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3 reasons you should dry brine your turkey this Thanksgiving

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LA Times food editor Russ Parsons outside his favorite taco stand in downtown, Tacos Tumbras a Tomas in Grand Central Market.
Ken Scarboro/KPCC
LA Times food editor Russ Parsons at Grand Central Market in Downtown Los Angeles

Los Angeles Times Food Editor Russ Parsons says it's the latest way to keep your Thanksgiving bird from turning out dry and nasty.

With Thanksgiving on the horizon, Turkey is on the mind of thousands of Angelenos: where to buy it, how to prepare it and what, if anything, you can do with your bird to keep it from being nasty and dry.

Russ Parsons, the food editor for the Los Angeles Times, champions an uncommon method that's getting more and more acceptance: Dry brining.

Recently, Parsons says, the culinary magazine Bon Appétit embraced the concept of dry brining: In essence, a rub that you apply to a turkey about three days before cooking it. The rub can contain salt, pepper, herbs or any other aromatics in your kitchen. 

Here are three reasons dry brining is the way to go, Parsons says:

1. It tastes better

"You know how turkey, even if it's just the slightest bit overcooked, the breast just turns to sawdust? That's why people only eat turkey once a year," Parsons says.

With dry brining, the salt draws moisture out of the bird, flavors it, and the turkey soaks it back in, taking in the essence of the seasonings with it. 

"The flavor is amazing," says Parsons.  "Because the turkey gets seasoned all the way through. And the color, it browns up really well because it pulls proteins to the surface."  

With wet brining, on the other hand, Parson says the texture is problematic.  "[It's] a little mushy. It absorbs too much water. The meat gets kind of spongy. When you dry brine, the meat stays really firm, but it still holds moisture ... when you cook it."

2. It's easy to do

Imagine you have a 15 pound turkey in your house. Want to do a wet brine? Find a bucket in your house big enough and clean enough to hold a bird and the water to brine it in. That's just the beginning of your challenges.

"A lot of people have been using wet brining for a long time," says Parsons. "And I've been doing that, too. But that involves, like, sticking the turkey in a big bucket of salty water. And you got to find some place to store that. I mean, it's just a mess."

3. Chefs have been dry brining for years

Ask any San Francisco chef or foodie about roast chicken, and and they'll inevitably bring up Zuni Cafe. "The dry brine is not something that I invented," Parsons says. "Judy Rogers, from Zuni Cafe in San Francisco — she's built an empire on roast chicken. And this is the technique she uses for the roast chicken. I simply adapted it and used it for a turkey."

The transition to turkey is natural. And, at just a tablespoon of salt per five pounds of turkey, you end up using less salt than a wet brine. Compared to a roast chicken, says Parsons, "It's a just a bigger bird."

Want to know more? The L.A. Times has launched a brand new database of searchable holiday recipes, including several dry brines. Take a look!

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