Here’s a bold statement for you: if you aren’t planning on brining your turkey before you cook it next Thursday, you are making a mistake. A big one. Now, I tend to not be very fussy in the kitchen—and I like to skip steps whenever I can—but brining is one of those steps that you shouldn’t skip.
It sounds like something only fancy TV chefs do, but it really isn’t very complicated at all. In fact, it’s pretty quick! And it makes such a huge difference. It’s like spending $1 to get $100 back. You would do that, wouldn’t you? So then you should totally brine your turkey. #logic
If you’re reading this and thinking, “Um, Cass, that’s great, but I don’t even know what brining means.” Well, hey! I get that. I didn’t either until a few years back. Let me do some explaining.
Brining is treating a bird before cooking with salt to help retain moisture and flavor. There are two kinds of brining—wet and dry. When you hear most folks talk about brining, they are referring to wet brining. It’s where you make a big ole vat of salted water (usually with some aromatics thrown in) and soak your bird overnight. The salt helps some of the brine get absorbed into the meat, and the moisture is retained when cooking—making the bird more tender and moist. You can find thousands of recipes for wet brines all across this glorious internet of ours.
Dry brining is the same idea, but without the water. Instead, you coat the bird in a salt mixture. The salt soaks into the turkey and lets the natural moisture of the meat stay in your final product.
Now, a lot of people out there will tell you you MUST wet brine. They bring out their big coolers or five gallon buckets each Thanksgiving and say that a wet brine is the key to a tasty turkey. And, while I do agree that wet brining a turkey is better than no brine at all, I’m 100% in the dry brine camp. If you have a wet brine recipe and method that you and your family love, cool beans, keep on keepin’ on. But if you’re looking to try out a much more simple way of getting a juicy and flavorful bird this Thanksgiving, I suggest you try a dry brine.
Dry brining a turkey is easier, less messy, and produces a more flavorful bird, in my opinion. Serious Eats has a great (and exhaustive) article up about why dry brining is so much more awesome than wet. I won’t rehash it here, but basically, dry brining is the best combination of simplicity, flavor, and moisture. I’m all about making my Thanksgiving day prep easier, and dry brining is one way I do that.
So, let me show you how to dry brine a turkey! It’s really easy. Like, four steps easy.
1. Dry off your defrosted turkey.
Take either your defrosted frozen turkey or your fresh turkey, and remove the giblets (and set those aside to make stock—no waste!), and then pat the turkey dry inside and out with paper towels. Place that beautiful bird on a baking or roasting rack set on a rimmed baking sheet.
2. Mix up the brine.
For every five pounds of turkey you have, mix together 1 tablespoon Kosher salt, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and two teaspoons dried herbs of your choice (rosemary, sage, parsley, thyme—all those good Turkey Day flavors—a good poultry seasoning blend also works).
Sprinkle the mixture all over the turkey—inside the bird, on the breasts, on the legs and wings—everywhere! No need to rub or pat it in. Just let it fall on the skin. You don’t need to be obsessive about it, just give it a nice little blanket of snow.
You’re almost done! Now just slide that turkey on the baking sheet into the fridge, uncovered. 24 hours will give you good results, but for the best flavor, you want the brine to work it’s magic for three days (meaning you need to start this on Monday for Thanksgiving Day roasting). Then, you’re ready to roast, fry, or smoke, proceed with your usual recipe—just skip any more added salt your recipe may call for. No need to wipe the brine off before roasting.
My family uses this recipe (I can’t believe I found it online somewhere!) that my Mama clipped out of a newspaper about a decade ago. I skip the brining step in the recipe, and instead do my dry brine, but follow the rest as written. I’ve been using that recipe for years, and it consistently produces the best, most flavorful and juicy roasted turkey ever! We also sometimes smoke a turkey in our family (using apple cider in the smoker), and that is amazing as well. You can use whatever recipe you like.
Just promise me you won’t put the stuffing inside the turkey, k? Not only can it be dangerous, but it also soaks up all the moisture from the turkey like a sponge, leaving you with a dry, sad turkey that no amount of brining can save. Friends don’t let friends stuff their turkeys. And I consider you a friend.
And that’s it! You’ll get a flavorful, juicy, and totally awesome turkey without a ton of added work. Dry brine, for the win. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!