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Turkey Talk: Wet Brine vs. Dry Brine

Wet Brine

wet brine turkey in bagTurkey brining has become a hot buzzword in kitchens everywhere over the years, especially around Turkey Day.  Nobody wants to eat a dried out turkey on Thanksgiving Day that requires you to drown the meat in gravy just so you can deem it edible.  Wet brining your turkey involves immersing the meat into a salt-water bath for 48-72 hours to achieve super moist turkey meat.  However, some skeptics say that while you do end up with moister meat, the texture may seem a little mushy and flavors may taste diluted.

My personal experience with a brined turkey occurred last Thanksgiving at my brother’s house.  He used a simple brine (recipe below) with the necessary salt-sugar-spice-water combinations, and completely submerged the turkey into a large container for 48 hours before cooking it Thanksgiving morning.  What resulted was a moist, flavorful bird that I remember to be one of the most heavenly turkeys I’d ever tasted.

Do bear in mind that the process of wet brining is considered to be a pain in the rear.  First off, that bird is normally pretty big, so you need a container that will hold the entire turkey, plus allow it to be completely submerged in your brining liquid.  Secondly, you will need refrigeration space for that container, because it must stay cold during the entire 48 hour brining process.  A “cooler” way to brine, saving you precious refrigeration space, would be to use a cooler large enough to hold your bird.  If you are using the cooler method, you will need to continually add ice each day to the cooler and check to make sure your temperature remains at or below 40 degrees to avoid any bacteria growth.

Dry Brine

bon appetit dry brine picIf you’re like me this year, and feel the traditional wet brining is just too much of a production, try a “dry brine.”  Dry brining involves massaging ingredients (like kosher salt, sugar, dried herbs, citrus zest, peppercorns, etc.) under and over the skin of your bird for a period of 2-3 days.  What makes this turkey so great?  It’s very simple, really: The salt draws moisture from the meat, but then the meat reabsorbs the liquid.  So in effect, you’re brining the turkey in its own juices.  This salting/curing of the meat is believed to be nearly as effective at preventing moisture loss as a wet brine, while the flavor gains are said to be more noticeable.


by Erica Ramsarran




For a 16 – 20 lb. Turkey:

2 2/3 cup kosher salt

1 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon whole peppercorns

1 teaspoon whole allspice berries

4 bay leaves

5 stems fresh thyme

3 stems fresh sage

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves

1/4 cup loosely packed parsley

½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes

4 cloves garlic, smashed with a knife

peels of 2 oranges and 2 lemons

1 gallon filtered water

4 pounds ice


wet brine ingredientsCombine the salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, bay leaves, thyme, sage, rosemary, parsley, garlic, and orange peel together in a large stock pot.  Add 1 gallon of water.  Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, then remove from heat.

Steep the mixture for 45 minutes. Then, add in enough ice to bring the brine amount up to 1.5 gallons.  For smaller stock pots, you may have to allow the brine to cool and add the additional amount when pouring the brine into the bag in the following step.

Place the turkey in a large zip-top bag.  Put the bagged turkey in a clean cooler. Pour the brine over the turkey, in the bag, making sure the breasts are fully submerged.  Zip the bag closed. Place the cooler in a cool place, such as your garage or, and allow the turkey to soak in the cold brine for 48-72 hours.

After the brining process, transfer the turkey to a roasting pan and discard the brine. Roast according to your preferred method.



Note: This is more of a technique than a recipe. It makes a bird that has concentrated turkey flavor and fine, firm flesh that is delicious as it is. Pick and choose different herbs, spices and flavors as you wish. Just don’t change one thing that is the most important ingredient for this dry brine: THE SALT.  Brush the bird lightly with butter before roasting.


dry brine citrus peppercorn2 tablespoons black peppercorns

2 Tbsp minced fresh rosemary

1 Tbsp minced fresh thyme

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

6 bay leaves

½ cup kosher salt

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

¼ cup lemon zest

2 tablespoons orange zest


Toast peppercorns, fennel & coriander seeds, bay leaves in a skillet until fragrant. Let cool, then crush in a bag using a rolling pin or heavy skillet. Mix with salt, sugar, rosemary, thyme, lemon zest, and orange zest.

DO AHEAD: Dry brine can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill.

1. Wash the turkey inside and out, pat it dry and weigh it. Measure 1 tablespoon of salt into a bowl for every 5 pounds of turkey (for a 15-pound turkey, you’d have 3 tablespoons).

2. Sprinkle the inside of the turkey lightly with salt. Place the turkey on its back and salt the breasts, concentrating the salt in the center, where the meat is thickest. You’ll probably use a little more than a tablespoon. It should look liberally seasoned, but not over-salted.

3. Turn the turkey on one side and sprinkle the entire side with salt, concentrating on the thigh. You should use a little less than a tablespoon. Flip the turkey over and do the same with the opposite side.

4. Place the turkey in a 2 1/2 -gallon sealable plastic bag, press out the air and seal tightly. Place the turkey breast-side up in the refrigerator. Chill for 3 days, turning it onto its breast for the last day.

5. Remove the turkey from the bag. There should be no salt visible on the surface and the skin should be moist but not wet. Place the turkey breast-side up on a plate and refrigerate uncovered for at least 8 hours.

6. On the day it is to be cooked, remove the turkey from the refrigerator and leave it at room temperature for a minimum of 1 hour and up to half a day to dry out for extra crispy skin.

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