The dynamic transition from combustion noise to combustion instability was investigated experimentally in two laboratory-scale turbulent combustors (namely, swirl-stabilized and bluff-body-stabilized backward-facing-step combustors) by systematically varying the flow Reynolds number. We observe that the onset of combustion-driven oscillations is always presaged by intermittent bursts of high-amplitude periodic oscillations that appear in a near-random fashion amidst regions of aperiodic low-amplitude fluctuations. These excursions to periodic oscillations last longer in time as operating conditions approach instability and finally the system transitions completely into periodic oscillations. A continuous measure to quantify this bifurcation in dynamics can be obtained by defining an order parameter as the probability of the signal amplitude exceeding a predefined threshold. A hysteresis zone was observed in the bluff-body-stabilized configuration that was absent in the swirl-stabilized configuration. The recurrence properties of the dynamics of intermittent burst oscillations were quantified using recurrence plots and the distribution of the aperiodic phases was examined. From the statistics of these aperiodic phases, robust early-warning signals of an impending combustion instability may be obtained.