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Brining turkeys- a messy waste of time?

I'm beginning to think that the brining craze is awee joke foisted upon us home cooks by the companies who prepare the thanksgiving turkeys, who have always injected a salt/broth/water solution and I always spent hours looking for turkeys who hadn't been treated that way. Now everybody's doing it themselves, and to tell you the truth I've had a lot of brined meat, often paired with an identical cut that was NOT b rined, and except for maybe a browner skin, nobody has ever been able to tell the difference. If you went out and shot a wild turkey, I can see wanting to force some moisture into the tissue, but honestly, the kind of turkey most of us buy really doesn't need it.

Am I talking out of my vent or not? Discuss.

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  1. Your question really makes me laugh! I have been thinking about that myself.

    I have had everything from the most expensive Turkeys to the small farm raised birds....to the free Butterball that is given when you spend over X amount of dollars. I honestly can't tell much difference in Turkey taste or texture. I think it's all about the cooking technique that please your individual taste (roasted, BBQ, deep fried, etc). I'm sure there will be some that will insist they can smell the difference from 10 blocks away, but I can't.

    It all just tastes like turkey to me.

    1. I wrote off brining when I found that you couldn't make gravy with the drippings.

      Mind you, I regard turkey as a way of producing gravy, stuffing, and home-made stock, rather than an end in itself.

      12 Replies
      1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

        Why can't you make gravy out of the drippings?

        1. re: maxandrick

          because to many of us, all that concentrated salt makes it inedible.

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            It has no concentrated salt taste whatsoever, so far, anyway, after several years. I still have to add seasoning to the finished gravy.

            1. re: mcf

              really? the couple of times i've had gravy made from the drippings of a wet-brined turkey it was horrid. i know i'm more sensitive to salt than most people, but even the person who served it to me the last time admitted that the salt level made it pretty much inedible.

              anyway, i saw below that you went for the dry method this year...how did it turn out? i think the texture is much better - wet brines tend to make the meat spongy IMO.

              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                The key to making gravy from a wet brined turkey is to rinse the bird completely inside and out anfter removing from the brine. The first time I wet brined, I didn't rinse it well, and the gravy was very salty. Every other time, it was spot on. Last year, I forgot to rinse a turkey after brining, and again, gravy was too salty.

                I don't think there's that much salt that enters the meat from brining - a little, yes, but not a ton. Yes, some of that salt will come out as the meat cooks into the pan drippings, but again, not a ton. Residual salt from a poorly rinsed bird - particularly any brine remaining in the cavity, which can be tricky to get out, is most likely to contribute to a salty gravy. At least in my experience.

                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  Maybe it's because I very thoroughly rinse the brined turkey inside and out, but it added no salt to stuffing nor gravy on any occaion that I didn't deep fry it. The deep fried meat isn't salty, either, only the crispy skin, which I add salty seasoning to prior to frying.

                  I've never made a brined turkey that came out spongy, but I did taste one that had been pre brined by the store; it was water logged, spongy and a weird pinkish shade. That's a result of brining too long as I said earlier.

                  The dry brining is something I've done twice; still get a moister bird, a super crispy skin after letting it air dry in the fridge for at least 24 hours after rinsing off the salt. Avoiding soaking up a seasoned brine puddle with my jeans while wrestling a big ziplock bag on the floor is a Very Big Plus for this method.

                  BTW, after decades of cooking low salt, I'm extremely sensitive to the taste, too, though I use more of it now than I used to.

                  1. re: mcf

                    But you don't get the lovely citrus herb flavor I get! :)

                    1. re: Funwithfood

                      I did use a dry brine with lemon zest and herbs a couple of years ago, or last year, found on the dry brining discussion on CH, I think. It was very good. :-)

          2. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

            "Mind you, I regard turkey as a way of producing gravy, stuffing, and home-made stock, rather than an end in itself."
            I couldn't agree more!

            1. re: iheartcooking

              Me, too.

              Count me in with the "brining is just a fad" crowd. I do think heritage turkeys taste better, but the last couple of years in addition to our fancy turkey on Thanksgiving I've had a second meal where I've cooked the cheap turkey an indigent friend of mine brought from a food bank for him and it came out just fine -- this year's was the prettiest turkey I ever made!

              I don't think brining is necessary to ensure moist meat -- just don't over cook it!

              1. re: iheartcooking

                I just said this to my Wife last night!

                Roast turkey meat is meh to me, but I love the gravy, stuffing, soup (and of course slicing up some of that cranberry jelly and putting it on top of the turkey)

              2. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                No problem making gravy. Make sure to rinse the turkey after brining and don't add any salt to the gravy (or the broth) and it should be fine. Mine always is.

              3. I'm in the brining camp. In the last 6 years, I've done some turkeys and other large chunks of meat wet brined, some not. The source of the turkey has varied somewhat, so it's not a very precise experiment, but my experience suggests that brining does in fact work - meat is juicier when brined. For any doubters, check out some of the Cook's Illustrated work on the effects of brining. If I remember correct, they've taken several turkeys, brined some and not others, cooked them all identical, and then determined moisture content. Again, if I remember right, brined meat retained more moisture than non-brined meat.

                That being said, of course brining is not absolutely necessary, nor is the end-all-be-all. Quality of meat product and cooking technique are probably more important. But I've found it's a very useful technique, under the right circumstances.

                For what it's worth, some "experiments" suggest that dry brining is as effective (or nearly so), and a lot easier.

                1. I love Thanksigiving, but ironically I'm not a big fan of Turkey. Three years ago my father brined a turkey for 24 hours and other than the deep fried turkey we had the following year, it was easily the best, most succulent turkey I had ever had. Not even close to what a normal supermarket turkey tastes like.

                  1. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm not much of a fan of turkey in the first place so maybe that has a lot to do with my response: brining turkey seemed a lot more trouble than it was worth when I did it. First heating all the liquid, then cooling it, then putting the brine and bird in a large enough container and keeping it cold. A lot of trouble, and I still wasn't crazy about the turkey. (One of the best turkeys I ever tasted was cooked in a Reynolds bag.)

                    1. I'm with you. I didn't brine this year and didn't notice a significant difference. The wine, sides, stuffing, and gravy make it hard to care!

                      1. NO BRINING AND SUPER JUICY!

                        Avoid the brining method and cook the turkey with the BREAST SIDE DOWN for the first 60% of the cooking time, then the reverse for the remaining 40%. Yep, this will cook a nice juicy turkey with a tender breast, every time!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: amoncada

                          Yes, breast side down to start is recommended...in addition to brining!

                        2. dry brining is the way to go. amazing flavor and texture, less messy and tedious than wet brining, and you can use the pan drippings for gravy.


                          1 Reply
                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                            Yes, I used it this year, not wanting a repeat of the seasoned brine puddle I was sitting in two years ago when my jumbo zipper bag wouldn't zip. :-)

                          2. I've wet brined the last few years, and realized that I actually dislike what it does to the meat. It's juicier, but not in a natural way - the meat always seems kind of waterlogged, almost mushy, to me. This year I dry brined, and along with being much, much easier and less messy, I thought the meat's texture was better too. The flavoring of the brine didn't penetrate quite as deeply, but I'll trade slightly less flavored meat for mushy meat any day.

                            Interestingly, this year with the dry brine I also ended up doing a side-by-side comparison of a $60 locally raised organic turkey with a $9 supermarket special (long story... the wife was worried about trying a new technique on a $60 turkey, so we did a "test turkey" first). Ethical concerns about the local economy and happiness of the bird and health questions about pesticides and hormones aside... I couldn't tell a whole lot of difference. Both were very tasty. I chalk it up to the fact that turkey itself just doesn't taste like much no matter what you do, unlike chicken - I can definitely tell the difference between mass-produced chickens or eggs and the local versions (especially the eggs... wow, they're almost a different food). But not turkey. Interesting.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: monopod

                              I've had overbrined meats from a store on occasion, and they get a weird spongy texture, but that never happens unless the meat is in the brine too long. Weird pinkish color, too, like chicken roll from a bad deli.

                            2. I brined a turkey once. I found that it tasted like those "pumped" IQF frozen chicken breasts, sort of artificially salty.

                              I'm a turkey roasting rebel, though....I steam-roast with the lid on the roaster until the bird is basically falling apart tender, then I crank the oven for a few minutes to brown. Doing that to a brined bird gave me a not good result, and the gravy was nasty.

                              1. I have experience with both wet brining and not, and came to a similar conclusion. I don't think it is a total waste of time, but I do think it is a safety net. Plus there is the added risk of overbrining which adds that saline-injected characteristic that I don't think makes whole process worthwhile. I've gotten great results just roasting the bird on a V-rack at 325F and yanking it at 165F in the thigh, letting the resting and carry-over cooking do its magic- you just have to monitor the temperature closely, that's all.

                                I remember one year a while back, a guest was asking my wife how we made our bird, it was so great, she said, and my wife went on and on about how I was so into the brining process and that I should divulge my formula... when I had to admit that this particular time I didn't do anything special. At all. I just didn't overcook it: that was my secret. I was on the fence before that night, but not now- I haven't brined a bird since.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: TongoRad

                                  On the money, TongoRad. 99% of cooking turkey is getting the dark meat cooked without drying out the white meat. You can brine just right and still mess up the temperature, and as others have noted, it's pretty easy to over-brine, and even if you do it right, you still need to worry about the bigger problem of cooking all parts evenly. Not worth the trouble I say. But I don't care much for turkey anyway, so I'd rather serve a couple of ducks.

                                2. I've had turkeys that aren't brined as reliable as those that are, BUT the best part of brining is that it ensures success and consistency. A brined turkey WILL be a good turkey, without fail.

                                  And no, there is no salty taste to the drippings.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: Henny Penny

                                    "the best part of brining is that it ensures success and consistency. A brined turkey WILL be a good turkey, without fail."
                                    not true. it's altogether possible to over-brine a turkey, as i had the misfortune to discover when my host did just that a couple of years ago. it was inedible.

                                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                      Ooops! Never did that. HOW do you do it, I wonder!

                                      I have had the misfortune of cooking "free when you buy $X of groceries" turkeys that were half raw and half inedibly dry, though, before I discovered brining when I'd come home from college and cook the family holiday dinner.

                                      1. re: Henny Penny

                                        If you brine meat too long, the texture is more akin to Silpat than turkey meat. :-)

                                        1. re: mcf

                                          Not if you air dry it for 24 hours like I do.

                                          1. re: Funwithfood

                                            I do air dry it at least that long. I'm pretty sure it's well known that there's a point of no return for overbrined meat.

                                  2. I am sure I will get flamed from many of you for my method, but it has worked for my father for over 50 years and for me for the last 20 - low & slow roasting method. I now dry brine the turkey in addition. This has come about after reading Judy Rogers Zuni Cafe cookbooks section on salting meat prior to cooking. I don't necessarily do this with all meat, but her roasted chicken is the best I have ever had or cooked.

                                    This past thanksgiving not only did I salt the turkey 2 days prior to cooking, I also stuffed it (a major no no according to the masses - playing with fate says others), rubbed butter on the outside and then roasted it from 4:30a.m. in a 100° C oven. Starting at 2:00 I began checking the temperature of the bird and the stuffing. When they were both done I took the turkey out of the oven and let it rest.

                                    Results were perfect - the best ever according to my son.

                                    1. I watched America's Test Kitchen a few weeks ago and they salted the turke and let it sit but did not wet brine it. They had their usual "scientific" approach i.e. use this much salt on the breast, this much on the legs, this much in the cavity, etc. They loosened the skin and put the salt right on the meat, I think and then rinsed it at the end.

                                      Definately did away the the problem of wet brining something that big.