:
While the turkey breast should be the star I feel the show was stolen by the tasty smoky vegetables. The hard pear cider version was quite fascinating and brought a wonderful flavor dimension to our dinner table. Cheers!
If you have any questions about the hard pear cider brined turkey breast, feel free to leave a comment below or shoot me an email.
If you would like a whole turkey recipe, this is our go-to turkey recipe for a traditional bird.
Cider Brined Grilled Turkey Breast
- 2 boneless turkey breasts
- 1 qt hard pear cider
- ¼ cup salt
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic crushed
- 2 to 3 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp whole peppercorns crushed
Dry Rub Ingredients
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp chili powder
- ½ tsp oregano
- ½ tsp cumin
Wet Rub Ingredients
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp chili powder
- ½ tsp oregano
- ½ tsp cumin
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp mayonnaise
- 16 oz parsnips sliced
- 6 stalks celery sliced
- 12 oz baby carrots
- 10 oz pearl onion peeled (option: 2 medium onions quartered)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 portabella mushroom caps peeled and chopped
- 5 to 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- 12 red “B-size” potato quartered
- 6 red potatoes quartered
- 12 Brussels sprouts stem removed
- 64 oz turkey stock
- Combine all ingredients and the boneless breasts in a re-sealable plastic bag and refrigerate (turning occasionally) at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.
Turkey Breast Instructions
- Peel the skin back and slather the wet rub over the breasts and then pull the skin back over the paste
- Use toothpicks to hold the skin in place if you pull it back too much
- Apply the dry rub to the outside of the skin
- Prepare the grill for two zone grilling: Coals and smoke wood on one side, nothing on the other
- Target temperature for the grill is 325-350
- Place a roasting pan on the side with no coals with a roast rack in the middle
- Add the vegetable ingredients to the roasting pan and the turkey breasts to the roasting rack
- Expected cooking time is 75-90 minutes
- After 40 minutes, remove the breasts from the rack, take the rack out of the pan and put the turkey in with the vegetables
- When the breasts reach 165 degrees pull the roasting pan from the grill
- Remove the breasts from the pan, place on a cutting board and cover in a foil tent for 10 minutes to let the meat rest and the juices which are in an excited state to redistribute throughout the meat
- Slice the breasts and serve over a bowl of smoked vegetable stew