Brining is a centuries-old technique of soaking foods in salty water to preserve, pickle, tenderize or flavor it. But when the technique is discussed at this time of year, it refers to your Thanksgiving turkey.

The effects of salt on meats are remarkable. Salt disrupts the structure of muscle filaments, making meat more tender. This relaxed muscle can't contract as much on heating, so it expels less moisture.

Brining is easy but not foolproof. Too little salt, and it's a waste of time; too much, and you can ruin both taste and texture. Recipes often recommend a 6 percent solution. Since brines work from the outside in, they have the strongest effects on the surface. On the other hand, that's the part most likely to dry out -- so even an incomplete soak can have benefits.

Salt works to move all kinds of flavors through the meat, so take advantage of the opportunity to impart taste with herbs and seasonings. Be vigilant in roasting -- brining decreases cooking time. Resulting pan juices can be quite salty, especially when reduced for gravy. Note that some birds come to market already injected with brine; brining such a bird would not only be redundant, it could be ruinous.

"Dry-brining" is a term sometimes used for the technique of rubbing salt on the meat's surface well in advance of cooking. It has some, but not all, the benefits of brining.

This is enough brine for a large turkey. For a smaller one (8- to 12-pounds), make half the brine.

>Herb-Brined Turkey

3 gallons hot water

3 pounds kosher salt

2 pounds sugar

1/4 cup dried basil

1/4 cup dried oregano

14 pounds ice

15 pound turkey, fresh or frozen, thawed

Vegetable oil

Combine hot water and salt in a clean 12- to 15-gallon cooler. Stir until salt dissolves.

Add sugar, basil and oregano; stir until sugar dissolves. Add ice and stir.

Place turkey in brine and cover with cooler lid. Soak overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To prepare the turkey, remove from brine and pat dry. Rub with vegetable oil. Place on a roasting rack and roast until thigh registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove turkey from oven and let rest 15 minutes before slicing. Serves 15.

(Recipe by Doug Hosford.)

Per (6-ounce) serving (white and dark meat): 320 calories, 12g fat, 49g prot. 0g carbs., 0g fiber, 410mg sodium.

Look for Relish magazine the first Thursday of each month in The Buffalo News.