The magic of Thanksgiving lies in the honoring of traditional recipes. Food laced with nostalgia, fills our bodies and our souls. The list of traditional dishes is a sacred offering to the table, therefore I would never suggest you change your green jello salad, in my behalf.
But, I will ask you to do one thing for me… forgo the dry turkey. If this is the tradition at your family feast, please, for the sake of future generations, read this post on dry brining your turkey.
Brining is a process wherein poultry is enhanced with a soaking of salt. The prolonged soak causes the meat to absorb the salt, adding flavor, but also softening tough muscles in the meat. The result is a tender, juicy, and flavorful bird.
For years, we wet brined. This process for brining involved creating a highly concentrated salt solution, steeped with aromatics, wherein the bird soaks overnight. This produces a very juicy bird, but it seems to lack flavor. Also, the drippings from the bird are extremely salty, meaning they can’t be used to make your gravy.
Another complaint about the wet brine is how labor intensive it is. Once your brine is made and cooled, you’re left with finding a home for the turkey and several gallons of brine to hang out in overnight. And they need to stay cold! So, that thing’s going to fill your fridge!! I don’t have room for that in my fridge! Plus, you’re dealing with leaky buckets filled with poultry water.
Even with the most precision, this process is a mess.
So, when we learned of another method for brining, we were hooked. Let us introduce you to the dry brining method. The process involves rubbing the meat with kosher salt, allowing it to sit in the fridge for at least 24 hours, then cooking it. No sloppy water buckets needed!
But will it provide a flavorful and juicy bird? Yes! Plus that turkey will have the crispiest skin. Win. Win. Win.
How does dry brining work?
Dry brining is a simple process. Sometimes called “pre-salting,” you’ll simply rub the meat with kosher salt. The salt, through osmosis, will draw moisture from the meat. This moisture will dissolve the salt, creating a natural brine that is then reabsorbed into the meat.
This is not an instant process. It takes time for the juices and the salt to work together, but giving it the required time allows the meat to be fully penetrated by the added salt and enhanced juice. We suggest at least 24 hours, but no more than three days of brining.
If you want to add spices to your salt before rubbing, the juice will extract flavor from the spices, adding more flavor to you meat. Mmmmmmmm. We love this blend, which includes coarse salt and a great blend of spices.
This method also produces crispy skin, because you are allowing the skin to dry in the fridge, rather than soaking it in water, making it soggy. Placing the turkey on a cooling rack and sheet pan is the perfect place for it to work its magic. It’s a total win.
How do you dry brine a turkey?
The magic of dry brining is in the salt. Using a large-grained kosher salt will properly extract the moisture from the meat. The large grains are easy to see, helping with the application of the salt. Kosher salt also has a delicious and pure flavor, which will enhance the flavor without adding the dreaded bite of over salting. Our favorite brand is Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. It’s delicious and inexpensive and an absolute essential for your pantry. We also recommend these spice blends, if you’re looking to add more flavor to your turkey.
Once you’ve got your salt and your bird, you’re ready to dry brine!
Dry Brining Turkey
- thawed turkey
- kosher salt
- other optional spices (sage, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, etc.)
Begin by removing the neck and giblets from a thawed turkey.
Pat the inside and the outside of the bird dry with a paper towel.
Using 1 tsp of salt per pound of bird, rub the salt all over the skin, under the skin, and inside the cavity of the bird.
If you're wanting to add spices, mix them with the salt before rubbing onto the bird.
Place the bird, breast side up, on a roasting pan or a sheet pan lined with a cooling rack.
Place the uncovered meat in the fridge for at least 24 hours, but up to 3 days.
When you're ready to cook, simply remove from the fridge and cook in desired method. Do not rinse or wipe off the spice on the bird.
Tips and Tricks for Dry Brining
Any type of poultry can be dry brined. Use this method for chicken, too!
Any part of the bird can be brined. A bone-in breast, a package of drumsticks, or the whole thing. Just adjust the amount of salt accordingly. Remember 1 tsp salt per pound of meat!
Using a thawed bird is best, because it allows you to rub salt under the skin. But you can dry brine the turkey while it is still thawing in your fridge. Just make sure the skin is soft enough for the salt to stick to it.
If leaving an uncovered turkey in your fridge feels risky, you can lightly tent the bird with plastic wrap or foil. This brining kit also contains a large bag you can place the turkey inside. We suggest placing the turkey on top of a cooling rack inside the bag, allowing the juices to pool without soaking the underside of the bird. On Thanksgiving, uncover the turkey for the last few hours before cook time to allow the skin time to dry.
If you want to rub your bird with butter, simply brine the bird first, then rub the butter under the skin just before cooking. And let me know when dinner will be ready.