In this post, I'll teach you how to dry brine a turkey. This easy technique produces the juiciest, most flavorful roast turkey you'll ever make!
I've made roast turkey at least 15 times in my life. I used to try different recipes and techniques every Thanksgiving, always searching for the "holy grail" recipe that would have everyone oohing and aahing over my turkey roasting prowess.
I've basted. I've injected. I've stuffed. I've rubbed. I've marinated. I've massaged. I've wet brined.
None of the turkeys I made were ever bad, but they weren't amazing either. Two years ago, however, I finally found my holy grail: THE DRY BRINE!
What shocked me more than the deliciousness of the dry brine turkey was that it was also the easiest roast turkey recipe I'd ever tried.
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I wish someone had told me about this easy technique back when I was wrestling a slippery, raw 20 lb turkey into a tub of liquid, or hovering next to the oven for five straight hours with a basting brush in my hand.
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Dry Brine vs. Wet Brine:
Most brines we think of are wet brines, which involve immersing the turkey into a giant vat of liquid that contains sugar, salt and other ingredients (cue the aforementioned turkey wrestling).
Dry brining simply involves coating the turkey in a few tablespoons of kosher salt and letting it sit in the refrigerator for up to two days.
Don't let the simplicity fool you, though. Dry brining results in the juiciest, most flavorful turkey I've made in 15 years of making turkeys.
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How Dry Brining Works:
The idea of a dry brine seems counterintuitive since salt is typically associated with drying foods out, not making them juicier. But dry brining actually adds moisture to the meat.
In layman's terms, the salt draws moisture from the meat into the skin and then through osmosis (literally), the salty moisture reworks itself back into the turkey, ensuring that the meat is seasoned all the way through. If you want more info on how this works, here is some additional info about the science behind dry brining.
How to dry brine a turkey:
What you'll need:
- Roasting pan with rack
- Kosher salt
- An herb (optional)
- Butter (optional)
Figure out your thawing/brining timeline:
Ideally your turkey should be thawed before you apply the brine. If you've bought a frozen turkey, it will need to thaw in the fridge for a few days (allow 1 day per 4 lbs); and after you apply the salt you'll want to let it brine for at least 1 hour per pound, but it can go as long as 2-3 days.
The nice thing about dry-brining is that even if your turkey isn't fully thawed when it's time to brine it, you can brine it anyway!
To give you an example of my timeline: I bought an 11 lb frozen turkey on a Thursday morning, put it in the fridge to thaw, applied the brine on Sunday morning, and cooked it on Monday afternoon.
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Apply the brine:
Measure out approximately 1 tablespoon of kosher salt per every 4 pounds of turkey (I used a little less than 3 tbsp for my 11 lb turkey).
TIP: I used the Diamond Crystal brand of kosher salt, but if you're using Morton kosher salt you might want to use a little less.
It's not essential to use herbs, but if you'd like to add some (I used rosemary), finely chop about 1 Â½ teaspoons of your herb of choice and add it to the salt mixture.
Start by sprinkling a little of the salt mixture into the cavity of the turkey, and then distribute the remaining salt over all surfaces of the turkey, concentrating slightly more on the meatiest parts.
Place the brined turkey on a platter and place uncovered into the refrigerator. As I mentioned in the last step, you should aim to let it brine for at least 1 hour per pound of turkey, but you can leave it for up to 48 hours. I brined mine for about 24 hours.
Over time, the skin will start to look a little brownish and dried out, but that's OK.
Cooking the dry brine turkey:
There's some debate amongst dry briners as to whether the bird should be flipped during cooking. I chose to do it, but I honestly can't say whether it made any difference or not in the end result. Here's how I cooked my turkey:
- Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for about 1 hour.
- Cook the turkey breast side down on a rack inside a roasting pan at 425Â° for 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes is up, flip the turkey over (use oven mitts to do this) so that it's breast side up, and reduce the oven temp to 325Â°.
- Cook for 2 Â½ more hours, or until a meat thermometer reaches 165Â° when poked into the thickest part of the meat. Depending on the size of your turkey, you may need to cook it a little longer.
- If you'd like, you can baste the turkey with a little butter sometime during the cooking process, but it's totally optional. I basted mine once with about 2 tablespoon of butter, and that was it!
Dry Brining Tips:
Dry-brined turkeys require less cooking time, so keep in mind that your turkey might be done sooner than other similarly-sized turkeys you've cooked in the past. That said, one of the great things about dry-brining is that even if you overcook the turkey a little, it will still be juicy and tender.
Do not use the dry-brining technique with a stuffed turkey or the stuffing will get too salty. You also should not do this with a kosher turkey since it comes pre-salted.
Dry Brine Roast Turkey
- 1 12 lb turkey
- 3 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon diced rosemary or other herb optional
- melted butter optional
- Remove giblets, and rinse & pat dry your turkey.
- Measure out approximately 1 tablespoon kosher salt per 4 lbs of turkey and place in a small bowl.
- If using herbs, stir 1 1/2 teaspoon diced herbs into the salt.
- Sprinkle a little salt into the cavity of the turkey. Distribute the remaining salt over all surfaces of the turkey, concentrating a little more on the meatiest areas.
- Refrigerate turkey on an uncovered platter for at least 1 hour per pound, but up to 48 hours.
- An hour before you're ready to cook, remove turkey from refrigerator and let sit at room temperature. Preheat oven to 425.
- Place turkey breast side down on a rack in a roasting pan. Cook for 30 minutes.
- Reduce temperature to 325. Flip turkey so the breast side faces up and return to oven.
- Cook for about 2 1/2 more hours or until internal temperature at the thickest part reaches 165.
- Let rest for about 30 minutes, carve, and serve.
This recipe is honestly the most fool-proof one I've ever tried, and the most delicious. If you try it, make sure to come back and tell me what you think!
Thursday 15th of September 2022
I tried this dry brine today. It was amazing. I usually do a wet brine but no more. This recipe plus the spatchcock that I always do is my recipe of choice. I did the 425 for 30 then turned down the temp to the 325 with breast side up. I mixed but and rosemary and placed under the skin before going in the over This is the best turkey I have made.
Friday 14th of October 2022
Thanks so much!!
Wednesday 22nd of December 2021
I've made this recipe before and absolutely love it! This year when I went to take the turkey out to thaw I saw it was a already fully cooked hickory smoked turkey. Would this have added to the flavor?
Monday 22nd of November 2021
Hey there!! If I wanted to add butter to the turkey after brining, what would be the best way? Or would it even make a difference? Thanks so much!
Wednesday 25th of November 2020
I think I used too much salt. And there is a lot of juice in the dish the turkey is sitting in. Do you think it will still be ok?
Wednesday 25th of November 2020
Yes. Do you have a rack you can put it on so that it's not sitting in the juices?
Sunday 22nd of November 2020
I really want to try dry brining. I'm going to smoke my first turkey breast. Will this method work for smoking? Would it be ok if I rinse off the dry brine and then apply my rub? I was planning on injecting it before I found this method. Should I nix that then? Thanks :-)
Sunday 22nd of November 2020
I think it would be fine to smoke the turkey after bringing. Does the rub contain salt? If not, it should be fine to add (no need to rinse the turkey). If it does, it may make it too salty.