Updated: Jun 14, 2020
Cooking the perfect turkey
There are a few negotiables when it comes to Thanksgiving traditions but unless you’re vegan, turkey is definitely happening. Long gone are the days that dry, tough turkey is a fact of life. How to prepare your bird however, that’s become a bone of contention.
Brining is the process of injecting or bathing or sponge bathing meat with a seasoned salty brine used to enhance the flavour and/or texture, particularly of roasted meat.
Wet brining involves submerging your 15-20 pound turkey in a salty-sweet, aromatic solution contained in a large vessel for 2-3 days in your refrigerator. Manoeuvring this heavy slosh is a pain in the neck in the first place then it occupies a large part of your refrigerator space. And if that isn’t a problem, you’re now tasked with the messy project of a large piece of poultry and the bath of its own juice strewn throughout the kitchen amid preparing a big spread.
Wet brined meat retains an average of 7% of the original raw meat weight in absorbed water. Although this results in juicier turkey meat, it also creates a few downsides:
- When the salt draws the brine water into the meat, the turkey juices get displaced into the brine in the bucket diluting the “turkey taste”. - The combination of salt and absorbed water re-arranges the meat muscle structure creating a somewhat loose, rubbery texture. - You may end up with soggy skin if you don’t allow the additional moisture to evaporate from the skin before roasting. To achieve browned and crispy skin, you must dry off the bird and dry out the skin an extra 12 hours uncovered in the fridge. Dry brining your turkey simply requires wiping down and rubbing the entire bird with a smaller amount of basically the same ingredients you would dissolve in water for a wet brine then resting your bird uncovered in its roasting pan in the fridge 1-2 days.
Something extraordinary happens here through osmosis. Salt draws the turkey’s own juice out, next the salt dissolves into the juices essentially creating a “natural” brine without added liquid which along with the flavour of the herbs and spices, reabsorbs into the meat. Dry brined turkey results in a juicy, tender seasoned meat with its flavour and texture in tact.
Truth be known, simply salting your turkey just before putting it in the oven is nearly as effective at retaining moisture with one caveat. You must monitor your bird closely because even an extra 15 minutes of roasting will make a noticeable difference. Salting that bird 1-2 days in advance constitutes dry brining and will provide a little buffer against over cooking it. The long and short of it is that wet brining tends to work better for skinless, smaller cuts of lean meats like poultry breasts, pork loin and fish; foods that generally cook fast. For skin-on cuts, large pieces or tough meats and roasts, dry brining is the way to go! A juicy, tasty bird with all its natural flavour and a crispy skin? Now that’s something to be thankful for!
For comprehensive instructions, see my recipe Qspice Dry-Brined Turkey.