We’re breaking down everything you need to know about a wet brine vs a dry brine. We cover how brining works, the difference in brines, what kind of salt to use, the pros and cons of each and even a few recipes to put all this info into practice.

What is a Brine?

A brine is a strong salt water solution used to pickle, preserve, and tenderize foods. Pickle juice is a brine, but so is the salt solution injected into Butterball turkeys. 

Simply put, salt dissolved into water is a brine. But many recipes add flavorings like aromatics, herbs, spices, and citrus juice or zest. Sweeteners are also often added such as sugar, brown sugar, honey and molasses. 

raw turkey pieces covered in salt and spices on a baking sheet

What Does Brining Do?

Brines do a few things. For starters, brining seasons and tenderizes meat They also help meat retain moisture during cooking, which makes for a juicy bite of meat. 

What is a Dry Brine?

A dry brine is essentially a dry rub which is made up of salt and flavorings such as spices and herbs. Not always, but often times sugar is also added to dry brines. 

The difference between a dry brine and a dry rub is how long it’s on the meat prior to cooking. A dry rub is often applied to a piece of meat shortly before being cooked. A dry brine is applied and allowed to rest for anywhere between 8 and 24 hours. 

Watch How to Dry Brine

Dry Brine vs Wet Brine 

We’re here for all kinds of brines! Both types of brine do the same thing—retain moisture in the meat and season the meat. 

The difference between the two brine types lies in how the salt works with the turkey. In a wet brine, the salt water saturates the meat. Water is absorbed and retained (thanks to the salt) in a wet brine method. Dry brines almost work in the opposite fashion, first drawing out moisture which mixes with the salt before getting reabsorbed. The high concentration of salt in a dry brine breaks down muscle proteins and prevents them from liquid out during cooking. 

Regardless of the type of brine you use, the magic lies in having salt present. Once you have your salt, play around with other flavorings like herbs, spices, sugar and citrus zest.

Watch How to Wet Brine

Determining What Kind of Brine to Use

For starters, if you’re short on fridge space, we recommend going with a dry brine. Dry brining takes up less space and is less messy.

Use a dry brine for fatty cuts of meat, lean cuts with skin intact, and when you’re short on fridge space.

Use a wet brine for larger cuts of meat and lean cuts of meat (such as poultry and pork loin).

Wet brines can also be used for curing vegetables.

There are no hard and fast rules, use what you like and what you have the capacity for. 

Pro v ConDry BrineWet Brine
ProsRequires less fridge space
Less messy
Add extra moisture to meat
More uniform seasoning
ConsRetains moisture, but doesn’t add moisture
Less uniform seasoning
Requires more fridge space
Messier
turkey breast being submerged in an orange juice wet brine

Ratio of Salt to Water

For a wet brine, we recommend using 1 cup Morton kosher salt for every 2 gallons of water. If you don’t have Morton Kosher salt, you can substitute with whatever you have by weight. One cup of Morton Kosher salt weight 230 grams, so just measure out and use 230 grams of whatever salt you have.

Best Salt for Brining

Kosher salt is the best salt to use for brining because it’s consistent and dissolves easily. We use Morton kosher salt in the test kitchen, but if you have Diamond Crystal, check out this article which deep dives into all things kosher salt and how to adjust measurements depending on the brand you have. We don’t recommend using table salt.

photograph of a whole glazed roast turkey on a large white platter held by someone in an apron

Wet-Brined Roasted Turkey 

There is truly a time and place for all kinds of brines, and a whole Thanksgiving turkey is a great time to use a wet brine! This Orange Glazed Roast Turkey recipe features a brine flavors with orange juice, rosemary and black peppercorns. 

The wet brine process is simple—make the brine, submerge the turkey in the brine and let is sit overnight in the refrigerator. Before roasting, remove the turkey from the brine and let is rest, uncovered, in the refrigerator for a few hours. This step will dry out the skin which will allow it to hold on to a glaze better.

sliced turkey breast on a large white oval set on a wooden table

Wet-Brined Roasted Turkey Breast

When you want the flavors of our Orange-Glazed Whole Roast Turkey, but are serving a smaller crowd, make our show-stopping Roast Turkey Breast. We guarantee you’ve never had a piece of turkey this moist or flavorful!

large gold platter filled with roasted turkey pieces and herbs

Dry Brined Roast Turkey Pieces 

This Roast Turkey in Parts recipe is a GAME CHANGER for Thanksgiving. Not only does it utilize a dry brine (which we find to be less fussy and less messy than a wet brine) but it also allows you to cook each portion of the turkey to its ideal internal temperature. Talk about the perfect bite of turkey every time! Plus, by breaking the turkey down into pieces, the cook time is drastically reduced. You can roast an entire turkey in just an hour and a half.

The dry brining process couldn’t be easier. Combine salt, sugar and seasonings then spread over the skin of each turkey piece. Refrigerate, uncovered, on a wire rack set inside a sheet pan overnight. Before roasting, dump any meat juices from the sheet pan and cook as directed in the recipe.

Dry and Wet Brine Recipe

Print Recipe
No ratings yet
Prep Time 10 mins
Brining Time 1 d
Total Time 1 d 10 mins
Yield 12 –14 pound turkey
Category Brine
Cuisine American

Description

Our go-to recipes for dry brining and wet brining. Feel free to play around with the flavors you add!

Ingredients

Dry Brine

  • cup Morton kosher salt
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced herbs such as rosemary, thyme or sage

Wet Brine

  • 2 gallons cold water
  • 1 cup Morton kosher salt
  • 2 (12 ounce) cans frozen orange juice or apple juice concentrate
  • 2 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 2 dried bay leaves

Instructions

Dry Brine

  • Combine salt, sugar, pepper, 2 tablespoons thyme, 1 tablespoon rosemary .
  • Rub dry rub all over turkey skin. Place on wire rack. Transfer to refrigerator for 18–24 hours.

Wet Brine

  • In a large container whisk together water, salt, orange juice concentrate, peppercorns, and bay leaves.
  • Submerge turkey in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 8–24 hours.

Notes

We do not recommend brining a turkey for more than 24 hours. Another over 24 hours and the salt water solution will actually change the texture of the meat and make it either tough or mealy. 

Nutrition

Keywords Dry brine vs wet brine
Did you make this recipe?Leave a comment below and tag @ZestfulKitchen on Instagram and hashtag it #zestfulkitchen!
gallery of two images showing a turkey being submerged in a wet brine and turkey pieces coated in a dry brine

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine, EatingWell.com, AmericasTestKitchen.com, and more.

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