To Brine or Not to Brine?

November 22, 2013

There are so many great conversations on the Hotline -- it's hard to choose a favorite. But we'll be doing it every day leading up to Thanksgiving, to spread the wealth of our community's knowledge -- and to help you host the least stressful Thanksgiving yet. No promises on the crazy relatives.

Today: We’re helping you decide how to brine your bird. (Or not.) Tommorrow we'll review brining basics and help you find space in the fridge.

Is it Better to Brine or Not to Brine, from Food52

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Is it better to brine or not to brine your turkey? Our question is decidedly less angst-filled than Shakespeare's, but still has the power to ruffle feathers. Anti-briners contend that brining reduces flavor, while pro-briners believe that done well, brining can provide juicy flavorful meat, perfectly crispy skin, and still preserve the bird's flavor. And if you agree that it is better to brine, you then need to decide whether to use a traditional wet brine or the less-messy dry brine. The question of whether to brine has been asked multiple times over the years on the Hotline, and the opinions have flocked in:

No Brine

  • Matilda Luk finds that brining poultry makes the meat take on a more processed texture. (But admits that brining makes the meat juicier and provides cooking flexibility -- your bird is less likely to be ruined with extra time in the oven.)
  • Ellenl agrees that brining helps keep the bird more moist, but at the sacrifice of flavor.

Dry Brine

  • Jessica Bakes argues against any potential flavor loss from brining. She's found that heavily salting your turkey many hours beforehand gives amazing moisture and maintains the turkey's flavor.
  • Aranthi deems dry brines supreme thanks to their simplicity, minimal mess, and ability to produce a great-tasting bird.

Wet Brine

  • Erinbdm sticks with what works. She's done a wet brine every year, and the turkey has always been flavorful and delicious and not too salty.
  • SKK concurs, and finds wet brines are worth the trouble due to the huge difference in taste and texture they provide. 

So which is it? To brine or not to brine? Continue the conversation in the comments below!

Have you missed any of our Thanksgiving round-up of Burning Questions? Catch up now:

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harpist M. November 24, 2013
This will be my first time cooking a turkey! I am going to try a dry brine using the Judy Bird method on this site.
soupcon November 24, 2013
I dry brine all my poultry and also cut all the tendons just above the knuckle/ankle of the drumstick before roasting. I have found that as long as you dry brine a couple of hours ahead of roasting and let the skin dry out by not covering in the fridge or counter (except to keep the flies off when bringing to room temperature), the bird is very moist and juicy and the skin nice and crispy.
Leith D. November 24, 2013
I love a dry brined turkey, but the juices are salty. I use herb butter under the skin as well...it's a great way to add flavor. Last year I bought a package of turkey wings and used those drippings for the gravy. The best thing I've ever done is make 2 smaller turkeys instead of one giant one. You can add different seasonings and they've never been dry.
Kacia November 23, 2013
What about when baking in a bag? Does that moisture technique eliminate the need for brineing?
CAROLINA M. November 22, 2013
I agree I think It's best to always brine birds, I have bringing chickens and turkey for the last couple of years. The results always end in a moist, juicy, and flavorful bird. That is why it is very important to have the right measurments and proportions of water and salt, that way the bird has the right amount of salt and does not end up too salty. Try this thanksgiving by making a lemon herb turkey or a pumpkin stuffed maple glazed turkey, I am sure if done properly it will be a crowd pleaser among your loved one. try it and see. :)
EmilyC November 22, 2013
This year I'm combining a dry brine (ala The Judy Bird on this site) with Tom Colicchio's herb butter (http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/tom-colicchio-s-herb-butter-turkey) that you apply liberally under the skin. The last two years, I did a dry brine, which I love for its relative ease, but found that the turkey lacked a little something. I think butter + herbs will solve that problem!
aargersi November 22, 2013
Wet brine! With warm spices and cider this year. We have a huge crowd, and I make a huge bird (24 lbs) so the wet brine really helps prevent drying out ... as does wrapping the whole thing in bacon
JiminyC November 22, 2013
I'm in the dry brining camp. As I do with almost all poultry, I salt the bird inside and out a day ahead, refrigerate overnight, then remove from the refrigerator several hours before cooking and allow it to come to room temperature uncovered. Just before it goes into the oven, I slather it with olive oil and sprinkle on some pepper. The skin will be crisp and crackly and the meat deliciously moist.
deblenares November 22, 2013
Is it possible to make gravy from the drippings of a brined bird? I did it one year and the gravy was unbearably salty. (But the bird was divine.)
Ryan November 22, 2013
I spatchcocked my liberally salted turkey last year, and the backbone made amazing gravy.
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. November 22, 2013
We'll also be talking more about this topic tomorrow -- stay tuned!
amysarah November 22, 2013
I like to dry brine, but have avoided the salty gravy issue by making Antonia James' Make Ahead Turkey Gravy the last couple of years. (Also easier not to have to fuss with gravy at the last minute.) This year's batch is already in the freezer - made with Madeira.
Ryan November 22, 2013
With a good bird (i.e. not mass supermarket brand) a wet brine is overkill. A good salting should be more than adequate to retain moisture.