To Brine or Not to Brine?

turkey in brine

Over the years, our test kitchen editors have created dozens and dozens of delicious turkey recipes, some of which call for brining, and some of which do not. Which begs the question: Is brining really necessary for a moist and delicious bird?

We asked Lucinda Scala Quinn, Living’s Executive Editorial Director of Food and host of Mad Hungry, and Sarah Carey, Everyday Food’s Editor in Chief, to confess their true feelings about brining. Both agreed that the technique is a foolproof option for beginners, but that there’s more than one way to turn out an incredible bird.

Lucinda says: Brining is a great safety net.

Lucinda's Slow-Grilled Turkey

Lucinda's Slow-Grilled Turkey

“I recommend different things for different times and different cooks. I am not firm about one way because if you are a less experienced cook, brining leaves room for some margin of error, keeping the bird moist if you’re shy about cooking accuracy. That’s why the turkey recipe in my “Mad Hungry” book calls for brining.

My column in November’s issue explains how I actually do it on Thanksgiving but I’ve done it so much that I have the process down. Nothing more than salt and pepper and olive oil and a lot of TLC and patience. [Sarah’s favorite method] of early salting/reverse osmosis is cool but, truth is, I never get my act together ‘til the last minute.”


Sarah says: I skip it for a salt rub.

Sarah's Citrus-Salt Rubbed Turkey

Sarah's Citrus-Salt Rubbed Turkey

“To be honest, my mom makes the turkey every Thanksgiving … What can I say? I’m a pie lady myself! But if I were going to do anything other than what my mom always does (basting with orange juice concentrate and butter), I’d skip the traditional wet brining and do a ‘dry brine’ instead. Not because the results of a wet brine aren’t delicious (they are!) but because brining is so messy and takes up way too much room in my kitchen.

“The Thanksgiving turkey recipe we developed for Everyday Food this year calls for an overnight salt rub, which is my favorite method. Some people call it ‘dry brining’ but, because the liquid isn’t reabsorbed via osmosis, it’s not technically brining at all. (Isn’t science fun?) But the technique adds such great flavor — especially when you add herbs and citrus zest to the salt rub, like we did — and results in a nice, crisp skin. This rub also works as a last minute thing too, so if you forget to rub the night before, don’t worry, there is still time. Throw it on right before you roast and it will still add lots of flavor. Who doesn’t want that?”

Where do you stand on brining? Do you swear by it or skip it?

For more inspiration, get Lucinda’s Slow-Grilled Turkey recipe and Sarah’s Citrus-Rubbed Turkey with Cider Gravy recipe. 

Comments (6)

  • I will still brine! We did it last year and it made a wonderful flavor in the dripping. Which made delicious stuffing and gravy!!!

  • I, too, will continue to brine. I use a clean white garbage bag in a medium sized cooler to the turkey and brine. I put ice below the turkey to keep the bird cold. Family loves the flavor and the moistness of the meat.

  • I do not brine. I use one of Martha’s recipes from years ago. I soak cheesecloth in white wine and butter and lay it over the bird. It has always produced a beautiful, super moist turkey. In fact, for Thanksgiving week I changed my Facebook profile picture to a picture of my beautiful, glistening turkey from a past Thanksgiving.

  • I continue to brine. I use the brine recipe and process that Sarah developed for Martha Stewart’s Cooking School book. In fact, I’m surprised that Sarah doesn’t go with a brine, seeing how she wrote the Cooking School book.

  • Famous food scientist Harold McGee is against brining. He writes “when I made two turkeys and compared brined and unbrined breasts side by side, the unbrined meat tasted meatier, more intensely turkey-like.” He writes that brined turkey has “unrelenting saltiness, which it shares with its commercial cousins, the so-called “moisture-enhanced meats.” “Worst of all, you can’t use a brined turkey to prepare one of the highlights of the Thanksgiving meal: gravy.” because “the drippings become too salty to use.”

  • Throughout my family’s history we have brined. When my mother passed away I took over the family cooking. When the Holidays come ’round, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. we always have turkey. When all is said and done the food turns out excellent (even if I do say so myself!). I have tried the salt rub… once… found that it just made the meat too salty. Almost like using too much MSG or Soya Sauce on Chinese Food. Anyway, to each his own and may all your cooking turn out edible!

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