Should You Brine Your Turkey?

When it comes to preparing Thanksgiving turkeys, there are two camps: the briners and the anti-briners.

What is brining? At its most basic, brining is submerging meat in a solution of salt and water for many hours before cooking. The purpose is to enhance the meat’s ability to retain moisture and tenderness while seasoning it. Brining is relatively easy, inexpensive and produces great results. Brined meat is wonderfully juicy and full of flavor – all the way to the bone.

Lean, mildly flavored meats that are usually cooked to a high internal temperature are great candidates for brining, such as turkeychickencaponpoussinveal and pork.

Of course, when you start with a D’Artagnan turkey, there’s less need to improve the simple and delicious nature of the bird.

For small birds like poussin, brining is easy. This is step one of our simple grilled poussin recipe.

When it comes to the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, the brining question becomes crucial. Because of how large turkeys are, the brining vessel needs to be huge. Some people use coolers and fill their brining solution with ice cubes to maintain temperature for the 12 hours or more of brine time. With all the details of a grand holiday meal to attend to, dealing with a cooler full of turkey water and ice cubes is not our idea of a good time.

Turkeys require large vessels for brining. Photo: Scott Feldstein, Flickr

Dry-Brining is Better

We like the dry brine for several reasons. Dry brining entails rubbing the turkey with salt, sugar and spices of your choice, and leaving it uncovered in the refrigerator for a day, or up to three days, before roasting.

These are a few of the reasons we prefer a dry brine:

It’s far easier. No coolers, bathtubs filled with ice, or buckets lined with plastic bags. As long as you can clear space in the fridge for the turkey, and have a pan to put the turkey in, you are ready to dry brine.

No messy water. The logistics of soaking a 16-20 lb turkey are somewhat daunting to the average cook. And with everything else that you need to do for Thanksgiving, do you really want to fuss with a heavy tub of brine solution that may or may not fit in the refrigerator?

The skin drys out. We know the benefits of air-chilled poultry – first among them is perfectly crispy skin when roasted. If you bloat your turkey with water and salt, you are making that desirable outcome less likely. In fact, many recommend drying all poultry (with or without brine spices) in the fridge before roasting, to achieve the golden-brown crispy skin that we all love.

Dry Brined Turkey Joy Flickr.jpg
Dry brining a turkey. Photo: Joy, Flickr

Dry-Brining Tips:

  • Make sure the turkey is fully thawed before dry brining.
  • Separate the skin from the meat and rub some brine in there, too. We always recommend placing truffle butter under the skin before roasting, so you’ll be taking the first step by loosening the skin at this point.
  • Plan for 3 days of dry-brine time for optimal results. Let that salt really penetrate into the meat. If your turkey is sharing shelf space with other items, loosely cover the bird with plastic wrap, but be sure it gets at least 12 hours uncovered before roasting.

Plan the perfect Thanksgiving dinner with one of our heritage or organic turkeys. Order today and choose a delivery date close to Thanksgiving.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. coloradohope says:

    I enjoy getting these emails. I have gotten my turkeys from Heritage Food for many years and they are delivered on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. They come fresh, which is good, but I have two problems with your dry brining recommendation. First, I don’t have three days to brine and second, I don’t have the refrigerator space for two fairly large turkeys. I think the refrigerator space issue has to be a big one for many of us without commecial kitchens. And then we need space for all of the other Thanksgiving food too. I’m thinking of solutions to this issue since I do know how good chickens are when the skin is really dry. I really thank you for this and all of the other suggestions I’ve used or just dreamed of using.

  2. Ben Hammer says:

    Do you recommend a dry brine if you are sous vide’ing cut up whole chicken for 8-24 hours?

    1. D'Artagnan says:

      No brining is needed if cooking sous vide.

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