Thanksgiving Turkey: To Brine or Not to Brine

Tanya Steel

'Tis it nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of brining or should thy take up arms against a sea of salt? The answer depends upon what type of turkey you will buy, whether you'll be stuffing the bird, your gravy recipe, and how much time you have. Brining is a process in which you salt protein before cooking to draw moisture to the meat, tenderize tougher cuts, and enhance other added flavors. It's a time-honored technique that involves immersing the meat in a salt-water bath or rubbing into the skin. Here's a rundown on what you need to know:

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Kosher turkeys cannot be brined: This type of turkey has been pre-salted, as has any turkey that says it has a sodium solution added to keep it moist. Only turkeys that have no additives are brine candidates.

Skip the brine if you stuff the bird
: Any brined bird will drip a salty solution into the cavity and thus make stuffing inedible; thus, a brined bird will require cooking your stuffing on the side.

A wet brine is better for larger meats than a dry brine: A wet brine is a salt-water solution whereas a dry brine is a salt rub that is applied to the exterior. For larger proteins like a 12-pound turkey, a 12-to-24 hour salt bath will seep into the bird more effectively than an external rub down.

See more: Everything You Need to Know About Thanksgiving Turkeys

If you only have a few hours, skip brining: A wet brine takes a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 18 hours and a dry brine needs at least 12 to as much as 48 hours for the proteins to break down.

Not all salts are created equal
: Kosher salt is better for dry brining, and there is a difference between the two main brands--Diamond and Morton's. Table salt can be used for wet brining.

Don't use pan drippings for your gravy
: If you do, prepare to have something heretofore known as The Great Gravy Incidence of 2013, wherein your Uncle Harry sopped up his turkey with gravy and needed a gallon of water as a result.

For more on brining, read Molly Stevens brining primer.

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