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"Dry-Brine" Turkeys -- Experiences/Reports?

This was my first year doing a "dry-brine" style of turkey (a term that irks some, I know, who think brining is only about salty soaking). I used a 14lb fresh natural bird, no injection.

VERDICT: tasty but too salty. Saltier than when I've wet-brined.

Here are three approaches that I consulted:

1. The one I followed was Alton Brown's in a recent Food Network special called "Countdown to Thanksgiving," which spatchcocks the bird:


2. Saveur:

3. L.A.Times:

Now I note that Alton Brown's approach does indeed call for over 50% more salt than does the Saveur recipe, and more also than the LA TImes one. And those recipes specify salt by weight, so I wonder whether removing the backbone was relevant as a weight issue? Should one reduce salt in keeping with the lower weight of a spatchcocked bird?

I notice, also, that some recipes call for wrapping the bird in plastic for the first few days of the curing, while others just say to air-dry the bird the way I did. Mine sat uncovered in the fridge for almost three days (68 hours). Looked great coming out of the oven. I rubbed the bird's dry skin with peanut oil before roasting.

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  1. I spatchcocked this year's turkey......salted the cavity, under the skin and the skin 12 hours before placing in the oven, The turkey sat in the fridge overnight uncovered and brought out to warm up closer to room temperature 90 and rubbed it with olive oil.....I did not rinse the bird. I placed it in the oven @ 475* for the first 20 minutes, then reduced down to 250*. I gave the bird a hot heat blast at the end to crisp the skin.

    The turkey was not overly salty in any way, but the pan drippings used to make the gravy was, so I had to add more stock to make the gravy . Usually, I make about 2 quarts, but with the added stock, it came out to three quarts......which was fine, because now I have a quart in the freezer for a future date.

    1. I had a 17ish pound bird that I spatchcocked, so I assume the total weight after removing the backbone, wing tips and gizzards was around 15lbs. I used 1T. of kosher salt per five lbs as per the LA Times article, so 3T (plus a little, as I measured generously). I put about 1T. under the skin, the rest on the outside, about 1.5T for the skin side and .5T for the cavity. Left it to "brine" for 3 days (tightly wrapped), air-dried it for one, didn't rinse. The result? Perfectly seasoned meat and skin (which was shatteringly crisp, like turkey candy!), delicious gravy from the drippings, no extra salt required. I made my gravy with unsalted stock in addition to the drippings and didn't add any additional salt - had I used canned stock it probably would have been too salty. I will never use another method!

      1. 3 days does seem a bit excessive. This year I did the CI glazed one; fresh 14 lb bird, flattened, poke holes in fat deposits, rub bone side with kosher salt, flip, separate skin and rub with more kosher salt under skin, tie legs, pat dry, rub surface of skin with a combination of kosher salt, pepper and baking powder, refrigerate overnight uncovered. Cook 2 1/2-3 hrs, remove, rest for 30min, raise temp to 450, glaze 3 times at 7 min intervals, remove and rest for 20 min before carving.

        The bird looked awesome, tasted great and wasn't too salty at all. Skin was perfectly crispy too. We've been smoking the turkey for the last couple of years, think I like this a lot better.

        8 Replies
        1. re: Pedr0

          Actually, several recipes call for 4 days with the salt.

          1. re: Bada Bing

            You'd think the bird would get all spongy and weird after that long.

            1. re: Pedr0

              Not spongy, but maybe "cured"? I'll make a more general reply below.

              1. re: Pedr0

                Unlike a wet brine I find the dry cure doesn't result in spongy or mushy textures. Terms I sometimes in reference to brining

            2. re: Pedr0

              Sorry - baking powder? I haven't heard of that before. What's the purpose?

              1. re: Sushiqueen36

                I remember watching ATK where they did that to a chicken. I don't remember fully, but it either helps dry the skin out better than salt, or does something chemically to the pH which aids in browning.

                1. re: Sushiqueen36

                  I believe baking soda can tenderize and denature some of the protein. Baking powder has baking soda along with some acids to neutralize the baking soda. Probably the same reasons. Both tenderize the meat and to allow crisp the skin.

              2. i prefer this approach:

                only one hour per pound. you end up with incredibly juicy, flavorful meat that isn't too salty, and it requires far less time & effort than other methods.

                1. Did you use kosher salt or table salt? Table salt weighs more by volume, so you should reduce the amount by a third if you use table salt. I agree, though, that 3.5T for a 13-14lb bird seems like a bit much, especially considering that once you remove backbone and giblets, you'll probably be down to 11-12 lbs.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: biondanonima

                    I used kosher salt. A peculiarity of Brown's method is that he has you pulse the salt with herbs and spices in a coffee mill first, so the salt comes out finer, but the quantity is unaffected.

                    It will be interesting to see the results if anyone else here attempted the same recipe.

                    I'll try this again, but with less salt.

                    1. re: Bada Bing

                      I ground my salt with some dried herbs in a mortar and pestle before I applied it to the turkey - I don't think it affected the saltiness level, but then again, I used the same amount of salt as you did on a larger bird.

                  2. I've dry brined and spatchcocked my last 6 turkeys and can't imagine doing it any other way. The turkeys always turn out moist and succulent with gorgeous crisp skin.

                    I don't measure the amount of salt at all. I just liberally sprinkle kosher salt over the skin along with some fresh herbs (sometimes I do the underside, sometimes I don't). I cover with plastic for 2 - 3 days (I don't find it has to be covered tightly, by the way) and pull the plastic off for the last half day to dry. I don't massage it or fuss with it at all: sprinkle, cover, uncover, brush with some olive oil and roast. I don't turn it in the oven and I don't baste it. This year I had three people tell me it was the best turkey they've eaten. As one person said "it's like what you imagine turkey is supposed to taste like, but never does".

                    So maybe give it another try, making sure you use kosher salt and just sprinkling enough to "season generously" but not so much that you can't see the surface of the turkey.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: TorontoJo

                      I had a chance to try TorontoJo's dry-brined turkey this year, and it was the best roasted turkey I've eaten. I like roasted turkey, so I've eaten a fair amount of turkey over the years. This one was the juiciest, most flavourful roasted turkey I've tasted.

                      By the way, TorontoJo- what temperature is your oven when you roast the turkey? Do you vary the temp while it's roasting?

                      1. re: prima

                        Thanks, prima! :)

                        I started at 425 for 30 mins, then dropped to 375 for the rest of the time.

                    2. I dry-brined my turkey this year. Without a doubt will go back to wet brining.

                      4 Replies
                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          The moisture in the breast meat is more than triple than that of a dry brine. When you slice into the breast the juices drip from the cuts and the meat is far from firm; it droops and folds over on itself with moisture, the juices are much more flavorful.

                          1. re: lilgi

                            interesting. yesterday's dry-brined breast was juicier and more flavorful than the wet-brined ones i've had. the again, i've always been partial to dry-brined *and* dry-aged meat because the texture of wet-treated meat always seems spongy to me.

                            well, as buttertart and were saying yet again recently, suum cuique :)

                            hope you had a happy holiday anyway!

                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                              I have to wonder if there are any other factors that affect the end results of ether technique, all I can say is that with the dry brine the meat was slightly moist and ordinary. There are others here on the board that agree so the wet vs dry method will always be an ongoing thing.

                              I lost a little respect for Mr. McGee because we've never detected any sponginess, plus another statement about basting he made which is entirely false (after years and years of t & t experience). Maybe time to ditch the book? ;)

                              Hope you had a good one too ghg!

                      1. 2011 Thanksgiving: this 12-lb holiday turkey was our first dry-brine - loved it and will do it again! It's far superior to the wet brine method; the breast was moist and flavorful; the dark was succulent. No excessive saltiness; drippings were fine for gravy. I rubbed 'under the skin' with herb butter of fresh chopped sage, rosemary, and thyme. Stuffed interior cavity with 1/2 fresh lemon, 1/2 onion, 1 celery stalk, and 1 carrot. 3-day dry brine of 2 tablespoons of kosher salt wrapped in plastic, one day air-dry in the refrigerator. Rubbed skin with vegetable oil and roasted breast down at 450°F in convection oven for 20 minutes; reduced heat to 325°F for 75 minutes; turned bird and continued to roast until instant thermometer read 160°F at thick part of breast. Skin was crisp and beautifully browned. At rest for 30 minutes, tented with foil, before carving. Easy peasy deliciousness.

                        1. Writing as the OP, I am on day 2 and took the drumsticks and one remaining thigh out to taste. Those parts taste to me frankly "cured," which is not in itself a bad thing but also not my preference for a holiday turkey roast. It's like the difference between raw salmon and lox (though not quite so dramatic a difference).

                          I've decided finally to devote the meat to soup. I already have a fair amount of homemade turkey stock with no salt (I use wings and aromatics before T-Day to prepare gravy ahead). Perhaps a night spent soaking in a low-salt broth might extract some of the saltiness from the meat itself.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Bada Bing

                            I have only one experience with brining so not really much to go on. My experience was a way to salty bird. I have since been learning about curing meats and have gotten religous about weighing ingredients. One recipe I was working with (not a brining recipe, was for corned beef) called for 2 cups or 450 grams of salt. I measured 2 cups onto my scale and only reached 380 grams. I was using a kosher salt with a large grain size. I emailed the author of the recipe and he said (Michael Ruhlman) to always go with weight. The corned beef turned out great. When I look back on my wet brine experience I used cup measurements and a very fine grained salt. Which would have had more wheight per cup. I am pretty sure this is why my bird was over salted and would recommend finding a ratio of bird weight to salt weight that fits your taste.


                          2. I cooked a bone in turkey breast. I made a rub of fresh sage and rosemary, dried thyme, peppercorns, salt, and a few cloves run through a spare coffee bean grinder. I patted the oiled bird all over with the rub and let it sit for 24 hours in the fridge. I am not sure it was worth the effort, although the turkey was delicious. I will try this again, probably with a chicken, and I will make sure to get the rub under the skin. I think I want only olive oil and salt on the skin. For this turkey I put the rub under the skin, but also over the top. So, I'll give it a whirl a couple more times, but as far as I'm concerned the jury is still out on this culinary procedure.

                            1. Last weekend's America's Test Kitchen touched on both slow roasting turkeys and dry-brining them. They said the best way is to keep it at the low temperature for the whole time. They did a side-by-side and the bird that was cooked at a higher temp at first and later lowered was overcooked on the outside (inside was fine). The constant low temp bird was the same temperature inside and out. And they dry brined the bird. It was easier than wet brine and just as juicy. You may want to check out their version to see how much salt to use.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: pdxgastro

                                did the dry brined low temp turkey come out with crisp skin?

                                  1. re: ChowFun_derek

                                    They cut off the breast and sliced it for the tasting part at the end of the demo. It looked crispy.

                                  2. re: pdxgastro

                                    define low temp please. I cooked my turkey breast at 325 deg, and it came out with crisp skin and the breast meat was succulent and tasty.

                                  3. I dry brined this year using the LA Times recipe. I used a seasoned salt called Seasonello made with sea salt and fresh herbs which I've come to love for general seasoning. I actually used a little more than what the recipe called for - probably a total of 4 tablespoons.
                                    I found that the bird was perfectly seasoned and not too salty at all. My only disappointment was that I couldn't taste the herbs in the seasoned salt. I wish I'd just stuck with kosher and added my own herbs.
                                    I would definitely go this route again. I've used a traditional brine several times in the past and enjoyed the results but I do prefer this method.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Sushiqueen36

                                      Glad it worked out! I wonder: did you brine/cure the bird all of 3 days?

                                      1. re: Bada Bing

                                        I started brining Monday morning in a roasting bag (couldn't find the 2 1/2 gallon zip locks they recommended) - rubbed and turned it about every 12 hours. Took it out of the bag Wednesday evening and let it dry in the fridge until Thurs morning. So pretty much exactly what the recipe said.

                                        1. re: Sushiqueen36

                                          So timing and salt amount are similar on your end. What did your turkey weigh?

                                          If yours was around 14-15 lbs., I'll begin to suspect that the extra saltiness in my own case might be related to weight-loss from evaporation after 3 days in the fridge. I'm sure a bird salted and bagged would have lost significantly less weight. And my spatchcocked bird might be all the more ready to evaporate water.

                                          1. re: Bada Bing

                                            Mine was just 12 1/2 pounds. There was quite a bit of liquid in the bottom of the bag when I removed it to air dry which surprised me a little.

                                            Did you spatchcock before you brined or after?

                                            1. re: Sushiqueen36

                                              My bird was 14lb before I spatchcocked it, at which point I applied salt, so it probably weighed about the same as yours.

                                              I wonder, too, if the fineness of the salt grind could matter after all. I use kosher salt, but the Alton Brown recipe called for grinding it a bit with the other seasonings, and it was actually close to table-salt consistency.

                                    2. We did a 19lb natural unfrozen turkey dry brined ala la times method. It sat in the fridge in a plastic bag from Monday evening to Wednesday and then air dried in fridge for 24 hrs. Everyone enjoyed it but later it was decided that it was considerably saltier than wet brined method. I would. Consider cooking it on the grill next year just to keep the oven free for everything.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: ElsieB

                                        To ElsieB and Bada Bing, I'd suggest you use less salt next time. I've been salting chickens a la Zuni Style for a long time and don't end up with salty meat. I did over salt once under the skin and it was quite salty. I try to use a bit more salt on the exterior than under the skin.

                                        1. re: scubadoo97

                                          I agree. I will try this one or two more times. I didn't salt under the skin at all this time. But I've also heard that after several days, the salt migrates through the skin anyway.

                                      2. I used kosher salt and let it sit for one day in plastic wrap. Also found it juicy, tasty, and a bit too salty. The recipe did not specify washing and drying the bird before roasting, and I'm wondering whether that would have helped.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: chefMolnar

                                          Never done that with my dry cured chickens. I would just decrease the next time. After all that drying I would be hesitant to wash it. You'll never get the skin as dry as it was after 3 days drying in the fridge.