Turkey brines - any secrets to your favorites?

Dry brine, wet brine … What is your ‘secret’ or non traditional add to your brine that makes your turkey stand out?

We all know that basic salt solution or just dry salt can do wonders for flavor and keeping your turkey most. Most online guides to brining often have simple standard ingredients. Is there something else you like to add that may be unusual or you think gives it a unique flavor?

I’ve switched from wet to dry over 5 yrs ago. My dry brine is usually salt, brown sugar, chopped fresh thyme and rosemary, a mix of a bit of onion and garlic powder, and then fresh lemon zest. It does the job well, and I get a lot of compliments on the flavor of my turkey. But I miss getting creative like with wet brines, where I’ve on occasion added fresh orange juice, a bit of apple cider, fresh peppercorns (not all at once!). Looking to see if I can mix things up a bit this year.


Your’s sounds good to me! Especially for a such a "traditional " celebration with varied tastes. I usually use something similar to yours from the LA Times update to the original; (often paywalled).

The salt recipe makes enough for a 20-pound turkey. Allow 2 tablespoons per 5 pounds of turkey weight.

Note: This is more a technique than a recipe. It makes a bird that has concentrated turkey flavor and fine, firm flesh and that’s delicious as is. But you can add other flavors. Minced rosemary would be a nice finishing addition. Or brush the bird lightly with butter before roasting. Remember that you should salt the turkey by Monday night at the latest to have it at its best by Thursday, though briefer salting times will work too.
Rosemary-lemon salt
1 (12- to 16-pound) turkey
For the seasoned salt:
1/4 cup kosher salt
4 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
Pulse together the salt, rosemary and lemon zest in a spice grinder or mash them in a mortar and pestle. Makes 1/2 cup. The mixture can be stored in a tightly sealed jar for up to 2 weeks.

There was a discussion, and a few others in the link;
… a kind of barbecue dry rub based on the one I use for pork ribs. Based on smoked paprika, similar to Spanish pimenton de la Vera, … "
and “… the most traditional Thanksgiving flavors I could think of – sage and bay. …”

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I’m puzzled by the term ‘dry brine’. Isn’t a brine a saline water solution? Doesn’t that make the term oxymoronic?

Seems to me that a dry brine is a rub. Where have I gone wrong here?

But to respond to the OP’s question, I usually use Tom Keller’s (liquid) brine for chicken. But then I’ll air-dry the bird for some time afterward. If a rub is as consistent, faster, and tastier, I’d switch in a heartbeat.

You are not “wrong”; there have probably been many discussions since the “Judy Bird” hit the internet about if it’s okay to use “dry” and “brine” together. Here’s a recent mention on “X”, a new term for me.

“Dry-brining is a catchy term for a very simple process of salting and resting food before cooking it. Some people call this process “pre-salting,” which is kind of like “preheating” an oven—doesn’t make a ton of semantic sense, seeing as salting and heating are the steps, and nothing precedes them, but that’s a debate for another day. Dry-brining achieves the goals of traditional brining—deeply seasoned, juicy food—without the flavor dilution problem that affects proteins brined in salt solutions.”

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I don’t brine my turkey. It’s fresh from a local farm, and the meat is sweet. And juicy. I don’t want it to taste like sliced deli meat. There. I’ve said it. :joy:


This article both begs the question AND feeds the oxymoron, IMO. She admits yet totally glosses over the fact that a brine is, by definition a, “salt solution’”, i.e., is wet.

I’ll ask again: why is a ‘dry brine’ not considered a rub? Is it because people think rubs are limited to barbecue and smoking?

I can’t speak for "people ", but my memory of the discussion over the last 10 years has been that people have gotten use to saying it, and don’t get “salty” about it anymore.

I’m looking up the history of the term, and recalling that in my experience, over the original three day process, it’s different because it draws moisture out, then reabsorbs it, changing something in the process that reduces the likelihood that the protein develops a dry texture in a way that my usual use of a rub doesn’t. There was a time that it was believed to denature protein, but that’s been debunked; I don’t remember how.

For me, it achieved benefit of a brine without the need to store a volume of water, and without that hammy/spongy texture poultry in a traditional brine might. The last day includes letting the skin dry.

A similar discussion on reddit three years ago

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No seasoning at all? See, this gets to the blurring effect of using "dry brine’ as a meaningful term. It seems to me that if there’s anything besides salt in one’s seasoning, it’s still a rub, even if it goes on soon before roasting. Time’s just a variable with both brine and rubs. yes?

Salt is salt.

I think Tom Keller (and countless French chefs) might take offense. I think your opinion might be different if you dialed in the salinity, time, rinse and dry.

BTW, a few years back, the NYT food editor at the time wrote a piece about drying her rinsed chicken with a blow-drier prior to roasting. We could double down and call that another oxymoron: ‘wet drying’.

Are you suggesting we stop using that term, and use something more technically accurate?

ETA I’m wondering if the process referred to as dry brining" is “dialing it in”?

Hey! How how did “dialing it in” get to be “dialing it in”? :thinking: Looking it up.

Oh I definitely heavily season with an herb rub, right before roasting. . I just don’t soak the bird in a wet brine.

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Yeah, not sure how that came to be. My mom has always salteded her chicken and meats before cooking because this was what she learned, way before this was a thing when it became popular for turkeys and chickens. But I go with the flow here, since it seems to have taken with many home cooks. But for sure, I see no difference with a rub vs. a “dry brine”. Maybe it’s a reaction to the fact that the traditional brine solution was becoming the go to method for flavoring the turkey, and they wanted to present this as an alternative.

@shrinkrap - indeed! It’s become my tradition to take the whole week off Thanksgiving off, because I start prep that weekend. Brine/season by Monday, and then at least 1 day of air chilling/drying out the turkey skin. I also make compound butter for the roast, andstart the turkey broth with the giblets and wing tips, neck, turkey butt the day before so it’s just adding droppings and then thickening that for the gravy.


No, I’m just commenting on the inaccuracy of the term. I may have missed the memo that legitimized it.

Sorry about singly quoting. What I meant was that finding an optimum salinity and soak time might change your opinion of “hammy”, etc.

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Well, it’s an ancient analog expression, dating back to the epoch when we made adjustments by turning a knob. When we got it where was ideal, we called it ideal. I have no claim to coining the term.

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I get that; I was saying the proportions and timing in a “dry brine” recipe might be “dialed in” for the requirements of poultry over several days, with the intention of roasting, as opposed to say smoking or grilling.

And the term has come to communicate that in one hyphenated phrase, even though figuring out a rub or brine recipe doesn’t usually include any actual dials or knobs! That would be a cool app, though.

More “history”; this chapter in written in 2011

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As a professional, I’m sure you appreciate how differences in degree can masquerade as differences in kind. Dry rubs can stay on as long as one likes.

It so happens that aqueous brines deliver more salt throughout the bird for any given weight of salt. Faster too, based on concentration. So-called dry brines are harder to screw up, if for no other reason than the skin impedes the transfer and limits the area exposed to the salt.

In other words, aqueous brines are easier to overdo.


I like the sound of that!

It’s the difference between a redundancy and an oxymoron.

If we and the blogosphere were starting over, what we’d more sensibly do is draw a distinction between immersion and surface-granular seasoning.