I have been brining my turkey for the last 20 years. I first learned about the magic of brining from America’s Test Kitchen which was then an advocate for wet brining because it flavors the turkey and breaks down some of the proteins, allowing the turkey to retain more moisture. If I followed their instructions to the letter, my turkeys always came out well seasoned and moist. If I didn’t measure the appropriate amount of salt and just poured it in the water bath willy nilly, my turkey came out too salty and if I varied the brine with additional ingredients other than salt like sugar or apple juice, my turkey didn’t come out as moist or flavorful. The process of wet brining was challenging as well. Where do you store your turkey in gallons of salted water for 8-10 hours? I solved that by putting it in a clean insulated cooler with ice and stored it in a cool place overnight. Then I discovered Dry Brining from an article in the Los Angeles Times written by Russ Parsons, the food editor. His contention was that wet brining resulted in an over salted and spongy turkey and required an enormous amount of salt.
So for the last five years, I have been dry brining my turkeys with fantastic results, however I find the storage issue for the turkey to be a little more challenging than the wet brine. The dry brine requires the salted turkey to stay in the refrigerator three days and the salt to be massaged into the bird periodically throughout the three days. (I have skipped this step many times without any noticeable consequences.) I have also modified my brining time to 24 to 48 hours ahead of time and to include a few herbs and some vegetables and fruit stuffed into the cavity, resulting in a much more flavorful bird. The dry brine only requires 4 tablespoons of Kosher salt and because of this, the drippings from the cooked bird are perfectly seasoned to add to your gravy.
Whichever brining method you choose, I encourage you to try it this Holiday season and see what a difference it makes to your turkey.
Recipe for Wet Brine
• 1 ¼ cups salt
• 1 ¼ cups sugar
• 2 bay leaves
• 1 medium onion, peeled and halved
• 2 cloves
• 1 10- to 12-pound turkey, washed, giblets removed
Place salt, sugar and 1 quart hot water in a large deep pot and whisk until salt and sugar crystals dissolve. Whisk in 4 quarts cold water. Pin bay leaves to onion halves with cloves and add them to brine. Let mixture cool to room temperature.
Add turkey, placing a large heavy pot or sealed zip-top bag filled with cold water on top to keep bird submerged. Place pot in refrigerator and marinate overnight. Roast or smoke turkey as you wish.
Recipe for Dry Brine
1/2 c. good kosher salt
1 T. fresh thyme finely minced
1 T. fresh rosemary or sage finely minced
1 t black pepper
Create a space in your refrigerator to accommodate the turkey. Place the turkey in a roasting pan or 1/2 sheet pan. The turkey needs to be thoroughly defrosted and dry. Evenly rub the salt/herb mixture over the turkey. Place the turkey in your refrigerator, covered loosely with parchment or wax paper. The idea is for the turkey to air dry overnight, so don’t wrap in plastic. You can leave the turkey in the dry brine for up to 48 hours but it really isn’t necessary.