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Wet/ Dry Brine for Turkeys?

Our family been wet brining the turkey for years and usually do the herbs/ citrus/honey/maple syrup in kosher salt combo. We had a traumatic experiance with a dry turkey on our first turkey so we got into brining and stuffing the skins with a herb butter.

I been reading the recent food magazine and they have recently switched from wet brining (as it was featured a few years ago) to dry salt brine.

Has anyone tried both? how do they compare? i'm afraid of making the switch because it is the center piece to the madness.

I know i'm all over the place these days so i was thinking of making:

Citrus brined (the trusted alton recipe) and glazed with chipotle turkey
Herb buttermilk (1qt water, 4 qt buttermilk) brined turkey

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  1. Are you referring to the Cooks Ill's issue about dry brining the turkey? I've been doing that for years with my own spice rub mixture (sugar, salt, garlic, cumin, coriander, ancho chile, sweet and hot paprikas, etc.) but I cut it up first so that I can brine all sides of each piece and also be able to take the breast out earlier than the thighs. I rub the turkey 3 days before cooking, a la Judy Rogers.

    11 Replies
    1. re: Claudette

      I think i'm paranoid. Perhaps I need to do a test? with a split chicken first.

      Talking to myself, i think that solution brining will lead to more water rentention to the turkey vs. the dry rub, since the only liquid that are reabsorbed is the liquid FROM the turkey.

      1. re: jeniyo

        Just this past weekend, ATK did a show where they dry brined a turkey. They separated the skin from the meat and rubbed specific amounts of salt under the skin. I've only wet brined up till now, but will probably try this next time. The problem with the wet brining for me is that I can't fit the large container in the fridge

        1. re: bnemes3343

          I'm thinking about dry brining this year too, and having similar misgivings. Wet brining has worked so well, but dry brining would cut back considerably on the prep time.

          1. re: PegS

            Do you have access to their website for the recipe. It looked really simple and they felt it produced the same results as wet brining. I've done the cooler and ice thing as well, but it's a big pain. I'd rather just shove it in the fridge. BTW, I just checked their site and SALTED TURKEY is a free recipe (as long as you don't mind giving them your email address).

          2. re: bnemes3343

            I brine mine in a huge storage bag in a cooler and put lots of ice on top...

            no one got sick yet =) i don't have room anywhere for the turkey except in a box...

            1. re: jeniyo

              The article (linked below) in the NYT this month, argues AGAINST brining, saying that it's nothing more than an injection of water into the bird. It just makes the turkey moist with water, not with turkey "juice" or flavor. Sounded good to me. Check it out.

              http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/12/din...

              1. re: oakjoan

                The difference in flavor and moistness is huge between a brined and unbrined bird. The writer was mainly complaining that he thought the brined version was too salty for him. It absolutely gets more than water into the bird. It gets salt as well. That's why kosher birds are so much better than non kosher. They have been brined.

                1. re: oakjoan

                  I read that article. A pound of salt lasts me a decade: I use it very sparingly. I thoroughly endorse wet brining - despite my low threshhold for saltiness, I've never felt that wet-brined poultry was too salty - nor is the gravy I always make from the drippings. I discount McGee's claim that you can't make gravy from a brined bird, which makes me doubt the rest of the article. I am reluctant to dry-salt for fear of the finished product bwing way too salty for me. Also, my experience contradicts claims that other seasonings in brine don't get into the meat.

                2. re: jeniyo

                  While you can buy "turkey brining bags," I use a cheaper alternative, a Ziploc Big Bag, to brine my turkey. These are made of food safe plastic (unlike most other large bags) and have the famous zip-lock top which seals them. I place this in a cooler with a bag of ice on top of it.

                  I don't know what recipe the NYT guy used, but my turkeys have never had an "unrelenting saltiness." If you use too much salt or leave it in the brine too long I guess it would be too salty, but mine never is. I have always made my gravy from it, too, with good results.

                3. re: bnemes3343

                  If you live in a cold climate and have a outdoor place or foyer, you can put it out there. thats what I do every year. Even if you dont have a cold spot, the combination of cold water, icy turkey and some ice will certainly keep it cool enough to avoid spoilage overnight., when its going right into the oven after.

                  1. re: bnemes3343

                    If you have a cooler of the appropriate size, just scrub it out good and toss in the turkey and the brine. Add a few pounds of ice to keep the temp. in the safe zone, and add ice as necessary if the first batch melts. Sanitize the cooler afterward with a weak bleach solution so you don't have salmonella on your soda cans.

              2. I dry brined for the first time last year, using Russ Parson's recipe from the LA Times (discussed in this thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/459930 ), and it was incredibly easy and delicious, and I'm definitely doing it again this year.

                18 Replies
                1. re: JasmineG

                  Thank you for posting this - saved me a search!
                  I, too, dry brined last year with great results. Definitely going to do it again this year.
                  I do want to stuff it, though. I'm hoping the stuffing won't get too salty. Amuse Bouches?

                  1. re: mirage

                    The LA Times keeps cutting the links for that turkey recipe (they've done it for the past two years) so it's impossible to search for it! If anyone needs me to paraphrase last year's update of his 2006 recipe, let me know and I can, I emailed the recipe to myself last year, just for that reason! I also emailed Russ Parsons a question about the recipe last year, and he responded pretty quickly, which was nice.

                    1. re: mirage

                      Hmm, I'm trying to remember, but I'm 90% sure we stuffed the turkey (because my mom made it, and don't even BEGIN to discuss with my father the idea of dressing cooked outside the turkey) and the stuffing was fine. I think she did rinse off the salt before stuffing it though.

                      I'll say that a dry brined turkey is WAY better than wet brined in my book. Much better flavor and texture -- less like ham, more like turkey.

                      1. re: Amuse Bouches

                        I did the Russ dry brine technique yesterday to an 18 lb turkey. I used 3.5 tablespoons of kosher salt as directed. I checked Sarah (we always name the turkey) tonight and am very concerned. She looks pale and wings and thighs have that horrible red/blue tinge. There is a bit of pooling of watery/blood in the bag too. Is this normal? Will she perk up in a few days? I do not want to serve a bad bird. Don't want to panic either.....

                        1. re: Densible

                          Totally normal, that's what mine looks like right now too. Don't worry!

                    2. re: JasmineG

                      How long did you brine for? Has anyone dry brined for only two days, and how were the results? I was planning on trying the SF Chronicle recipe (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...) but the dry brine sounds so much simpler. Just hoping it's not too late to do it tomorrow night!

                        1. re: Densible

                          How is the turkey looking?

                          I too am hoping to dry brine but it will only get about a day and a half, maybe a litle more. From what I have read this should be fine but does anyone think I should avoid this method and wait until next year?

                          1. re: avandelay

                            She seems much better today-thanks for asking! Gave her a massage and her color is much better. Wonder if you should do a wet brine in time you have? Seems like the dry brine needs more time than you have. Hate for you to go to the trouble and get less than optimal results.

                            1. re: Densible

                              Thanks. I think I agree. For the first time I want to make sure I get it right. I am going to wet brine the turkey tonight (a heritage bird) in a very simple sugar, salt, water brine. After the holiday I may try a dry brine on an open range chicken from a local producer.

                              1. re: Densible

                                Well, I went ahead and did it! Hope it works out despite the foreshortened brining time. Problem is: I now need to bring it to the friend's house where dinner is happening (about 1.5 hour drive away). I've taken it out of the bag in order to air-dry, but obviously will need to put it in something to transport it. Suggestions? I have an ice chest, but don't want it to get wet again at this stage!

                                Also, have other people just roasted the turkey as is, sans additional seasonings? I have sage, rosemary, and thyme that I was thinking about putting under the skin--either whole sprigs or as a compound butter (I think this is what JasmineG said she did). Any suggestions?

                                And finally: NO basting, right?

                                Thanks, all! This is my first time doing the turkey, so I'm a little nervous and hoping it all works out ok!

                                1. re: pamplemousse

                                  Yep, I do a compound butter (it's under the skin as we speak), and I don't baste. If it's not too late, I would transport the turkey in a roasting pan, or if you don't have one, a cardboard box that you line with foil. Happy Thanksgiving!

                                  1. re: JasmineG

                                    Thanks, JasmineG! I ended up washing out the ziplog big bag I had used to brine and transporting her in that, which seemed to work fine. Massaged a compound herb butter under the skin and baked per LAT recipe. She finished cooking a lot more quickly than expected--perhaps because I forgot to lower the temperature right away after flipping her--but turned out juicy and delicious. My only disappointment is that there aren't more leftovers!

                        2. re: JasmineG

                          Thank you JasmineG for the dry brining link to the LA Times. I used this method this year with amazing results. I will never go back to messy wet brining after this! I put some chopped apple, onion, sage, thyme and rosemary inside the turkey and rubbed the outside melted butter with the same herbs. This was bar none the best turkey I've ever made.

                          1. re: Tedmom

                            I second that-thanks JasmineG! I also made a compound butter for under the skin. I did stuff her as well and I did baste every 30 mins with stock over cheesecloth-hey I am a nervous nilly and needed something to do...She turned out amazing-crispy burnished skin-tender and juicy-just marvelous!

                        3. I did a test run with a dry brined turkey 2 weeks ago. It came out well, but was not as good as my wet brined birds. That surprised me because I am a big Zuni Chicken fan.

                          It was also messier, which counts for something.

                          I'm wet brining again this year.

                          Whoever claims you can't make great gravy with a brined turkey is absolutely wrong, by the way

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: C. Hamster

                            Thanks Guys. I think i'm going with the tried and true method of wet brining this year and leave the experimentation to chickens, after the holidays.

                            I usually start the brining process around Wed night and start cooking around 2-3PM the following day. I'd say a bit more than 15-18 hours?

                            1. re: jeniyo

                              For 2008 Thanksgiving, Russ Parsons and the Los Angeles Times Food Staff conducted a taste test between a wet brined turkey and a dry brined turkey. And the dry brined turkey won -- moist meat with a better texture. The article included a reprinting of the dry brined turkey recipe from 2007.

                              1. re: Norm Man

                                I encourage people to do their own taste test, as we definitely thought the wet brined bird tasted better, though not by much.

                          2. We did the Russ Parson dry brining this year after alway wet brining in the past. (And yes, all the food media seem to be on the dry brining bandwagon--not just Cook's Illustrated but Martha Stewart, Fine Cooking, and doubtless others I've missed. It's in the air.)

                            The results were very good. Different from wet brining. The meat wasn't insanely "moist" and "juicy," but it wasn't dry (and we probably let it cook longer than most of you would--my husband is paranoid about undercooked poultry). The texture was different from either an unbrined turkey or a wet-brined one. The flavor seemed more intensely turkey-ish, slightly gamey in a good way.

                            It also browned gorgeously, better than any wet brined turkey I've done. We let it air dry overnight in the fridge, uncovered, as Russ Parson instructs.

                            The gravy was delicious, though we made our own unsalted turkey stock in advance to supplement the drippings. With canned broth it most likely would have been too salty for my tastes.

                            I would definitely dry brine again. I might also go back to wet brining again for a change, mainly to play with getting other flavors and spices into the turkey.

                            1. Well, I took one for the team and thought I'd try to dry brine a frozen turkey -- that was already injected with solution. (Hey -- it wasn't Thanksgiving Day turkey, and I got it for $5, so I could afford to experiment). It went surprisingly well. I rubbed it with salt on Thursday morning (after it had defrosted for a few days in the fridge), covered it with plastic wrap, and cooked it today -- Sunday -- I just patted dry the skin with paper towels, stuffed it, left it untrussed, roasted breast down at 425 for about an hour and another 2-3 hours breast up.

                              Verdict? It's very good. Not too salty at all. I may have overcooked it a little, (by the time I put my thermometer in, the legs were already over 165) but even so, the dark meat is to die for the breast meat is still pretty tasty. Maybe a little better than the fresh turkey my grandmother roasted on Thanksgiving.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Amuse Bouches

                                Whew! Searched for HOURS to find a post that said a "dry brined" injected turkey might be okay!

                                1. re: Shrinkrap

                                  And it turned out so well, there were no leftovers, and I was asked to do it again. This time with a turkey NOT tabled as injected.

                                  1. re: Shrinkrap

                                    It's next time! Using a salt with rosemary and lemon.

                              2. I'm trying to decide if I want to dry-brine this year, but it looks like the remarks are split down the middle. I've been doing Thanksgiving turkey for about 25 years now and and it seems wet brining yields outstanding results - no extra saltiness but just enough to get rid of the game 'funkiness'. I usually do a stronger brine, so Harold McGee's article has left me a bit confused. I'm still not sure if dry brining is better, either way I'm not concerned about which one is easier but which gives a better result.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: lilgi

                                  I've not done the dry brine either and since I use very little salt it scares me off. I would suggest you try it on a roast chicken or a small turkey sometime in the next couple of weeks, then decide. You don't want to run afoul (pun intended) of your Thanksgiving guests by serving something that will disappoint them.

                                  1. re: greygarious

                                    If the zuni method (with chickens) is a good indicator, then I think I would have to go with the wet brine. That's why I thought I'd ask and you're right, I would hate to risk it for Thanksgiving dinner. What you said makes perfect sense: less salt is used and I think absorbed. I'm a bit skeptical about the dry brine; a good thing to do as you posted might be to try it on a smaller one, not on Thanksgiving. I tend to want another turkey during Christmas, might be a better time to try it.

                                    1. re: lilgi

                                      I use a lot less salt when dry brining a turkey. You dont need a cup of salt.

                                      1. re: C. Hamster

                                        @C.Hamster, I am surprised, shocked would be a better word, by your mentioning A CUP OF SALT in relation to the dry-brining method associated with Russ Parsons and Judy "Bird" Rodgers. Her chicken recipe calls for 3/4 level TEASPOON of salt PER POUND. Parsons' turkey recipe http://www.latimes.com/features/food/... calls for 1 Tablespoon, level, of kosher salt per FIVE POUNDS of turkey, so THREE TB per 15 lb bird.

                                        My counting skills are not as strong as that of yours, but I still cannot make 3TB. come to ONE CUP of salt! Perhaps your wet and dry brine tests were skewed owing to your not being willing to hew to the correct guidelines for the latter? Just a thought.

                                2. While looking into curing bacon I saw a number of recipes requiring the use of pink salt to prevent botulism. Is dry-brining the same as "curing," and is there is a risk of botulism? I dry- brined last year, and thought the results were excellent - very moist meat, and crisp skin (I also air-dried the bird in the fridge). The gravy was a little salty, but not hard to adjust with apricot preserves.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: nsenada

                                    "Is dry-brining the same as "curing," and is there is a risk of botulism? "

                                    ~~~~~

                                    no and no.

                                    i wet brined chicken a few times to make the ad hoc fried chicken. other than that i dry-brine birds all the time to excellent results.

                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                      Thanks! I thought so, but got a little spooked after the reading the bacon warnings.