Thanksgiving Turkey Dry Brine
Andy Anderson !
I've used this brine on hundreds of chickens... it's time I used it on a turkey.
Oh, and the good news is that you can start this process; even with a frozen turkey.
So, you ready… Let’s get into the kitchen.
Wet brining has been around for hundreds of years, and moved from Europe to the United States about 75 years ago. The brining process helps the turkey (or whatever you’re brining) retain moisture. The process dissolves muscle proteins, and when this happens, the fibers lose their ability to contract during the cooking process. If they can’t contract, they can’t squeeze out any moisture, which means a juicer bird. In addition, brining helps to season the meat before cooking.
Wet brining will increase the water content of your bird, and decrease the amount of moisture due to the cooking process. However, that additional moisture is really nothing but water.
Well, in two words… Don’t bother. Cell walls are semi permeable. If the pressure on one side of the wall is greater than the other, liquid will pass through to equalize the pressure… that’s called osmosis. So, the higher concentration of salt solution in the brine interacts with the liquid on the other side of the cell wall, and since it’s of higher concentration, it allows the liquid to pass through. In addition, because salt is a very small molecule some of the salt will also pass through the cell wall (membrane). But most spices are too big to pass through, so they wind up on the outside of the bird.
Many brining recipes call for bringing in a number of aromatics—carrots, celery, onions, spices, and herbs. This makes the brine smell really good, but doesn’t do much much beyond the skin.
Wet brining will increase the overall moisture of the bird, and will minimize the loss of moisture during the cooking process. It’s a win-win situation, right?
Well, not exactly. The additional moisture will be in the form of water; which dilutes the flavor of the turkey’s original juices, and the breakdown of the fiber structure give the turkey a different mouth feel… almost like ham.
If done correctly with exactly the right amount of salt, and the right temperature and time, wet brining can produce wonderful results. But, can we do better…
I will admit that it took me a bit of time to mentally work through the process of dry brining a bird. I was skeptical about the whole process… until I got into the science of the whole thing.
Brining is not about a bunch of liquid; it’s about concentration of elements, and in this case the primary element is salt… good old salt.
When you sprinkle salt on a body of a turkey, it will eventually draw moisture out and will mix with the salt solution. Then, over time the salt causes the muscle proteins to break down, and the moisture will be reabsorbed into the muscle fibers.
As opposed to an 8-hour wet brine, dry brining takes up to 3 days. The brine will penetrate deeper, into the bird, and (if you’re using them) bring some spices along for the ride.
The Bottom Line:
So, if you’re not adding any additional liquid, how does this help… Good question.
The dry brine will do several things:
• It will flavor the natural juices of the bird without watering the whole thing down.
• Because of the long process (3 days), it will penetrate deeper into the bird, and bring a few well-selected spices along for the ride.
• The dry brine will not add more liquid; however, it will prevent most of the natural juices from escaping.
I’m doing two birds this Thanksgiving: One with a traditional wet brine, and one with a dry brine… We’ll see which one wins on Thursday.