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Do I really need to brine the turkey?

We are going to smoke a turkey this year and I found this recipe on the CH site. Do I really need to brine it? I'm not crazy about the idea but I guess it will keep it moist?


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  1. No. If you like the texture of wet-brined turkey, by all means brine it, but if you don't, either skip the brine altogether or do a "dry" brine. To "dry" brine, you just rub the turkey in a generous amount of salt, wrap it up tightly and let it sit in the fridge for a few days. Unwrap it a day before cooking and let it sit in the fridge, uncovered, to dry the skin, and that's it.

    1. No, but it will taste better if you do, particularly if you're doing a low temp smoke.

      1. I brine my turkey before smoking, and the texture is perfect. Certainly not "wet" in any way. I use Alton Brown's recipe. Can't imagine a Thanksgiving with any other turkey now.

        We use cherry wood that I harvest from blow-downs in NH.

        2 Replies
          1. re: smtucker

            OK, I think I'm sold on the brining. A neighbor took down a cherry tree and we've been drying the wood for about five months. Will make Thanksgiving very special this year.

            I've seen Alton's show on turkey smoking and will look it up.


          2. Do you have access to a kosher turkey? A kosher turkey is soaked in salt water (is the light bulb going on?), so in essence it is already brined when you buy it.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Diane in Bexley

              I always do it myself as I hate to pay for the weight of the water and salt at Kosher prices.

            2. Agree about the dry brine. We've been doing this for years. Google the Latimes and Judy Bird. They have had instructions for this years. The inspiration was Judy Rodgers chicken, hence the name.

              1. Your turkey will not taste better from brining, but it will ensure the breast meat is juicy. Many people are unable to end up with juicy white meat without brining. If you are a novice turkey roaster, I'd recommend brining.

                6 Replies
                1. re: ChefJune

                  I hardly ever disagree with you CJ but brined turkeys definitely taste better.

                  Been around the block on turkey cookery.

                  1. re: C. Hamster

                    True. Salted throughout is a tasty thing.

                    1. re: sandylc

                      And it's not just the salt. If you make a brine with aromatics the salt carries all that flavor along for the ride into the flesh.

                    2. re: C. Hamster

                      Depends on the brine ;)

                      Certainly when it's seasoned throughout it will taste better. But a well seasoned non brined bird can taste as good just different. I'm a fan of using a dry cure method as well

                      Wet brining does add a level of full proofing the chances of a juicy breast

                      1. re: C. Hamster

                        If you brine correctly, the meat is perfectly seasoned, and not just on the surface.

                    3. Having both wet and dry brined over the past few years, I'd throw my hat in the dry brine ring. To me it is simpler with the same results, less mess and worry about storage during the brining process. After my second wet brine last year, I will only dry brine.
                      Either way, I do think the process of brining results in a tastier, more succulent turkey.
                      Four salt mix recipe ideas with tutorial on dry brine. This is the one I have followed with success.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: pagesinthesun

                        I have never brined a turkey and it's always been pretty good to me but then again I like turkey. I'm pondering brining this year as I love the Zuni chicken recipe which involves a dry brine. Did you find the dry brine was salty at all?

                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                          Not salty at all. We were able to use the drippings in gravy. If I recall, the recipe above calls for rinsing the turkey prior to roasting.
                          I also salt my chicken prior to roasting. It really does make a nice bird.
                          I'm following one of the BA recipes from the list above this year. Tried and true.

                      2. Just pre season it with salt and dry rub. Brining makes the bird juicier but dilutes the flavor because it makes the bird absorb water.

                        1. I'm also a convert to dry brining. I use a mixture of hickory-smoked salt and a barbeque rub from Whole Spice (http://wholespice.com/display.asp?id=...), and let it sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours. The turkey is really great and juicy. I used to do a wet brine, but I like the taste and ease of the dry method much better. The only drawback is that you can't use the drippings for the gravy because they're too salty, but that's easily remedied.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: The Librarian

                            <The only drawback is that you can't use the drippings for the gravy because they're too salty>

                            I haven't found that to be an issue with dry brining. Wet brine, yes.

                            1. re: mike0989

                              Neither have I...... Never have had a too salty gravy using the drippings.

                              1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                I have to admit that I read that somewhere and don't speak from personal experience - good to know that it's not true.

                                1. re: The Librarian

                                  I've both wet and dry brined for many many years and never had a salty gravy problem.

                                  A not enough delicious gravy problem perhaps but never salty

                            2. re: The Librarian

                              When you smoke a turkey, this is a non-issue. There are no drippings. I roast some turkey parts at the beginning of the week for the gravy.

                              1. re: The Librarian

                                Of course you can use the drippings!

                                I have made great gravy from both wet and dry brined turkeys (and I agree that I prefer dry).

                                One only needs a ton of unsalted stock.

                                Been making killer gravy from brined birds for 20 years.

                              2. Thanks for all the great recommendations. I think I'll do a run-through with chicken to decide which will suit us best.

                                1. Dry brining works just as well, is much more convenient, and practically guarantees a crispy, beautifully browned skin and juicy meat.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                    another vote for dry-brine. while i don't care for the semantics of the term, the results are great and next to no hassle vs. a wet-brined bird hogging up space in the fridge.

                                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                                        I do about a 1/4 cup for an 8 lb bird. Maybe a hooch more.

                                    1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                      Yet another vote for the dry brine. My turkeys have been consistently awesome ever since I started using this method.

                                    2. I think I will try the dry bring this Thanksgiving/Chanukah

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. This is all assuming you're buying a turkey from a local farm or whatnot. If you're getting a grocery store turkey, it is already "brined" for you: Whether you want it or not!

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: coll

                                          Yes, many are, but not all of them. Label-reading is in order when buying ANY food.

                                          1. re: coll

                                            Exactly. I know lady who buys a butterball and brines it in a cooler. I just shake my head and smile.

                                            1. re: coll

                                              Mine are coming from a local turkey farm.

                                            2. Your local meat shop will sometimes offer to brine the meat for you (for a little extra charge). It beats trying to find buckets or containers big enough to do this on your own. I saw one couple online who brined theirs in their bath tub (gross!). Personally I don't like brined meat since it tastes too processed to me. Plus the skin and the gravy have plenty of salt in them and I like the contrast between the fresh turkey and the salty gravies and sides.

                                              There is a really great article on Serious Eats about brining Turkey that you may want to read through: http://www.seriouseats.com/2012/11/th...

                                              1. Check your turkey. See if it says injected with salt or oil mixture. If so, it IS brined. If not, dry brine with sea salt 24 hours in advance.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: brooktroutchaser

                                                  It's gotta be a coarse salt, sea salt is generally pretty fine.

                                                2. Okay, you've convinced me to try dry-brining, but I have some questions. Do I just do it the day before? Do I need to wipe off the salt prior to cooking? How much salt for, say, a 12 lb bird? And can I use this method even if I'm roasting it rather than smoking it?

                                                  I rarely make turkey, even for Thanksgiving, but we're hosting some college kids who probably want a traditional meal while they're away from home.

                                                  16 Replies
                                                  1. re: Isolda

                                                    Yes, roasting it is fine.

                                                    I'd use at least a quarter cup of kosher salt (has to be kosher or it will be too salty, has to be the big grains of salt) for a 12 lb bird; that is about the size I get since I usually only have six for T-day dinner.

                                                    I would do it two days before. Some people cover it for a day, then uncover it. I have done it uncovered for two days, and it came out great. The point of uncovering it is to dry out the skin, which will make it brown & crisp it up. No, you don't need to wipe off the salt, as it should have been absorbed by the liquid extruded from the bird, and absorbed back in, which makes the meat seasoned.

                                                      1. re: Isolda

                                                        You're welcome! Hope it turns out great for you!

                                                      2. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                        Ditto. Dry brining is the way to go. Wet brining for too long will change the texture of the meat- it can get a bit spongy. Dry brining also gives you a better shot at a crisp skin. Just be aware crispy skin is tough to do with low and slow smoking - it tends to get leathery, not crisp. But with turkey, a high heat smoke works well too (and you can brush with butter and blast in a 500 degree oven for 15 minutes at the end, if need be).

                                                        1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                          Do you salt over and under the skin? Cavity as well?

                                                          1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                            Not necessary to do under the skin..... But cavity, I do salt.

                                                            1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                              You could do a closer Zuni method of putting herbs and a little seasoning under the skin

                                                              1. re: scubadoo97

                                                                An herbed butter works really well under the skin also, and makes the skin crispy as well.

                                                                1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                                  I just picked up my favorite Kerrygold herb butter, just in case I need an assist.

                                                                  1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                    Oh I've not seen that, I bet that will be nice if you use it......

                                                            2. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                              I'm sorry but I don't believe this to be a reflection of my experience with dry brining poultry. I have used the Zuni method on multitudes of chickens and a handful of turkeys and have always used regular small grain sea salt without any overly salty issue (or any other issue to be honest!)

                                                              I also primarily salt under the skin versus over it and I like to place some fresh herbs like thyme and rosemary under the skin as well. Never had any need for butter as the skin turns out perfectly brown and crispy and insanely delicious.

                                                            3. re: Isolda

                                                              The rule is 1 tablespoon of Kosher salt for every 5 lbs. Russ Parsons of the LA Times recommends 3 days in the fridge. You can also add dry herbs such as sage to the salt mix.


                                                              1. re: mazwe

                                                                We've been using this recipe since it first came out. It's pretty much follproof.

                                                                1. re: mazwe

                                                                  Oops, here is the answer to my question. I'm planning an heirloom turkey low and slow and I guess I'll be dry brining this year. Do you use any oil before cooking?

                                                                  1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                    You might want to reconsider low and slow for quick and really hot a la Zuni. If memory serves me, I want to say I'm able to perfectly roast a 14 lb turkey in approximately 2 hours in an extremely hot oven. The quick cooking (along with the dry brining) does not allow for the moisture to escape the meat and you end up with a moist bird and very crispy skin. The only thing you have to worry about is smoking up your house a bit, but it's worth it when you can free up your oven for other items so easily.

                                                                1. The secret to perfect juicy chicken and turkey is simple - Brine them before cooking!

                                                                  This is the secret that chefs never tell you about. It's very easy and economical, and requires no special cookware.
                                                                  Brining is like a marinade, as it keeps food moist and tender. Brining or salting is a way of increasing the moisture holding capacity of meat resulting in a moister product when it is cooked. Salt changes the structure of the muscle tissue in the meat which allows it to swell and absorb water and flavorings which results in a tender turkey or chicken once cooked.

                                                                  With that said, you cAn adjust the amount of salt in your brine if the sodium content is a concern. I'm not sure on how much sodium is retained. There are no strict rules on the salt to water ratio for brining. Traditionally, 3/4 pound of salt per gallon of water, but since we’re not concerned with the brine as a preservative, you can cut back on the salt. You can also cut back on the amount of time for brining to reduce the sodium content. For a whole turkey 1-2 days of brining is recommended, so 1 day of brining would be better for lower sodium content. Instead of table salt, use either coarse kosher salt or sea salt. Here's a link that reviews a formula to calculate sodium retained from brining: http://www.salon.com/2010/03/23/brini...

                                                                  Here are comprehensive instructions on brining your turkey

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Nancyhartman

                                                                    I've had plenty of non-brined turkeys that were moist and delicious just to be devil's advocate.

                                                                    1. re: Nancyhartman

                                                                      Although the rules for brining may not be strict, it doesn't work if you cut back too much on the amount if salt you use.