Wet vs. Dry Brine Turkey – the Pros and Cons

Inquisitive Turkey

There are two methods to brine turkey. One involves a wet solution — generally water but can be beer or wine — with about 35% salt, sometimes sugar and different spices and herbs. The other is a dry combination of salt with, and this is absolutely optional as salt alone will do, a variety of herbs and spices as well. Both methods are good for obtaining a moist turkey after it is roasted, deep fried or grilled.

The most important ingredient in any of these methods is the salt as I will explain later so it is crucial that you use a turkey that has not been pre-treated or injected with a solution as you will end up with an excessively salty bird. So make sure you read the label on the turkey — it should only say ‘turkey’, no added ingredients.

There are however, as in everything in life, pros and cons for both methods. Let’s start with the wet brine. When you submerge a turkey in a wet solution what happens is the salt starts relaxing the protein on the muscle which allows the liquid to penetrate into the meat. When all is said and done you will be able to actually see a plumper turkey that is full of extra liquid.

You have to be careful not to leave your turkey in the liquid for too long or you will end up with rubbery meat which will be seeping extra liquid when you cut into it. I have found that 24 hours does the trick for me. Anything over that seems to be over-kill. Paradoxically, that happens to be the big pro of a wet brine. It gets done fairly quickly.

Perhaps the biggest con of a wet brine is the amount of space that you need in order to make this happen. Once you have prepared the liquid in which you are going to soak the turkey you need to cool it down and than place it in a large enough container for it and the bird to fit. This will imply a large pot, a cooler and even a couple of doubled up garbage bags. If you are using a large pot you will have to find space in your refrigerator that is big enough for it to fit in. This will probably take a huge part of your fridge on a day when you probably really need it — the day before Thanksgiving or Christmas.

If you decide to place it all in a cooler or garbage bags you have to make sure that these are constantly iced. The turkey must remain very cold at all times. You can sometimes also get leaks in plastic bags which will create a terrible mess.

To use a dry brine simply means to generously rub a turkey with salt and any other addition one might like such as garlic powder, citrus peel, thyme, Rosemary, etc. As long as you have the salt you can alter it as you please.

Initially, when you apply a dry brine to your turkey the salt on the surface will suck up the bird’s moisture by osmosis. However, the pores will open and the salt will relax the protein in the muscle allowing that moisture to penetrate back into the meat and all the way to the bone — without the extra water like in a wet brine. For me this is a big pro.

A second pro is that you do not need a lot of room for your turkey. Once it is rubbed you are going to place it in a large bag inside a rimmed baking sheet and into the fridge. You will not need to take up major room in the refrigerator.

The con, well this process takes a bit longer to work. You will need to do this in a period of three days. So, between the thawing of the turkey and the brine you will need about six days. Is it worth the wait, you bet it is. I have never tasted a more flavorful and moist turkey as a dry brined one and personally, although I have done both methods, I am much inclined to stick to the dry brine from now on.


My name is Mary Ann Allen and I am here to help you get organized so you can save money on groceries and feed your family healthy, nutritious food. My multi-cultural cooking background comes from being born in the US and raised in Bolivia. I have 5 kids and own around 400 cook books. I absolutely love to cook!

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