Around 45 million turkeys will be consumed this year in the United States for Thanksgiving. For many – including me – Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year: It is far less stressful than the ritual gift-giving at Christmas.
I have long argued that wet-brining a turkey is a waste of time and often money for those who buy expensive brining spices at boutique grocery stores. My belief has now been confirmed (at least until the next retraction) by the New York Times.
In an article entitled “The Rise and Fall of Turkey Brining,” Kim Severson of the NYT accurately reports that wet brining is now considered a waste of both time and money. If you read to the end of the article, you will discover that many endorse dry brining.
In fact, the dry-brined turkey (a.k.a. “The Judy Bird‘) is cited as a simple dry brine alternative.
To Brine or Not to Brine is No Longer a Question
Many foodie magazines suggest that “purists” don’t brine their turkeys. This is just plain silly. All turkeys should be brined. Several years ago, I recommended immersing the bird in a liquid brine for at least 12 hours. While this still remains an option, I prefer a simple dry rub consisting of 2 tablespoons of salt, 2 tablespoons of pepper and a pinch of thyme. Apply the mixture liberally inside the cavity and under the skin, then wrap the bird tightly in saran wrap and refrigerate for 48 hours. Also, you may want to add 1 teaspoon of baking powder to the mixture which apparently makes the skin crisper. Forget the expensive dry rubs at Whole Foods. It is simply a rip-off!
Cooking the Turkey
I have found that the dark meat (175º F) of turkey has to have a 15° F higher internal temperature than the breast meat (160º F). Clearly, this is a major challenge when baking a turkey where the breast meat is exposed to the highest temperature.
There are many different ways to cook the turkey to achieve this result so I will spare the reader another opinion. Nevertheless, please step up to a heritage turkey as the taste is worth every extra penny (often 10 to 15 times as much as the frozen factory-farm turkeys).