Turkey Time: Liquid Brine vs. Dry Brine
This holiday season, we’ve had a lot of questions about dry brining - pre-salting the turkey and leaving it to sit in the fridge for a few days, without soaking in a brine solution. One question we’ve had over and over is, can you dry brine a turkey using our Brining Mix? Absolutely. We’ve even created some easy instructions for the dry brining process.
So which method should you use for your holiday turkey? It’s really up to you. We’ve tried both liquid brining and dry brining. Here are some considerations to help you figure out which method is right for you:
Liquid brining involves creating a liquid solution (the brine) with lots of salt (and sometimes sugar and seasoning) that the turkey can soak in. When you submerge a protein in the brine, the salt gets absorbed by the protein not just on the exterior but throughout, infusing the turkey with flavor. The liquid brine travels into the protein’s cells, hydrating them and resulting in a juicier turkey.
- Need up to 3 cups of Brining Mix to make a brine solution for a 15 lb. turkey in up to 2 gallons of water.
- Requires about 10 minutes of prep work to dissolve Brining Mix in liquid.
- Requires a container big enough to hold a turkey submerged in liquid, and that container needs to fit in the fridge.
- Requires brine time of 1 hour per pound, overnight for a 15 lb. turkey.
- The salt and seasoning are distributed evenly throughout the turkey since the bird is submerged in the brining solution.
- In our experience, the liquid brine yields a visibly juicier cooked turkey.
Dry brining is a method of pre-salting the turkey by rubbing it all over with salt (and sometimes sugar and seasoning). The salt draws out juices from turkey by osmosis then dissolves in the juices turning into a natural salty brine liquid. The brine liquid is reabsorbed into the meat, breaking down muscle fibers and resulting in a tender and juicy turkey seasoned from the inside out.
- Need about 1 tsp. Brining Mix per pound of turkey, about 1/3 cup for a 15 lb. turkey.
- No need to create a brine solution, simply rub the turkey down (under skin and on skin) with salt or a salt and seasoning mixture.
- Won’t need a container big enough hold turkey submerged in brining liquid, but turkey still needs to fit in the fridge.
- Requires a long brine time so the salt can penetrate the meat, 2 to 3 days for a 15 lb. turkey.
- The rub method makes it harder to get equal distribution of salt, and therefore even brining, across the entire turkey.
- Refrigerating the turkey uncovered may result in a crispier skin when cooked.
Tips for Either Brining Method
- Start with a fresh or defrosted turkey; defrosting takes 5 hours per pound turkey.
- Brining works best for natural or heritage turkeys; Kosher, self-basting or otherwise pre-seasoned turkeys treated turkeys have added salt already.
- Brining can be done before any style of turkey cooking: roasting, smoking, or grilling. (We don’t recommend a liquid brine for a fried turkey because you’re adding liquid to the turkey, which can be dangerous in the fryer).
- The brining process works the same for turkey pieces (legs, thighs, breasts) and takes less time than a whole turkey.
- Brining does not replace the need for seasoning; we pat dry the brined turkey and rub it with 1 tsp. seasoning of choice per pound of turkey before cooking.
DIY Brining Mix
If you’re more of a DIYer when it comes to brining and want to branch out from our premade Brining Mix, try one of these ideas:
- DIY Brining Spice Ready Mix: Check out Savory founder Mike Johnston’s article about building your own brining spice mixes based on different flavor profiles…spicy, citrus, tangy, herby, exotic.
- Salt Seasonings for Dry Brining: A salt-heavy seasoning with herbs and spices can make a delicious and easy dry brine. Our favorites in this category are Herbes de Provence Seasoning Salt or Cantanzaro Herbs Seasoning Salt. For the best distribution of salt and seasoning for coarse blends like these, give them a quick whiz in a spice grinder or crush them in a mortar & pestle. If you don’t have these spice tools, toss the seasoning salt in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin or meat pounder. This will help distribute the seasoning salt more evenly across the turkey.
For more turkey talk and holiday meal ideas, visit our Ultimate Thanksgiving Meal Planner.