Thanksgiving is a mere three days away, which means you may already have your turkey soaking away in a brining solution to help make that meat as juicy as possible on the big day. As Harold McGee wrote back in 2008, “Mainstream food punditry maintains that brining the turkey practically guarantees a moist, tender roast.” It is almost certain that thousands, if not millions, of Americans are already preparing to let their own turkeys sit in a salt-water solution for a while this year in an effort to give their families the best Thanksgiving feast they can.
Those people are poor, misguided souls who are destined to spend Thanksgiving on the wrong side of the culinary vanguard. Haven’t you heard? Brining is out, you dopes!
Last week, the Times declared in no uncertain terms that “the wet-brined bird has lost altitude with many of the food-media influencers who sent it soaring.” And this weekend, Bon Appétit weighed in: “We’re So Over the Wet Brine. Over It!”
So what on earth are you planning to do with that salt-water solution you’re making in your kitchen? You’d better not put a turkey in there.
Take it from an Iron Chef, folks: “I’ll go on record as someone who has a great brine recipe,” Alex Guarnaschelli tells the Times. “But right now I am in a no-brining phase.”
You see, these days, it’s all about the dry brine, or, as it’s more colloquially known: putting salt on stuff. The fabled dry brine is a turkey-prepping movement that’s been gaining steam for a while now, with advocates that include, among others, McGee (as avowed in that 2008 article) and, perhaps most famously, J. Kenji López-Alt in 2012. Now, it seems the idea of essentially sprinkling salt all over your bird and letting nature do the rest has broken through to the mainstream. (Except at Real Simple, which this year is touting a turkey rubbed with pepperoni-and-rosemary butter, and that honestly sounds fantastic.)
But, so: You briners out there may already be in a proverbial pickle. It’s entirely possible you’ve already started brining your turkey and it’s not like you’re going to go back to Whole Foods or wherever to get another bird just so you can “dry brine” it and make sure your Thanksgiving feast will jell with the foodie zeitgeist. What now?
Grub Street — whose approach to turkey-making has been and always will be, “Buy a Butterball and just put it in the oven” — is here to assuage your concerns.
Honestly, it’s probably fine. Every year, food publications trot out instructions on making what should ostensibly be a maximally delicious turkey, and the only way to make that advice interesting is to push back against the prevailing wisdom. Sure, wet-brined turkey meat tends to be lunch-meat-y, but is that worse than any other kind of turkey breast, which is always dry and sort of horrible and only really eaten because people can just pour gravy all over it? Here’s the cold, hard truth: the turkey is always going to be the most boring part of Thanksgiving. The best result you can hope for is “not terrible,” so don’t worry about brining or not brining or wet brining or dry brining. Focus your energy where it matters. Mashed potatoes. Cranberry sauce. Roasted brussels sprouts. You know: the good stuff.
And then, inevitably, in a few years the cultural pendulum will swing back and all the Thanksgiving advice-givers will have some kind of reasonable-sounding argument for, like, rediscovering the joys of wet-brining, and they will then advocate that technique for a few years. If you’ve wet-brined your bird all along, you can just be smug and point out that this is the way you’ve always cooked your Thanksgiving turkey, anyway. “It really is the best way,” you’ll say, confidently, as your family and assorted dinner guests marvel at the sheer moistness of your meat. “This is going to be great on sandwiches tomorrow,” someone will say, and you’ll just nod, content in the knowledge that you made a bird that tastes exactly as so-so as possible — at least until someone points out that what would really take this turkey to the next level are a few dabs of pepperoni butter.