To Brine Or Not To Brine (Or To Salt!)

by / Thursday, 08 November 2012 / Published in Blog

To brine a turkey or not to brine a turkey, here is a turkey just after being brined.Shhh…I have a secret to tell you. I’ve never brined a turkey. Sure, I’ve brined other things (chicken breasts, pork roasts) but never a turkey. I know brining a turkey is supposed to result in a wonderfully moist bird but I’ve never even thought about attempting it. However, today I have become convinced that I need to try something else: salting a turkey.

First, let’s find out why I don’t brine my turkey. Then we’ll find out about my salting discoveries.

Here are my reasons for not brining turkey:

  1. My roasted turkey isn’t dry. Really. I’m not bragging here. This has nothing to do with me and everything to do with my parents. As you may know, I grew up working in my parents’ restaurants. During the holiday season we OFTEN catered events requiring roast turkey. We became experts at roasting the perfect bird. And I don’t think I’m biased here. I recall many strangers coming to me as I dished out second-helpings to say that it was the moistest turkey they’d ever eaten. This was admittedly in the days before brining was popular but I still take that to mean that everyone agreed with me: my momma’s turkey was no dry bit of sandy desert. And neither is mine!
  2. I love me some turkey gravy. Really love. And my experiences with brining have taught me that the drippings you gain cannot, absolutely CANNOT, be used to make gravy (unless of course you’re interested in ocean-flavored gravy). Now of course, if I was smoking or deep-frying my bird, then I would not be getting any drippings to be used as gravy and I might drop this line of argumentation. But for now, under the assumption that I will be roasting (tune in next week to see what I decide to do this year), the lack of good gravy-making drippings makes me want to cry and nobody should cry over roast bird.

  4. I don’t have that much fridge space. So many of the brining recipes I’ve seen have you put the bird and brine solution in a big container in the fridge. I’m baffled about this. As it is, the day before Thanksgiving when the hubs brings home our turkey I spend an hour rearranging things to find space. And that’s just a turkey. Not a turkey in a big container full of water! For 12-36 hours before Thanksgiving Dinner, when I’ll be feeding 15-20 people, I’m supposed to give up half of my fridge to a container of water? Seriously? Not happening. (Now, I’ll admit here that I have recently found a potential solution to this problem. Alton Brown’s method has the turkey in a drink cooler with the brine and tons of ice. He then puts the whole thing in a cool place. Living in Florida, there aren’t always a lot of cool places around. But I could keep it in my air conditioned kitchen and add ice regularly. Sounds a bit annoying but at least my fridge would not be held hostage).

  6. I don’t  like watery meat. When I’ve brined other pieces of meat, I’ve found them juicy but not in a flavorful meat-juice way. Instead, it’s been in a non-flavorful water-juice way. I’ve never heard anyone else talk about this before so I did a big of googling to make sure that my taste buds don’t have a brined-meat-dysfunction. It turns out that I’m not alone here. In fact, this very issue prompted J. Kenji López-Alt, Chief Creative Officer over at Serious Eats, to run a few turkey-brining experiments. It’s fascinating stuff. His results confirm my feelings, backed up with some science to boot! The very way that brining works results in extra flavorless water in the meat. He even tries using broth instead of water to boost some flavor. Unfortunately, science has us by the drumsticks and the broth idea does not work.

So those are my reasons. I don’t brine my turkey and I’m not about to start. However, reading López-Alt’s diligent brining experiments and taste-tests did lead me to discover a new possibility:

Salting the Turkey

It turns out that if you spread a coating of coarse salt over the turkey overnight in the fridge you get many of the benefits of brining (especially near the outer edges of the bird which are the places most likely to dry out during cooking) without that whole water-juice thing.

Additionally, the salted turkey takes up no more room in your fridge than a regular turkey.

However, I’m guessing that the drippings will still be uber-salty and thus the gravy will have an oceany tang. But it’s worth testing. If I can get my mom’s already moist turkey to be even moister AND have a rich turkey gravy to go with it, I’ll experiment all day long!

This weekend I’m going to salt up a whole chicken, roast it and then make some gravy. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Now tell me, do you brine your turkey? Why or why not?