Thanksgiving Turkey: Wet-Brining vs. Dry-Brining

Turkey is the star of the show for Thanksgiving day. If you cook a perfectly juicy turkey, people talk about it and remember it for years. Cooking turkey can be a challenge. Most recipes will tell you to wet-brine the turkey to add moisture and flavor. For the most part that is correct. Wet-brines are simple: a water based solution that is flavored with spices, herbs, salt and some kind of sugar or honey. Place the turkey in the brine solution and then in the refrigerator. As an end result, the turkey retains moister, flavors from the spices, and becomes more tender and juicy.

Dry-brining is a similar method to wet-brining, excluding the water. Wash the turkey with cold water, pat dry and coat with the salt and spices and place in the refrigerator as is. This achieves most of the same results as a wet brine. Flavor and tenderizing are still a factor– the difference being the turkey's skin will dry out which helps make the skin crispy while cooking. 

Both methods have benefits that differ slightly. While a wet brine will leave you with a moist turkey, the natural flavor of the turkey can be lost. The water solution often muddles the flavor of the turkey. Also, how does one wet-brine a turkey that is too big to sit in the brine and fit in the fridge? If you're limited on space in the fridge then a wet brine may not be the best method for you. If there is a chance that you have the space to wet brine your turkey but still want a turkey that taste "like" turkey, you want to buy a turkey that has a stronger flavor to begin with, something like a Bourbon Red or Foraging Turkey. 

I tend to stick with the dry-brining method to avoid that awkward big vessel holding the wet-brine and turkey. There are many recipes online based on the weight of your turkey, but our team of butchers are here to help– feel free to ask us for suggestions! Happy Thanksgiving!

– Head Butcher Chris Walker, Cambridge