As brining has become more and more popular, home chefs are increasingly curious about the correct protocol. Do you rinse turkey after brining it, or is it better to just start cooking it as planned? There are two sides to this argument, and we’ll present both here.
Do You Rinse Turkey After Brining?
We usually avoid rinsing the turkey after brining to prevent bacteria from spreading around the work station. The step is even less necessary when the turkey is dry brined. If you do rinse off the brine, be sure to disinfect the sink and the surrounding area before you do anything else.
The Perils of Rinsing
According to the USDA, rinsing raw poultry puts you at risk of contracting food-borne illnesses. That’s because the poultry may harbor the bacteria that cause salmonella poisoning, and the only way to destroy this bacteria is to cook the meat thoroughly.
Not all turkeys will pose this risk to your health, but there’s no way to be certain. This hazard is the main reason why you should always cook poultry products to a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit before you eat them.
When you rinse the poultry under running water, you might think that any bacteria would simply be washed down the drain. However, the practice can actually send droplets flying up to 3 feet in any direction, even if you don’t notice.
You should always wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw poultry. Even if you’re vigilant about this practice, though, the act of rinsing the turkey could still cause cross-contamination as you move around the kitchen.
Let’s say you touch the countertop while prepping the turkey, not realizing that it’s been contaminated. When you open the refrigerator door, pick up utensils, or grab a kitchen towel, you could be spreading bacteria to all those surfaces without knowing it.
After unwrapping a turkey, set it directly in the roasting pan. Move the pan at least 3 feet away, then disinfect the sink and countertops just in case. Then pat the bird dry before seasoning and cooking it as desired.
To brine a turkey, you create a saltwater solution—usually 1 cup of kosher salt for each gallon of liquid—and allow it to cool thoroughly. Then you submerge the bird inside for 6 to 18 hours.
As the turkey sits in the solution, the salt seasons the meat while loosening up the muscle fibers. This tenderizes the meat and allows it to retain more moisture as it cooks.
It’s customary to add aromatic vegetables, herbs, citrus fruits, apples, or sugar to the brine solution. Try to aim for a flavor profile that will work with your chosen side dishes.
You’ll need to keep the turkey and brine cold throughout the entire process. The best way to do this is to use a nonreactive container that’s large enough to hold the turkey but small enough to fit inside your refrigerator.
Turkeys that are pre-brined or contain 8 percent solution should not be brined again, as they’ve already been treated with plenty of salt. If you attempt to brine these turkeys, you could render the meat inedible.
Do You Rinse Turkey After Brining?
Although it’s generally not a good idea to rinse the turkey, many recipes do suggest rinsing when the bird has been submerged in a saltwater brine.
Proponents of the method argue that the meat will taste too salty if you don’t rinse it after brining. And if you follow the safety guidelines we’ve provided below, rinsing the turkey may not do any harm.
That said, brining is a method of preserving moisture. It’s not necessarily meant to impart flavor, although adding ingredients besides salt and water can help in this regard.
As long as you’ve used the correct ratio of salt to water for your brine, you should be able to add the turkey to the smoker without rinsing it. The choice is ultimately up to you.
How To Safely Rinse a Brined Turkey
Should you decide to go ahead and rinse the bird after taking it out of the brine, you should take the following safety measures.
First of all, rinse the turkey only after you’ve washed any ingredients that will be served raw, like vegetables for salad. Often, people contaminate their lettuce and tomatoes by rinsing poultry in the sink before the vegetables.
Next, make sure to do the dishes. You’ll need to start with a clean sink and countertops. After the dishes are washed, dried, and put away, wash out the sink with hot soapy water and rinse it thoroughly.
Spread a layer of heavy-duty paper towels around the sink area. It’s better if this bed of towels spreads 3 feet on either side of the sink.
Always use cold water when rinsing poultry. If you use warm water, the meat could heat up to room temperature, which causes bacteria to multiply and spread toxins.
Allow the water to flow through the cavity, then hold up the turkey so that the water flows into the sink. If you’d like, you can add a few inches of cold water to the sink so you can gently submerge the bird, flooding the cavity with liquid.
Have the roasting pan close at hand. Once you’ve finished rinsing the turkey, set it in the pan so that the water isn’t dripping all over the kitchen.
Once you’ve set the roasting pan a safe distance away, clear away the paper towels and throw them in the sink. Wash your hands with hot soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
Clean the sink and countertop with soap and water, then rinse well. Use a sanitizer to fully disinfect the area.
You’re now ready to move on to the next stage in seasoning and prepping the turkey for the oven or smoker. Bear in mind that you should cut back on the salt in the seasoning mixture when you’ve brined the turkey beforehand.
What About Dry Brining?
To dry brine meat, you simply apply a generous measure of salt to the exterior, then allow it to rest in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook. Unlike with a wet brine, you can dry brine a turkey for up to 2 days.
Dry brining is a popular alternative to wet brining. Not only will it take up less room in the refrigerator, it eliminates the need to boil and then chill the liquid.
You can add other seasonings to a dry brine. Freshly ground black pepper or fennel seeds, smoked paprika, and coriander are good bets. If you want to use fresh herbs, consider tucking them under the skin instead.
Do you rinse a dry brined turkey before cooking? Again, you can if you’d like, but it isn’t necessary. Those who argue against rinsing claim that the added moisture will prevent the skin from browning properly.
Moreover, when you dry brine a turkey, the salt draws moisture to the surface of the meat, where it mixes with the seasonings before being reabsorbed into the flesh. That means there shouldn’t be any salt left behind on the surface.
The Bottom Line
If the brine contains a lot of sugar or a higher salt ratio than what’s usually called for, then rinsing might be a good idea. Otherwise, we don’t recommend it.
Whether you rinse or not, make sure to dry the turkey with paper towels before cooking it. This will give the bird a crisp exterior to hold in all those savory juices.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!