For years, I was told that the secret to juicy, tender meat and poultry is brining. I didn’t believe until last year. My aunt taught me this method and I was blown away. Brining has stood the test of time and now I am also a big fan! Becuase let ’s face it, whether cooking for the family or getting ready for the holidays, the thing I want is to serves dry, tasteless meat. And that is why learning how to dry brine a turkey is so important!
What is Brining?
Brining was a technique that was used to preserve food before refrigerators were created. It involved placing meat in a mixture of salt and water so that it could maintain it’s moisture and extend its shelf life. We reccomend using the gas smoker for this technique. Brining evolved and became used in cooking to help meat and poultry be more tender, retain its juices and adding lots of flavour. You have two options when brining your meat and that is a wet or dry brine.
Wet brining was the traditional method, where the meat is submerged in a mixture of liquid and salt (some people use water, others use cider) so the meat can retain its juices. The problem with wet brining is that it takes a lot of space (you do have to keep your meat or poultry submerged in a bucket for days at a time) and it’s also time-consuming. And that’s why dry brining is an easier and equally effective option.
A dry brine is a method that seasons the turkey like a more traditional wet brine, but it does not use any water. Instead, a dry brine involves rubbing the salt, seasonings, and/or sugar directly onto the meat and skin, and then letting the meat rest in the refrigerator for a period of time before cooking.
What happens during this time is really interesting: First, the salt draws out the meat juices through osmosis. Next, the salt dissolves into the juices, essentially turning into a “natural” brine even though there isn’t any added liquid. And finally, this brine is reabsorbed into the meat and starts breaking down tough muscle proteins, resulting in juicy, tender, seasoned meat.
Now that we know what dry-brining is, what are its advantages, especially when cooking a Christmas day turkey?
- The turkey already prepped: a whole turkey needs one to three days of brining time
- There’s no water: When you dry brine you only have to mix the spices and salt together and rub it on and throw it in the fridge.
- No special equipment needed: You can dry-brine on anything big enough to hold a turkey, such as a roasting pan or sheet pan.
- You get the most crispy skin: The turkey will sit uncovered in the fridge while in its dry brine. This might seems a bit strange but it really does help dry out the skin to ensure you get the most crispy golden skin! If you are worried about the turkey touching other food, you can loosely cover it with foil or plastic wrap and just uncovered it the night before.
How Much Salt to Dry Brine Your Turkey?
The first thing to note when dry brining is picking the right salt. We recommend using kosher salt as it thicker than table salt. We have found that sea salt doesn’t work as well as it doesn’t dissolve well.
The second thing to keep in mind is the amount of salt that you will be using. As a general rule you should use ½ teaspoon of kosher salt or ¼ teaspoon of regular table salt per pound of meat. If there is excess salt, don’t worry, the meat will absorb it. After doing this keep your meat refrigerated for a few hours and let chemistry do its magic.
The reason why brining works is that salt loosens up the natural proteins in the muscles of the meat, making them less able to contract when cooking. If the meat is less able to contract, the more moisture stays on the inside.
How Long to Brine Your Turkey
You should dry brine your turkey for at least 1- 3 days. The longer you let it dry brine the crispier the skin will go.
Things to Know If You’re Dry-Brining a Turkey
Dry brining your first turkey is a bit of an adventure, here a few things you should know.
- Pick the right turkey: Since you’ll be adding all of your own seasoning with spice and salt you need to start with a turket that has no seasonings. Go for a heritiagte or natural turkey. If you’re not sure if it has been seasoned, just check the label to make sure it has no added salt.
- Pre-thawed is best: It is possible to dry brine a frozen turkey however it will get better results if with a thawed bird as you separate the meat from the skin and put some of the mixture straight onto the meat. If your turkey was frozen rock solid, it will needs approximately 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey to thaw completely. For quicker thawing, place the turkey in a cold water bath and change the water every 30 minutes until it’s thawed.
- Whole or cut-up turkeys can be brined. You can brine turkey no matter how it is cut, it could be whole, bone-in breast or spatchcocked. The process will be the same. If you plan on using turkey breast we recommend you slice and tenderize it, to ensure you get a perfectly even cook.
- Plan out the brining time. Brining needs enough time in order to be effective, depending on the thickness of the meat depends on the time you need to give it as the salt needs time to work it way down from the surface. You can cook a dry-brined bird after only one day, giving it three days produces a much more tasty bird.
- Use any cooking method. Once your turkey is brined for at least 24 hours, you can choose whatever cooking method you like; oven roasting, deep-frying, or even grilling
- If you decide to smoke your turkey, we recommend using a gas smoker, we have tested out the lot and found this produces the crispiest skin. We are not sure of the science behind this, however, the family and friend have unanimously voted for this option.
- If you after some more tips from the professionals we follow head over to our top 10 BBQ blogs. These guys are top of their game and pull out some recipes that absoluty blow us away.
Dry Brine Turkey
- 4 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons dried herbs such as thyme, sage, and rosemary
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 14-to-16 pound thawed whole turkey (not kosher or pre-salted)
- Cutting board
- Large rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan
Mix the dry brine together: Mix the salt, pepper, and herbs together in a small bowl.
Take the turkey out of the packaging and place on a cutting board. Remove the giblets and neck from inside the cavity and discard or save for another use. Remove or discard any plastic or metal cages or pop-up thermometers.
Pat the turkey dry: Pat the outside of the turkey dry with paper towels. (If you are planning to spatchcock your turkey, do it now before you proceed with the next step.)
Loosen the skin: Using your hands, loosen the skin over the breast and separate it from the meat, making sure to break through the thin membrane between the skin and breast while leaving the skin itself intact. Loosen the skin over the meaty part of the legs.
Season the cavity: Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of the salt mixture into the cavity of the turkey.
Season the meat: Rub another 2 teaspoons of the salt mixture into the meat of the legs (under the skin). Rub 4 teaspoons of the salt mixture into the meat of the breasts (under the skin).
Season the skin: Sprinkle the remaining salt mixture over all the skin of both the breasts and legs.
Tuck the wings back: Bend the wings back and tuck under the breast.
Refrigerate: Place the turkey breast-side up in a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan and refrigerate uncovered for at least 1 day but ideally 3 days
Recipe NotesBrine proportions for a smaller turkey: Turkey sizes vary, so if you have a larger or smaller bird, go by these proportions instead: For every 5 pounds of turkey, you will need 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon dried herbs, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Fresh herbs substitution: Instead of dried herbs, you can substitute 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs (or 1 teaspoon per 5 pounds of turkey).
What I love about dry brining is that it doesn’t take much effort and you don’t need that many ingredients. It ensures that my meals food will be a success, from my delicious turkey with the crispiest skin to a marvellous roast beef filled the juiciest bits. I have found this to be a certified method to keep the meat moist and the family happy!