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Thread: Dry-Brining my turkey!

  1. #1
    Girl Detective AW Moderator Stacia Kane's Avatar
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    Dry-Brining my turkey!

    In my neverending quest to find something to do with turkey that I actually like* , this year I'm trying dry-brining. It's basically just salting, like I do with roast chicken. (I don't care for turkey. I make it on Thanksgiving because, you know, tradition, but meh.)

    I picked up my "natural" turkey from the butchers this morning, and it is currently sitting in my fridge, wrapped in plastic (no brining bags anywhere, and everyone I asked looked at me oddly and then asked in snotty voices if that was "some sort of American thing"), coated with a mix of kosher salt (ordered from Amazon, sad to say, as it does not exist in stores here), rosemary, thyme, and sage, with sprigs of same and a few bay leaves under the skin.

    It will sit there, getting the occasional rub through the plastic to move the salt around, until Wednesday night when I will uncover it, to be taken from the fridge Thursday morning.


    Anyone else trying this? I tried a liquid brine one year, but not only was it not that great, it's an enormous pain in the ass. Some of the brine spilled on the floor (my garage smelled of herbs for months, which was admittedly not unpleasant), and there is no way I can fit a turkey plus liquid brine in my little UK fridge.

    So, here's hoping...



    *I deep-fried a turkey one year, and that was good. I liked that quite a bit. But they don't have turkey-fryers here.
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  2. #2
    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    I've not tried dry-brining. Let us know how it turns out, please.

    I did try liguid brining a couple of years ago and wasn't impressed. So, I went back to my old standard which everyone seems to love: I fill the bird's cavity with green onions, celery, sage, rosemary, etc. Then pour in half (abt. 1 cup) of a mixture I make of of peach juice, chicken stock, and dry white wine. To the other half I add melted butter and a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar (or honey) and pour over the turkey to get a nice evenly browned bird. It's pretty good and the house smells wonderful while the turkey's roasting.

  3. #3
    Impractical Fantasy Animal sunandshadow's Avatar
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    I dunno about dry-brining, but if you're collecting ideas for alternative ways to do turkey, I'll share my favorite. I like pulled turkey - you roast it plain or with giblet stuffing, can be done a day or two ahead of time. You pull the turkey off the bones in chunks, try to mix the dark and light meats so they even each other out. Some people prefer BBQ sauce here, but I like to make a cream sauce like so: miracle whip (salad cream? but specifically the sour kind with lemon juice in, not mayonnaise) diced tomatoes, and either serve it on lettuce or add diced celery. Cranberries can also be mixed in if they are not already being served as a side. The turkey chunks can be dipped in the sauce, or the hot turkey can have the room-temperature sauce spooned over it or it can be put in a sandwich or wrap.

  4. #4
    The moving hand, having writ... AW Moderator Maryn's Avatar
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    I've done a buttermilk brine on other poultry, but never a dry brine.

    I use 1 1/2 c. buttermilk to 1/3 c. kosher or sea salt, which is a ratio of 4:1 -- Four parts buttermilk to one part salt

    I marinate chicken or pork for 4 to 8 hours, so I guess I'd do a turkey overnight.

    Note: It’s very easy for the bag to tip to one side and spill or leak its contents, so either secure it or set it in a bowl for easy clean-up if that happens.

    Sometimes I think I should be sending US care packages to friends in the UK, with candy, oven roasting bags, and whatever else you folks can't get.

    Let us know how your dry brining turns out. I love salt's zing.

    Maryn, doing a basic oven roast
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  5. #5
    Girl Detective AW Moderator Stacia Kane's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ari Meermans View Post
    I've not tried dry-brining. Let us know how it turns out, please.

    I did try liguid brining a couple of years ago and wasn't impressed. So, I went back to my old standard which everyone seems to love: I fill the bird's cavity with green onions, celery, sage, rosemary, etc. Then pour in half (abt. 1 cup) of a mixture I make of of peach juice, chicken stock, and dry white wine. To the other half I add melted butter and a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar (or honey) and pour over the turkey to get a nice evenly browned bird. It's pretty good and the house smells wonderful while the turkey's roasting.

    What I've read about liquid brining is that a lot of people find the texture spongy. I seem to recall that being somewhat of an issue with my wet-brined turkey. But I do regularly dry-brine my chickens (more below) and they turn out beautifully.

    I stuff my cavities with almost the same thing you do! I chop an onion and a shallot and shove them in with whatever herbs I have (usually rosemary and thyme). Sometimes I'll stick a chopped carrot or some chopped celery in there, too, but only if I have them on hand.


    Quote Originally Posted by sunandshadow View Post
    I dunno about dry-brining, but if you're collecting ideas for alternative ways to do turkey, I'll share my favorite. I like pulled turkey - you roast it plain or with giblet stuffing, can be done a day or two ahead of time. You pull the turkey off the bones in chunks, try to mix the dark and light meats so they even each other out. Some people prefer BBQ sauce here, but I like to make a cream sauce like so: miracle whip (salad cream? but specifically the sour kind with lemon juice in, not mayonnaise) diced tomatoes, and either serve it on lettuce or add diced celery. Cranberries can also be mixed in if they are not already being served as a side. The turkey chunks can be dipped in the sauce, or the hot turkey can have the room-temperature sauce spooned over it or it can be put in a sandwich or wrap.

    That sounds like something my husband would LOVE. It'd work well with leftovers, yes?


    Quote Originally Posted by Maryn View Post

    Sometimes I think I should be sending US care packages to friends in the UK, with candy, oven roasting bags, and whatever else you folks can't get.
    Sometimes I think that too, hint hint.

    Let us know how your dry brining turns out. I love salt's zing.

    Maryn, doing a basic oven roast

    I've been doing it with chickens for a while now. My "old" method (which I used on turkey too, in larger amounts) was to mix a Tbsp or so of butter, a little olive oil, some herbs (plus salt & pepper), and a tsp or so of chicken stock concentrate in a little tupperware tub, and then smear it under and over the skin before roasting. Which was really nice.

    But then I read about the Zuni Cafe method, which is basically dry-brining; a good amount of kosher salt and a little pepper sprinkled heavily over the chicken and tossed into the cavity, then fresh herbs tucked under the skin. The chicken sits, uncovered, in that "brine" for 24 hours, then is roasted in a very hot oven (425F or so) for about an hour, depending on size (you have to use a small chicken for this method, under 6 lbs). It comes out VERY juicy and flavorful, with an amazing crispy skin. Zuni Cafe doesn't put anything in the cavity, but I still stick in a quartered onion (I don't even remove the skin, it's not meant to be eaten), a halved or quartered shallot, and some herbs.

    The hubs definitely prefers the Zuni method. It really is good. I've also done it with pork roasts (I slow-roast those); basically the same salt mix, but with garlic (also garlic slivers tucked into the slits in the skin) and some mustard powder.


    I know for frying chicken the buttermilk brine is considered the best method, so one of these days... I made oven-BBQ chicken a few weeks ago (just breasts), and brined it in salty weak tea with some of the BBQ sauce mixed in to give it even more smoky flavor. That was really nice.
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  6. #6
    thread stalker SuperModerator cray's Avatar
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    dry-brining....interesting! can't wait to hear how it turns out.

    i'm in the same boat as a few others above. i've tried liquid brining a few times with not too impressive results. totally 'meh.'

    the best turkey i ever made was done in a water smoker. it took a very long time. 10-12 hours if i recall but it was very well received by the people of crayville.

    *end derail*


    looking forward to hearing the results, stacia!

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    It's a bird! It's a plane! It's an AW Moderator Ol' Fashioned Girl's Avatar
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    We're smoking ours for the first time this year. Love smoked turkey! We're injecting it with Cajun butter, too.
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    thread stalker SuperModerator cray's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ol' Fashioned Girl View Post
    We're smoking ours for the first time this year. Love smoked turkey! We're injecting it with Cajun butter, too.


  9. #9
    Company Man MattW's Avatar
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    I've been underwhelmed by my numerous brinings, and last year I tried a dry brine. Could be I was too conservative with the salt, but I felt it didn't create some spectacular bird either.

    If the motor on my rotisserie grill didn't complain with a 5lb chicken, I'd try a whole turkey...
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    Impractical Fantasy Animal sunandshadow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stacia Kane View Post
    That sounds like something my husband would LOVE. It'd work well with leftovers, yes?
    Yes, great with leftovers - it evolved from people preferring leftover sandwiches to the original, so I decided to just make it the "leftover" way to start with.

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    Banned Opty's Avatar
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    I've never heard it referred to as "dry brining" before but I have done something similar to what you describe (called a "dry rub marinade"...as contradictory as that sounds).

    The way I've done it in the past (I learned it from a chef buddy when we both worked for the same restaurant company) was to pull the turkey skin away from the muscle just enough to fit a hand underneath (like slipping your hand under some bed covers) and then generously putting the rub underneath the skin, all over the bird, directly on the muscle/meat, then allowing the skin to grip back into place, holding the rub against the meat. Then, you rub some on top of the skin, too.

    Then, you let it sit like that in the fridge for a day or so before you cook it (we smoked ours, but baking or frying is fine, too). The fatty, elastic skin holds the rub on there pretty airtight like plastic wrap would and allows the rub to infuse the meat with flavor. It also helps the skin to crisp up a little bit when you're cooking it, depending on how you cook it.

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    Puts the fun in function calls. AW Paladin shawkins's Avatar
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    Turkey's not my thing either. Kenji at serious eats had a post about brining not too long ago that was an interesting read.

    I've brined a couple of times. Personally, I thought it was an improvement in that it raised turkey from "blech" to "meh."

    I'd be curious to hear how the dry brining worked out.

  13. #13
    Girl Detective AW Moderator Stacia Kane's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Opty View Post
    I've never heard it referred to as "dry brining" before but I have done something similar to what you describe (called a "dry rub marinade"...as contradictory as that sounds).

    The way I've done it in the past (I learned it from a chef buddy when we both worked for the same restaurant company) was to pull the turkey skin away from the muscle just enough to fit a hand underneath (like slipping your hand under some bed covers) and then generously putting the rub underneath the skin, all over the bird, directly on the muscle/meat, then allowing the skin to grip back into place, holding the rub against the meat. Then, you rub some on top of the skin, too.

    Then, you let it sit like that in the fridge for a day or so before you cook it (we smoked ours, but baking or frying is fine, too). The fatty, elastic skin holds the rub on there pretty airtight like plastic wrap would and allows the rub to infuse the meat with flavor. It also helps the skin to crisp up a little bit when you're cooking it, depending on how you cook it.

    Yep, that's what I do, too. Break the membrane with my fingernails and slip herbs/salt/butter/whatever under the skin.

    Usually when I just salt--like with chickens--it's only fresh herbs that go under the skin, but this time I've rubbed in my salt mix too.


    Quote Originally Posted by shawkins View Post
    Turkey's not my thing either. Kenji at serious eats had a post about brining not too long ago that was an interesting read.

    I've brined a couple of times. Personally, I thought it was an improvement in that it raised turkey from "blech" to "meh."

    I'd be curious to hear how the dry brining worked out.

    Heh, yep, I'm a big Kenji fan. Let's hope this makes the turkey good. I honestly don't think there's much that will; I think I just don't like the taste of turkey, really. But we'll see.

    Tonight before bed I'll take the plastic off so the skin has plenty of time to dry out. Fingers crossed!
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    defying grabbity Thump's Avatar
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    All you people complaining about turkey!

    I love turkey! I can't have it very often because it's pretty much just me or sometimes my immediate family. There's not a lot of us and they're not crazy about it either so I usually make a chicken instead. Sigh.

    I'll make a turkey drumstick sometimes but it's expensive and just not the same... It's not very satisfying to cook for one either.

    What I do, when I do make a large and dryish bird, is a simple dry rub of salt and spices, possibly chuck a lemon into the cavity and baste throughout with large amounts of broth (sometimes with lemon juice). It makes for a very, very moist and tasty bird but no crispy skin. We don't mind because we don't eat it anyway but the bird is delish and there's lots of pan juices for gravy. Or to mix into your mash instead of butter or milk.

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    Girl Detective AW Moderator Stacia Kane's Avatar
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    Who's complaining about turkey? We're discussing brining/cooking methods.


    Have you considered freezing your cooked turkey? If you're the only one who likes it, you could try making yourself one, slicing it, and freezing it for sandwiches etc. I know of a few people who do this, so they basically have fresh home-roasted turkey anytime; slices thaw pretty quickly. (Kind of like how when I make meatballs I make a double or triple batch and freeze the rest for easy inclusion in sauces.) It might be worth a try, maybe?
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    defying grabbity Thump's Avatar
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    I did that once but not with a whole bird. I got parts of about half a turkey and roasted them and froze. I have a much smaller fridge now though and a teeny freezer so I now cook only as much as will not go to waste after a few days in the fridge.

    I thought of maybe getting a proper full sized fridge but I have a small studio flat in London. I consider myself lucky to have a separate kitchen at all, not to mention my own washing machine

    Well, it'll give me something to look forward to if/when I have a proper flat, with separate rooms and everything. You know, in ten years or something. Man this town is expensive...
    Quote Originally Posted by Phaeal View Post
    I'd say the main lesson to take from Stephen King's working life is: He's never stopped working. He's written sober. He's written drunk. He's written while recovering from horrendous injuries. He's written while working maggotty laundry jobs. He's written on long after he could have snuggled down into his royalties for the rest of his life.

    Damn good lesson, that.

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    Absinthe O'Malice TerzaRima's Avatar
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    I don't eat turkey, but for the holidays I sometimes buy a leash walked, organically fed turkey from the hippie farm down the road. I generally soak it for 24 hours, breast down, in buttermilk before roasting. You would not believe the raves from guests, including my mom who is fairly stingy with compliments.
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  18. #18
    Girl Detective AW Moderator Stacia Kane's Avatar
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    The dry-brined turkey was really good! (Full discussion here

    http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/...19&postcount=6


    I'll definitely do it again next year. Absolutely worth the extra time. I can't say for sure it was the dry-brining that made it so much better than my previous turkeys (because it was a natural turkey from a local farm there's a chance some of it was simply that it was a really good turkey), but I'm sure it made a difference at least.
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