Chicken. The bird that feeds the world. And turkey ain’t too far behind.
Still, for poultry’s low cost and ability to be adapted to so many regional styles of food and recipes, folks sometimes struggle with keeping it moist and tender.
And keeping the meat moist WHILE getting a crispy skin? Forget about it!
There is an answer, folks. And that answer is dry brining.
What Is Dry Brining, You Ask?
It’s a pretty simple concept. It involves coating the exterior of chicken, turkey, or any other meat with salt.
Some folks will add spices at this time, but that’s a mistake. That is a dry rub and should be completed AFTER the brining process.
But I digress.
There are two types of brines – wet and dry. Most folks are more familiar with the wet variety. That is, soaking your bird in salt water.
But that’s a mistake for several reasons.
First, a wet brine involves lots of water, lots of salt, blood, mess, and a tub sitting in your refrigerator.
But more importantly, it adds water to the meat.
But shouldn’t water make the fowl juicier?
The “juice” is a little bit of water but it is mostly the fats, lipids, and oils of the bird.
Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to contain those fats, lipids, and oils. Lock them in so that they can’t escape.
And in doing so, you’ll gain a super crispy skin in the process. Moisture is not a friend of caramelization or browning (aka the Maillard Reaction).
The salt that is used to cover our uncooked chicken pulls water from the skin, which means a drier surface that becomes nice and crispy much more quickly when the cooking process begins – trapping the remaining moisture where it belongs: in the meat.
But there is another step that can take this process to a whole new level.
After dry brining, stick your bird in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, perhaps as many as 24, depending on how much time you have.
The cold, dry environment will work to wick out the remaining moisture from the skin – leaving your bird looking like it spent too much time on the slopes in Aspen.
This, my friend, is a good, good thing.
Your bird is now sealed up like Otzi the Iceman. Bada bing, bada boom.
Don’t go over 24 hours, though – after that, you risk drying out the fat layer under the skin. We don’t want the dryness to penetrate the meat and draw moisture out of the interior.
And don’t be afraid to use lots of coarse salt. Over-salting is pretty dang hard to do when it comes to brining. When in doubt, add more.
Take a look at the steps below, try it out, and I guarantee that you will not prepare your fowl any other way in the future.
You have been reborn into the world of dry brining.
How to Dry Brine a Chicken or Turkey
This is a quick and easy process, but the wait time can vary between 2 and 24 hours. So, it’s not necessarily made for a “rush dinner onto the table” night, unless you’ve planned ahead.
Step 1 – Mop Up any Liquids
Gently rinse your bird over a sink and allow the bulk of the water to drain off. Place it in a shallow pan and use a paper towel to mop up any loose liquids.
Step 2 – Apply the Salt
Apply a copious amount of coarse salt to the skin, ensuring that you cover all cracks and crevices.
I generally like a medium grit sea salt but kosher or any other kind of natural, processed, or flavored salt will work. Regular table salt, on the other hand, has smaller grains and should be used more sparingly. It isn’t ideal for this process.
Work the salt into the skin and when in doubt, add more. Don’t be afraid.
Step 3 – Chill in the Refrigerator
Place the bird in the fridge UNCOVERED and allow it to remain in the chilly, dry atmosphere for a minimum of 2 hours. Up to 24 is better.
Contrary to the more popular notions of basting and marinades, you WANT a dry skin. This hardened skin actually traps the moisture inside, and it also makes for the most crunchy and delicious skin imaginable no matter if you roast it, grill it, or smoke it.
Step 4 – Add a Dry Rub (Optional)
Your final step, right before cooking, is to add a dry rub. Now, this is optional. You can use a paste like barbecue sauce, wet mustard, or some other form of sauce.
But I guarantee that you’ll find a dry rub a much better fit – a brine and a rub together is a match made in heaven!
Step 5 – Cook It!
Roast it, throw it on the grill, smoke it, beer can it, spatchcock it, rotisserie it. However you cook it, I guarantee the insides will be the juiciest bird that you’ve ever tasted and you’ll have a lovely crusty outer skin.
Just don’t serve it to friends, neighbors, or relatives unless you want to be the nominated cook for every holiday and event.
What about you? Do you have any poultry dry brining tips and techniques that you’d like to share with the community? Let us know in the comments below.
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Photos by Mike Quinn, © Foodal / Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details.
About Mike Quinn
Mike Quinn spent 20 years in the US Army and traveled extensively all over the world. As part of his military service, Mike sampled coffee and tea from all virtually every geographic region, from the beans from the plantation of an El Salvadorian Army Colonel to "Chi" in Iraq to Turkish Coffee in the Turkish Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. He spent nearly a decade in the Republic of Korea where he was exposed to all forms of traditional teas. Mike formerly owned and operated Cup And Brew, an online espresso and coffee equipment retail operation.