You’ve heard of brining, but do you know how to dry brine? Meet an even easier way to make juicier, more flavorful beef, poultry, pork, and more!
You’ve heard of brining, right? You’ve probably even brined your Thanksgiving turkey a couple of times and noticed how much more flavorful and juicy that bird becomes.
But there’s another way to get pretty much the same results, and it’s easier. Dry brining!
What Is Dry Brining?
Dry brining is a relatively new term to describe something that professional cooks have known about for years—that is, salting long in advance of cooking or “pre-salting.”
While a “regular” brine is a solution of salt and water—here’s my post about that—a dry brine is just salt. Both might include other flavorings, like seasonings and/or sugar, but salt is the key.
How Does A Dry Brine Work?
As with a wet brine, a dry brine works on two basic principles—osmosis and diffusion. Salt draws out a food’s liquids via osmosis. In a wet brine, that liquid mixes with the brine that the food is soaking in, while in a dry brine, that liquid mixes with salt on the surface of the food, dissolving it and essentially creating a highly concentrated wet brine. Ultimately, through diffusion, the brine is reabsorbed into the food.
The Benefits Of Dry Brining
As with wet brining, one of the benefits of dry brining is more flavorful food. Turkeys, yes, but also other poultry, pork, fish, and seafood, and even beef. Why is the food more flavorful? Simply because seasoning (salt), gets into the food and flavors it through and through rather than just on the surface.
Another benefit of any kind of brining is juicier, more tender food—because that salty liquid that soaks in also starts breaking down tough muscle fibers.
One big benefit of dry brining over wet brining, however, is simply that it’s easier. No need to find a big pot or plastic garbage bag to house your Thanksgiving turkey and the gallons of salty water surrounding it. Simply arrange your salted turkey on a rack, arrange the rack on a rimmed baking sheet, and refrigerate.
Another benefit is flavor, but undiluted flavor. Not that a wet-brined turkey—or anything else—will taste watery, but compared to a dry-brined turkey the flavor of a wet-brined one will be somewhat muted, less full-flavored.
A third benefit of dry brining versus wet is browner, crispier skin. Because once the moisture in the food draws out, mixes with the salt to become a concentrated salt solution, and then is drawn back in, the meat’s surface is drier than before. That means poultry will get a browner, crispier skin, but it also means that steaks and chops will get a nicer seared crust.
How To Dry Brine
It really is as easy as sprinkling your food with salt and then letting it sit while the salt does its work.
How much salt? It depends. For a steak, chop, chicken breast, or fish fillet, only as much as you’d sprinkle on before cooking normally. For a big roast like a turkey, pork loin, or beef rib roast, that means a pretty heavy coating.
Think of it this way: if you sliced that rib roast into steaks, how much salt would you sprinkle on each of those steaks? Add it together and you’ll see that a heavy coating on the outside isn’t so crazy.
Another rule of thumb that helps with whole chicken and turkey—use about 1 tablespoon of coarse kosher salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons finely ground salt per 4 pounds of bird. I prefer Diamond Crystal kosher salt because it’s inexpensive and easy to sprinkle evenly, but you can absolutely use whatever kind of salt you’re most familiar and comfortable with.
Sprinkle the salt evening all over the meat. Try to get it under the skin as well, where you can, and into the cavities as well.
After salting, set your food aside, ideally on a rack so air can circulate all around the food, and ideally the rack is on a rimmed baking sheet or pan, to catch any liquids that might drip. Leave the food uncovered while it’s brining—or, if you must, lightly covered with foil or plastic wrap.
How long? As with wet brining, the bigger the food, the longer the brine. Steaks, chops, and fillets can sit unrefrigerated for 45 minutes. Larger roasts and whole chickens and turkeys should rest in the refrigerator for least overnight, if not 1 to 3 days.
Another way to tell how long: the food will be dry on the surface. If it’s wet, that means the liquid that was drawn out of the food and dissolved the salt, but it hasn’t yet been reabsorbed. So the seasoning won’t yet be through and through, and the process won’t yet result in a crisped, brown skin.
Cooking Dry-brined Foods
When it’s time to cook, do it just as you would if you didn’t brine. In other words, roast your turkey, grill your steak, or pan-sear your pork chop. (But if the recipe you’re following calls for salt, omit it.)
And most importantly, don’t rinse your food before cooking. It won’t be overly salty because you didn’t add more than you would’ve anyway, and rinsing will just make the surface wet, preventing browning.
For more detail and more of the science behind dry brining, see this great article on Serious Eats.
You’ve heard of brining, but how about dry brining? Meet an even easier way to make juicier, more flavorful beef, poultry, pork, and more!
- Meat, poultry, or fish for brining
- Arrange meat, poultry, or fish on a rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet or pan.
- Sprinkle salt on all sides of the food. For steaks, chops, chicken pieces, and thicker fish fillets, use as much as you’d normally sprinkle on before cooking. For bigger meats like whole turkey, pork loin, or roast beef, use a heavy coating. (A rule of thumb for a whole chicken or turkey is 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons finely ground salt per 4 pounds of bird. And where you can, try to slip some of the salt under the skin.)
- For steaks, chops, chicken pieces, and thicker fish fillets, set aside uncovered at room temperature for 45 minutes. For bigger foods, set aside in the refrigerator uncovered overnight, or as long as 1 to 3 days. (Leaving the food uncovered will help with browning when you cook it, but if you don’t like the idea of uncovered raw protein in the fridge, cover it loosely with plastic wrap or foil.) The brine has done its job when the surface of the food is no longer wet.
- Cook meat, poultry, or fish as you normally would, omitting any salt in the recipe. (Don’t rinse the food before cooking.)