This year, forget the traditional bird and try a dry brined turkey instead. It’s is a great way to add flavor and juiciness without using any extra fat or oils. Plus, the brine is really easy to make–all you need is some salt, pepper, and herbs.
Turkey Dry Brine
A dry brine turkey is a way of seasoning a turkey with a salt-based mixture. The salt helps to break down the bird’s muscle fibers, resulting in a juicier and more flavorful final product.
Why You’ll Love this Dry Brine Turkey Recipe:
- Juicy and Flavorful: This dry brined turkey recipe is the perfect way to ensure that your turkey is juicy and flavorful.
- Easy: A turkey brine is an easy and delicious way to prepare a turkey without all the fuss on a busy Thanksgiving
- Tender: The salt helps to break down the protein fibers in the meat, making it more tender than your traditional turkey.
How to Dry Brine a Turkey
Be sure to see the recipe card below for full ingredients & instructions!
- Prep the turkey.
- Combine ingredients to make the dry rub and rub over the turkey.
- Let the turkey brine in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
- Follow the steps in the recipe card to roast the turkey, and enjoy.
- Turkey: Don’t use a pre-seasoned, kosher, salt-injected, or self-basting turkey. Using a salt brine on this type of turkey will make it too salty! Make sure your turkey is fully thawed before you dry brine it.
- Salt: You want to use kosher salt or coarse sea salt; fine or table salt will make your turkey too salty!
- Spices: Feel free to change up the spices to suit your individual tastes. Onion powder, oregano, or poultry seasoning are all great options. In place of the sage and thyme, try dried basil, dried parsley,Italian seasoning, dried chives, or marjoram.
- Add brine under the skin: To get a better penetration and more flavor, apply some of the brine between the meat and the skin.
- Baste the turkey: Every 30 minutes, baste the turkey with pan juices to keep it juicy.
- Allow the turkey to rest: Let the turkey rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing to lock in the juices.
A dry brine is a salt rub that is applied to the surface of meat to naturally draw out moisture and create a brine from the natural juices inside the meat. A wet brine, on the other hand, involves submerging the meat in a bucket of salted and seasoned water to add moisture and flavor.
Turkey is notorious for being flavorless and dry. This dry brine method combats both of those issues by giving the herbs and salt time to penetrate the meat, leading to moist, flavorful turkey. Plus, it’s way less messy than a wet brine!
No! A dry brine will not penetrate a frozen turkey, so you must fully thaw the turkey before dry brining. The best way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator in its original packaging. The time it will take to defrost is roughly 24 hours for every 4 pounds of turkey. For a 12-pound turkey, expect to let it defrost for 72 hours (3 days).
For the best flavor and penetration, separate the skin from the meat and rub some of the dry brine between the meat and skin.
I do not recommend adding more salt to the dry brine for a self-basting or saline-injected turkey. It will make it too salty! You can, however, dry rub the turkey with just the herbs and no salt.
You can dry brine a turkey for as little as 2 hours to up to 2 days before cooking. For extra crispy turkey skin, leave the dry brined turkey uncovered in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours to dry out the skin before cooking it.
I don’t ever recommend stuffing a turkey for a number of reasons. First, it takes the turkey and the stuffing too long to reach 165°F, giving bacteria more time to multiply and increasing your chances of contracting foodborne illness. Second, because it takes so much longer to cook, the turkey often turns out dry and tough. You can, however, serve the turkey and stuffing together after the fact, as I did in these photos.
Almost any side will pair perfectly with this dry brined turkey.
Make Ahead Instructions
You can apply and leave the dry brine on a turkey for up to 2 days before roasting it. Cover and refrigerate the turkey until ready to roast. Optionally, uncover the turkey up to 24 hours before roasting to dry out the skin. This will yield a crispier turkey.
Store leftover dry brined turkey in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat gently in the microwave or covered with foil in a 300°F oven for 20-30 minutes.
Freeze dry brined turkey in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating. I do not recommend freezing a dry brined turkey whole; always cut it into portions first.
- Instead of dark brown sugar, try light brown sugar or granulated sugar.
- Feel free to change up the spices to suit your individual tastes. Onion powder, oregano, or poultry seasoning are all great options.
- For a spicy dry brine, try adding a bit of cayenne pepper.
- In place of the sage and thyme, try dried basil, dried parsley, Italian seasoning, dried chives, or marjoram.
- Instead of orange juice, try blood orange or grapefruit juice.
Plan to serve 1 pound of turkey per person. Easily double this recipe for a 24-pound turkey to feed a large crowd!
This dry brine works great on a smaller turkey or even just a turkey breast. For a 4-pound turkey breast, use 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, 1 tablespoon of smoked paprika, ⅔ tablespoon of chili powder, 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, ⅔ teaspoon rubbed sage, ⅔ teaspoon dried thyme, ⅔ teaspoon ground black pepper, and ⅔ teaspoon of garlic powder.
Tips for the Best Dry Brined Turkey
- Don’t use a pre-seasoned, kosher, salt-injected, or self-basting turkey. Using a salt brine on this type of turkey will make it too salty!
- Make sure your turkey is fully thawed before dry brining. Turkey takes approximately 6 hours per pound to defrost.
- Some turkeys come with a little plastic piece to help hold the turkey legs in place. If your turkey doesn’t have one, you can use butcher twine and tie the legs together. You need to twist the turkey wings under to help protect them from burning.
- Be sure to apply some of the brine between the meat and the skin to allow for better penetration.
- In general, the bigger the bird, the longer you should dry brine. Dry brine for a minimum of 2 hours or up to 2 days!
- Use kosher salt or coarse sea salt; fine or table salt will make your turkey too salty!
- When roasting, place your oven rack in the bottom third of the oven.
- If you’re confident that you can flip the turkey safely, start it breast-side down and flip it breast-side up in the last 30 minutes of cooking. This will help keep the breasts juicy.
- Note that for every 1 pound of turkey, it should take about 11-13 minutes to roast. For a 12-pound turkey, it should take 2-2½ hours.
- Baste the turkey with the pan juices every 30 minutes to keep it juicy.
- Rotate the turkey halfway through cooking so it roasts more evenly.
- Check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer. It should be 165°F in the thickest part without hitting the bone.
- Let the turkey rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing to lock in the juices.
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