Do You Need To Brine Turkey Differently When Smoking It?

So you want to smoke your turkey for Thanksgiving this year? Not a problem — Stephanie Rapone and various Mashed staffers have you covered with a great smoked turkey recipe. In this recipe, Stephenie suggests using a brine on the turkey before smoking it to make sure it gets lots of flavor and juiciness when cooked. Although she points in the direction of a wet brine, it begs an interesting question of whether a wet or dry brine is optimal for smoked turkey.

The short answer is either can work. However, it's a bit more complicated than that and will ultimately come down to personal preference. Brining whole turkey in a solution of salt water and various other herbs will keep the meat moist and help the salt penetrate deeper into the meat. So if you're someone who likes juicy, aromatic turkey meat, this might be best for you.

Dry brining, or rubbing the meat with seasoning and letting it sit in the fridge for some time to draw moisture out, gives you much more control over how flavorful the turkey can become. A dry rub containing plenty of salt will help to break down the muscle structure of the meat and increase tenderness. It won't stand up to the dry heat of a smoker as well as turkey that has been soaked in wet brine, though. As you can see, it really depends on how you like it.

Brining pitfalls you'll want to avoid

Brining isn't all sunshine and rainbows. There are some pitfalls you'll want to steer clear of when you brine your turkey. Since wet brining is the most labor-intensive, it also has the most potential to go awry. First of all, you have to heat your brining solution on the stove when adding other flavor components besides just salt. If you don't sufficiently cool the liquid before adding the turkey and putting it in the fridge, you risk increasing the chance of foodborne pathogens developing in your turkey. On top of that, if you leave the turkey in the brining solution for too long, it can result in meat with a mushy mouthfeel even when smoked. Nobody wants that.

With dry brining, the biggest thing that can go wrong is that you don't add enough salt and seasoning. Turkeys are gigantic birds and can handle more seasoning than you think. Undersalting the meat also runs the risk of not drawing out enough moisture, resulting in a bland centerpiece. Ultimately, though, the success of a smoked turkey is going to depend more strongly on the execution of the cook. If you follow these tips for smoking a turkey and always stay vigilant on your meat temperature, you'll end up with an awesome turkey. Either way, wet or dry, you're definitely going to want to brine your turkey for flavor and texture's sake.