Traditional turkey recipes advise basting a turkey to keep the moisture in. While basting can have good results, it’s not guaranteed to stop your turkey drying out and you can end up with slightly soft, streaky skin. Modern turkey recipes instead recommend dry brining, which is much more likely to result in a juicy turkey with crisp skin. See our ultimate guide for how to cook a turkey for more advice on prepping your festive feast.
What is brining?
Brining means adding flavour, moisture and an improved texture to raw poultry and meat, and it works through osmosis (which you may remember from school science classes). Brine is essentially a salty liquid. When you immerse a turkey in it, the water already held within the flesh will exchange with the brine until they are both equally salty. As salt is drawn into the turkey, it will start to break down the proteins within the meat, loosening them. As the turkey cooks, the proteins won’t tighten up as much, helping keep the meat moist.
Drier, leaner meats benefit from brining, so try this method with turkey crowns and breasts as well.
Dry brining vs wet brining
You can wet brine a turkey by soaking it – or completely covering it – in a salt solution.
Dry brine a turkey by rubbing salt all over it. With a dry brine, the salt will initially draw the moisture out of the turkey, then the salty liquid formed will be reabsorbed, taking some salty flavour with it. It will also dry out the skin, which helps it crisp up in the oven.
Dry brining is easiest, as you can put the turkey in a bag or container that only just fits it. With a wet brine, you need to use a bucket or very large container in order to fit both the turkey and liquid. You can add flavour such as herbs, spices, garlic and citrus zest to both wet and dry brines, and the flavours will be drawn into the meat.
How to wet-brine a turkey
- Make the brine solution: This is usually composed of the same ratio of salt to water. Use about 50g coarse salt to 1 litre water.
- Don’t brine for longer than necessary, or you will end up with salty, mushy meat. Calculate 1 hour per 500g meat.
- Dissolve the salt then cool the brine: The easiest way to make and cool a brine quickly is to heat half the amount of water you need with the salt and any aromatics. After the salt has dissolved, add the rest of the water, making sure it is as cold as possible – it should be completely cold before you use it.
- Keep the turkey cool: Keep the turkey in the fridge while you brine it.
Try the above, or have a go at this 5% brine recipe:
Simple 5% wet turkey brine
Makes 2 litres
200g coarse salt
100g golden caster sugar
2 bay leaves
1 orange, zested
- Put all the ingredients in a pan and add 1 litre of water. Bring to a simmer and stir to dissolve the sugar and salt.
- Add 1 litre cold water and leave the brine to cool completely.
Top turkey dry brine recipes
Brined roast turkey crown & confit legs
Dry brined turkey with the legs cooked separately is an easy way to make a perfect Christmas meal.
Moist turkey crown with chestnut truffle stuffing
This turkey crown is brined before extra flavours are added in the stuffing that’s pushed under the skin.
Christmas turkey with clementine & bay butter
Rub your turkey with salt to dry brine it.
This Caribbean twist on a roast dinner uses jerk and all-purpose seasoning to brine the turkey before marinating.