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To Brine or not to brine? . . . that is my question.

I have been brining for the last three years but read two recipes in the LA times and Food and Wine that dont call for brining. One calls for "salting the bird" for three days but I will only have a day - MAYBE two to work with the bird. The other recipe calls for a simple seasoning, herbs, salt and pepper and tucking bacon underneath the skin - this obviously sounds good, but, frankly I just dont know. I am using a Diestel free range turkey - any suggestions to help suade my indecisive mind will be much appreciated.

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  1. We always brine the turkey. The process adds seasoning, salty and flavor to the bird. If you do not use too much salt and seasoning if will serve as a background taste to the turkey itself.

    I just use polutry seasong, salt, brown sugar and some herbs (bay leaf, thyme, sage or whatever tickles my fancy but everythin in the pantry). Boil some water to dissolve the salt, and sugar and blend the herbs then add to a bucket of ice. Brine overnigth at least.

    1. I think it depends on how you cook it. Brining turkey has become so popular because we are trying our darnedest to keep the breast meat form drying out. It's a result of over-engineering our "butterball-ish" turkeys to the point where they are bred for more meat and no flavor. If you're using a good quality bird and cook it at a high temperature for a short period of time, (like 450 for about 2 hours) you're usually ok. Will brining help add flavor and moisture? Of course, but it also takes a good bit of time and effort itself.

      3 Replies
      1. re: HaagenDazs

        The method and cooking time is also very important to the whole process. I also cook at high temperature for a short time and then let it sit in the oven with the oven turned off to complete the process. The temperature and total time will depend on the bird. Then if it a large turkey I will remove the hingquarter and put it back into the oven for a short time to cook.

        Nothing worse then a dry turkey.

        1. re: yimster

          I have a pre brined turkey I ordered and was curious if when I go to cook it if I just dry it off and put it in the oven or if I need to put butter on the outside still, any other seasoning ? Any input?

          1. re: Joels

            I would butter it before I put it into the oven and then one hour into the process I would check the skin and see if it is brown enough for looks and then complete the cooking process. I normally let it rest for a couple of hours to finish the cooking and just prior to serving I base the turkey with some honey and water mixture and heat the bird a little (without over cooking to give it a glaze).

      2. I would definitely brine. It adds so much flavor and is like an insurance policy for the inadvertent over cooking.

        1. I started brining two years ago and I think it makes all the difference in the world. Some people will say with the 'right' bird you don't have to brine and while that may be true, I find with my organic, local, fresh turkeys it still makes a marked difference. I'm a fan of not just salt but a heavy dose of brown sugar in the brine as well. Actually, my favorite brine includes: kosher salt, brown sugar, crushed garlic, peppercorn, onion and a bit of citrus.

          Good luck - why not give it a go? It certainly won't be worse than what you'd make instead and it might be better!

          5 Replies
          1. re: krissywats

            I agree completely. I think the only question is effort/time. If you have the time and desire, go for brining. If not, try a quick roast (no stuffing!) and watch the temps like a hawk.

            1. re: krissywats

              btw - I brined and THEN added a prosciutto hazelnut compound butter under the skin and it was wonderful.....so if you're careful with the amount of salt I don't think there's any reason you can't do both the brine AND the bacon.

              1. re: krissywats

                This is good to know, because I've been brining for the past few years and loving it, but I've also been dying to do a bacon butter under the skin, but have been worried about too much saltiness. I'm going to try it out this year.

                1. re: JasmineG

                  I think it's just important to rinse the bird well and you'll be fine. Good luck!

                  1. re: JasmineG

                    For many years I have been doing a brine along with a stuffing that goes under the skin. In addition to bacon, the stuffing includes sausage along with the regular stuffing ingredients (onion, bread, etc). This seems to assist in keeping the breast meat moist as well.

                    I make sure the turkey is rinsed well to insure it isn't too salty before I stuff it.

              2. I've brined for the last three years, very happy with it. We eat fresh free-range birds, Bronze Heritage this year. My understanding is that brining is especially helpful with the leaner, less breast-heavy, heritage birds.
                Those "butterballish" birds are already brine-injected btw. I don't mess with those things.

                But I'm totally wondering about a Zuni-chicken method salting . . . the "dry brine". Kinda makes you want to cook two birds side-by-side . . .

                6 Replies
                1. re: pitu

                  The "dry-brine" method works great, but you do need 3 days (in my experience). An article I heard on the radio did a comparison test and the "the Judy bird" (in honor of Judy Rogers) came out on top.

                  1. re: Claudette

                    The L.A. Times did a side-by-side comparison of brining, dry salting (the "Judy method"), and high heat roasting, and said that the dry salting won by a landslide.

                    1. re: Amuse Bouches

                      I've brined the last three TG birds, but I'm going to take the LA Times's advice this year and dry-salt it, following the procedure given in the article. I'll have just shy of 3 days, since my "fresh" turkey, when I picked it up yesterday, was basically frozen solid and I had to put it in a bucket of water overnight, and I'm just now getting ready to rub on the salt. I will try to remember to give a report and some pix.

                      1. re: Amuse Bouches

                        Stop the presses! Never heard of dry brining == maybe will give it a go for Xmas!

                        1. re: gridder

                          try the "recipe" (more like a synopsis) on latimes.com food area. I hope it's still on the site. I do it for chiken too and it is the best chicken ever.

                  2. i was planning on brining this year for the first time as well. we are using a free range organic bird, so i think it will help w/the moisture/flavor. planning on using alton brown's recipe... anyone have any reviews?

                    1. I've been brining for the last couple of years and have been very pleased with the results and think it is well worth the effort. I do plan to cook the bird following the recommendations in the NYT article mentioned, but I'm still brining it. Good luck!

                      1. Brine. Night and day difference.

                        1. I brined once, followed instructions explicitely, and the drippings were too salty to use for gravy. I'd never do it again, though obviously there are plenty of brining fans on this board.

                          7 Replies
                            1. re: Funwithfood

                              oooooh - please tell what is the wrong brine so I can avoid it!! (I'm using a new one this year)

                              1. re: krissywats

                                THIS is the right brine krissywats... :)

                                Citrus & Herb Turkey Brine

                                4 quarts water
                                2 cups Kosher salt
                                1 cup sugar
                                6 sprigs fresh thyme
                                4 sprigs fresh rosemary
                                3 medium garlic cloves -- peeled, crushed
                                2 large oranges, zest only -- (use veg. peeler)
                                1 medium lemon, zest only -- (use veg. peeler)
                                20 whole peppercorns
                                1 18-24 lb. fresh turkey

                                PREPARE BRINE 3 DAYS BEFORE THE EVENT (Monday night for Thanksgiving):
                                In a large pot combine 4 quarts water, 2 cups Kosher salt, and sugar; bring to a boil. Add the 6 sprigs thyme, 4 sprigs rosemary, garlic, orange and lemon peel (no pith, just the zest--or top layer) and peppercorns. Simmer for 10 minutes then allow to cool to room temperature; cover and refrigerate.

                                BRINE TURKEY 2 DAYS BEFORE THE EVENT (Tuesday morning):
                                Remove giblets and neck from the turkey and rinse well. Place the prepared brine in a large plastic container and mix in an ADDITIONAL 4 quarts of water. Place turkey into the plastic container, breast side down. Place something heavy on top so the turkey is submerged (I put rocks in a ziploc bag; sealed well). Marinate the turkey for about 20 hours, then remove from the brine; discard brine. Rinse turkey well and pat dry with paper towels.

                                DRY TURKEY 1 DAY BEFORE THE EVENT (Wednesday morning):
                                Place brined and towel-dried turkey breast-side up on a broiler pan (one that has a rack over a shallow pan, where juices drip below) and let it sit, uncovered, in the refrigerator overnight. {Note: This helps the brine to distribute evenly throughout the meat, and contributes to crispy skin.}

                                1. re: Funwithfood

                                  Very similar to what i've used the past three years. Am using a different one this year and was wonderingt if you knew of specific pitfalls.

                                  1. re: krissywats

                                    I think it's all about the ratios.

                                    Because I don't want my turkey "sweet", I add just enough sugar to help with the uptake of moisture. This brine is a perfect balance IMO. The orange rind adds such a wonderful, nuanced flavor throughout the turkey.

                                    1. re: Funwithfood

                                      I don't agree - I brined three years in a row == same recipe, similar sized (and type -- not mass-market) birds. One year I left it in a little longer (like, 14 hours instead of 12) and the bird was a little on the salty side. So, I think you can have a "proper brine" and get a bit of salty turk.

                                      1. re: gridder

                                        I guess I assumed that one would not brine the turkey beyond the recommended time. My brine has been fairly forgiving--20-24 hours makes no real difference. I'm sure a brine with a high ratio of salt is more tenuous, hence erring on less salt is probably better in general.

                          1. I brine, any recipe will do, and the way I do it is I clean out a joint compound container and leave it all on the deck for two days. One less thing in an overly filled frig.

                            1. Has anyone looked at the Williams Sonoma brine mix? I saw a jar of it 2 weeks ago and it had star anise and orange peel. Obviously, I'm not paying $12 for a jar of salt, but I do have star anise and orange peel, which sounds like a nice addition to a straight salt/brown sugar brine.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: PollyG

                                I spurlged on the W&S brine and it was worth every penny.

                                1. re: angelo04

                                  I'm with PollyG: $12 for salt, sugar, and spices? It's quite easy to purchase ingredients and mix it yourself.

                              2. I am contemplating the same dilemma - to brine or to presalt a la Judy Rogers?

                                What I really want to know is, of those here who've recommended brining - have you also tried the long presalting technique? I want to know how those two methods compare... from a source other than _Cook's Illustrated_, for instance :)


                                1. Please note that after brining you need to rinse off the turkey and then dry it to avoid overly salty drippings and to roast it effectively.

                                  1. Brine, and roast breast-down until the last 30 minutes, then flip breast side up. Incredibly moist breast meat this way.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Summerfield

                                      I'm always hessitant to start breast side down because I don't wan to rip the skin...any hints on how to avoid this?

                                      1. re: Susanbnyc

                                        Try lubing the skin with lots of butter.

                                        I lay the bird on its side. Left, then right, then breast side up. That works for me.

                                    2. I definitely want to brine my turkey breast - but I'm at a loss for which brine to use. I've seen so many different ones out there.

                                      This one looks vaguely interesting (the second recipe listed) - has anyone ever used wine in a brine before?


                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: thbunny

                                        Sounds good, my concern would be the apple cider. I've been told avoid acids in brines as they tend to make the meat mushy. The jury is out on this one.

                                        1. re: thbunny

                                          I'm going to try Emeril's Cranberry Glazed Breast of Turkey:


                                          1. re: thbunny

                                            I brined a turkey two years ago in two bottles of white wine (most likely a chardonnay but I can't recall the exact varietal). I also remember using a few whole oranges cut up and some kosher salt. The turkey was quite tasty, but I hadn't learned the importance of cooking it at a high temp for ~ 30 min. and then lowering the temperature for the remaining time yet, so it ended up drier then I prefer. I'm fairly certain that this had to do with the cooking process rather than the brine.

                                          2. I've tried brining and while the taste was great, the brine somehow changes the consistency of the skin and it is all thick and rubbery, you wouldn't want to eat it. Is there any way of getting around that - getting the benefits from brining and a tasty skin as well?

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: Michelle

                                              See my recipe above, which calls for air-drying the bird for a great skin.

                                              1. re: Michelle

                                                I cook for 30 minutes on 500 then cover the breast with foil and lower the temp to 325 for the rest of the cooking - this creates a beautiful skin even after brining.

                                                1. re: krissywats

                                                  krissywats- would you mind posting your brining recipe/procedure?

                                                  1. re: giftergirl

                                                    I would be delighted:

                                                    For the brine we use (for a 20lb turkey):
                                                    gallon of veggie broth plus enough water to cover the turkey well
                                                    1 cup of kosher salt
                                                    1/2 cup of brown sugar
                                                    1 T of peppercorns
                                                    five or six lightly smashed garlic cloves
                                                    You can really add anything else you want: onion, ginger, allspice, orange zest. We change it a little every year.
                                                    Brine at least 6-8 hours (we did overnight) and turn it over halfway through.

                                                    Rinse and pat dry. I'd add butter or fat of some type to the outside and under the skin. Here is the compound butter from epicurious that we've done for two years:

                                                    Prosciutto butter
                                                    1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
                                                    6 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts
                                                    1 1/2 tablespoons Sherry wine vinegar
                                                    1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
                                                    2 teaspoons crushed black peppercorns
                                                    1 garlic clove, minced
                                                    3/4 teaspoon salt
                                                    9 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
                                                    3 green onions, chopped

                                                    Even if you don't do some kind of butter, make sure you massage the skin away from the meat. We like to add half of an apple, a sprig of rosemary and one of thyme inside the cavity.

                                                    Preheat the oven to 500 and put the turkey in for 1/2 an hour. Make a triangle of aluminum foil (doubled or heavy duty) that will fit over the breast of the turkey and put that on at the 1/2 hour point. Lower the temperature to 325 and cook 12-15 minutes per lb (including the first half an hour). A thermometer in the leg joint should read 165 or internal breast temp should read 161 (it's easier for me to get the breast temp). Loosely cover with foil when you take it out and let it rest for at least 1/2 an hour before carving.

                                                    Good luck!

                                                    1. re: krissywats

                                                      thanks! that is very similar to the alton brown brine that i was planning on trying this year. i will skip the butter as my dad keeps away from saturated fats. enjoy the holiday!

                                              2. with no time to brine for a pre-thanksgiving, thanksgiving meal, I used an injector. I'm not going to suggest that i can appropriately compare that turkey with one from a year ago, but in my mind the injected was just as good. I injected no more than thirty minutes before cooking. Giving more time would help it disperse more. Injecting also more adequately gets flavor throughout. However, proper cooking is THE solution to good turkeys. If you're cooking it to the fearmonger's temperature then forget about it. Be glad there's cranberry sauce and gravy.

                                                1. I hear ya Michelle.

                                                  There was a discussion here somewhere about what I'll call the ham effect. This is basically when you brine for too long, and the texture of the turkey (meat not just skin) becomes springy and rubbery; hamlike.

                                                  I *really* dislike this. It happened for me one year and I now lean towards underbrining......

                                                  1. last time i brined, the turkey came out nicely moist, but needed more salt.

                                                    my questions is how should a brine taste? (prior to putting in the turkey of course). Should it be sea water salty?

                                                    6 Replies
                                                    1. re: da_seuss

                                                      I check my brine solution by floating a raw egg in it. If it sinks, it needs more salt. It should barely float.

                                                      1. re: cheryl_h

                                                        Stupid question, but how do you remove the egg, doesn't it get kind of runny and all in the brine?

                                                        1. re: angelo04

                                                          angelo04 - it is still in its shell.

                                                            1. re: angelo04

                                                              haha, don't worry angelo, i thought the same thing :-)

                                                        2. re: cheryl_h

                                                          the egg floating is a fun idea, but if your eggs are a little old they'll float easier so . . .
                                                          do it with your farm fresh eggs!

                                                      2. We have a new built-in outdoor gas grill that has a new fangled rotisserie attachment. Our chickens have come out unbelievably juicy so we thought we would give it a try.

                                                        We are using 2 smaller 8 lb. turkeys (the circumference of a larger bird would put it too close to the heat). I am planning on brining (for the first time) anyway just to make sure although everything that has come out of this rotisserie has been perfect.

                                                        Last year, we did not brine but used a Reynolds Turkey bag technique (just set it an forget it......no basting) and it was awesome!!!!

                                                        Why would I mess with perfection???? It's the new toy I guess......Kind of bold, I know but it's just a dinner?????

                                                        1. Hello everyone, new here!

                                                          I love reading all the posts, but I have to say that the best trick to a no-name bird that is not previously injected or basted is to toss that turkey on it's breast in a brine for a bit and let those juices run down. Also, cook it on a rack so and turn it again.... well, you know. Pre-drying is great for a crisper skin. And if you brine, add a 4 - 1 ratio of unsweetened apple cider for a truly moist and sweet turkey!

                                                          But we all know that the true meaning of this holiday is about family and friends.... so enjoy whatever you have!!


                                                          1. Welcome, tinRI. Did you mean 4 parts water and 1 part cider or the reverse? I'm intrigued by this cider idea.

                                                            1. I brine with the Chez Panisse brine (posted a few weeks ago), and then rub a huge amount of compound butter made with roasted garlic, butter, pepper, and chopped herbs (thyme, sage) under the skin. I've done this for two years running and it's the best.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: celeste

                                                                do you think roasting the garlic makes a difference?
                                                                I put a similar mix under the skin, but I assumed the oven roasting took care of the raw garlic . . .

                                                                1. re: pitu

                                                                  I do think it makes a difference myself. I admit I've never tried it raw, but I think pre-roasting the garlic for the paste makes the flavor more subtle and deep.

                                                              2. picked up my organic bird from fairway yesterday and prepared the brine solution. am super excited to place it in the brine tonight, lol. will let everyone know how it turns out!

                                                                1. EMERGENCY COOKING QUESTION- does the bird get cooked breast side up or down?

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: giftergirl

                                                                    Start with the breast side down (the juices drizzle down into the dryer breast meat), then turn it over to finish cooking, otherwise the turkey will look anemic! (not to mention deep indentations from the rack.)

                                                                    1. re: Funwithfood

                                                                      Do you have issues with the breast skin sticking to the pan?

                                                                      1. re: JasmineG

                                                                        No, I use a teflon (type) V-rack and like Professor Salt, I rub the entire bird with butter (unsalted).

                                                                  2. IIRC it's down for a couple of hours, then you flip it. This is so the fat will render (and juices flow) into the breast, keeping it from drying out. But later you need to flip it so it'll brown.

                                                                    1. I hope everyone's turkeys rock!

                                                                      1. I have never tried BRINEING but I usually get a KOSHER bird..Recently on the telly a chef mentioned to make sure you brind the bird unless it's kosher then you don't have to. I guess kosher birds are already brined..Too late for today but a thought for the future. Good luck to all and Happy Thanksgiging...TFC...

                                                                        1. I realize this post is massively old but this year I finally did my own dry brine and it was truly outstanding. Went with a salt, sage and bay leaf dry brine - three days in the fridge, last day breast down(all three days in a ziplock). Then the day I cooked it, about 7 hours outside of the bag. 425 for the 1st 30 minutes, breast down, then flipped it and finished at 325 for another three plus hours. I WILL NOT CHANGE A THING. People loved the turkey. I have to add that I bought the turkey direct from a farmer(Healthy Family Farms, at the Hollywood Farmers Market, LA area) and it was a broad breasted, free range, organic - blah blah blah, bottom line is that they are a small operation and the animals are raised the way they should be. Simply fantastic, and I have to say, even though a prefer white meat to dark, this dark meat was something else.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: blackbookali

                                                                            Dissenting voice: I don't brine or dry brine turkey. I have done it myself on a few occasions and have had brined bird from elsewhere and I find that it changes the texture and taste of the meat in a way that I don't like--a little....gelatinous...is the best way I can describe it.

                                                                            I never have problems with an unpleasantly dry breast for whatever reason. Why not? Well, I don't go through any gyrations such as esoteric foil origami, application of ice packs to the breast, kama-sutra positioning, or stuff like that. I don't overcook it, which is what really matters. In addition, I only roast small turkeys, and I am lead to believe that the proportions/geometry of larger birds leads to more uneven cooking. I let the bird come to room temperature before cooking. I don't stuff or truss the bird, believing that letting it all hang out will let it cook more evenly. Now, the breast meat is dryer than, say, a rib-eye steak, but that is the way it is supposed to be in my mind, and I serve it with a nice gravy.

                                                                            Anyway, that is my take on this. I hope that no one who has been to my house responds along the lines of: "God, that turkey Mark made last year was so dry that it was a choking hazard...."

                                                                          2. I dry brined per the LA Times, and it was FABULOUS! Crazy easy...moist...more pan drippings than I have gotten in many years...definitely the way to go!

                                                                            1. I dry brined (I call it "wet powdering") my 20 pound turkey this year. I cooked it unstuffed, breast-down at 450 for 30 minutes, and another 2 hours 30 minutes at 350 until it reached 165 degrees in the thigh. It was quite delicious, and the gravy was some of the best I've made (had the extra on some poutine).

                                                                              Any other data points on weight of turkey, stuffed or not, oven temperature, duration of cooking and internal meat temperature? This bird got done much quicker than I thought it would.