There are lots of ways to cook your Thanksgiving turkey, from smoking to frying to spatchcocking. But a traditional roast turkey is probably the most common option — and perfectly delicious when done right. For the best Thanksgiving turkey, though, you gotta brine that bird before roasting.
Here’s how to brine turkey (and why you should), including both wet and dry brining techniques.
Brining means letting something soak in a salted solution (usually with sugar and other seasonings, though ingredients vary) for several hours. This allows the mixture to penetrate the meat.
You can apply this technique to foods like tofu and cheese (and of course, pickles are brined), but it most often plays a key role in prepping meat, from chicken to pork chops to turkey.
What’s the point of brining?
Brining flavors meat far more deeply than a mere surface sprinkling of salt and spices can. That’s because a lengthy soak in salt water helps the meat absorb more moisture. (Since turkey isn’t the juiciest of meats, it can use a little help in the moisture department.)
Even with the hours-long cooking time turkey usually requires, brining ensures a juicy, tender texture (as long as you don’t overcook the bird or leave the meat in the brine too long).
Meanwhile, the longer your bird marinates in the salt solution, the more flavor can seep into its nooks and crannies.
You can turn out a fine roast turkey without brining, as long as you season it well and baste it. (Draping it with butter-soaked cheesecloth — or, even better, bacon — for most of the cooking time can help.) But a brined turkey is widely considered a world-beater in terms of flavor and texture.
Brining turkey will benefit it even if you’re not roasting. This method also works for grilling, smoking, or frying. That is, if you brine your turkey correctly — not for too long, and not with too much salt.
You have two options: wet brine or dry brine. A wet brine is the classic method that requires a bit more work and enough space to store not only the bird but the gallons of liquid it’ll be chilling in.
Whichever method you choose, be sure to completely defrost the turkey first. Also, remove the giblets and neck from the thawed turkey. (Save the neck for gravy and the giblets for stuffing if you’re a fan. Or, if you’d rather pass, at least cook them up for your cat or doggo.)
Short on time and fridge space? Dry brining is by far the easier method, but you’ll need to do it a day ahead of time — and, if you wanna get technical, this would be better categorized as a rub than a brine (which, by definition, is a liquid).
Rather than submerge the turkey in a brine solution, simply rub a healthy dose of kosher salt (and other seasonings if you like) all over the bird, then let it sit in the fridge for a day or two.
The salt will work its magic and you’ll have a juicy, well-seasoned bird with crispy skin.
After patting your brined bird dry and allowing it to rest at room temperature for a little while (to guard against that dreadful flabby skin), you can cook it however you like.
Roasting, smoking, and frying are all fair game. Brining amps up the turkey’s flavor no matter which cooking method you choose.