Turkey Dry Brine

By: Cassy Joy Garcia

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Dry brining your turkey a couple of days ahead of cooking makes all the difference between a bland, dry turkey and a juicy, flavorful one!

a raw whole turkey being rubbed with butter and herbs

What is dry brine?

To put it really simply: dry brining is heavily salting a piece of meat and letting it sit before cooking. Pretty easy, right?! It allows meat to get super moist, flavorful, and tender with very little time or effort. 

When you season the turkey just before cooking it, the seasoning stays on the surface of the bird. When you brine it beforehand, the salt has a chance to penetrate the turkey so that every single bite is flavorful. Another huge benefit of brining is it helps to lock in the moisture of the turkey, avoiding the age-old issue of a dried-out bird. All of this to say, if you’re short on time, skip the brine, but if you’ve got enough time for it, do it!

Dry Brine vs. Wet Brine Turkey

There’s a good chance you’ve heard of wet brining before, and while the two yield similar results, the processes are quite different. 

Wet brines go like this: you boil a mixture of water, sugar, salt, and aromatics, then place the meat in the mixture and refrigerate for up to a day. While this does result in a tender, flavorful, and juicy end product, it requires quite a bit of work, and depending on the size of what you are brining (think: a whole turkey), it can be a bit impractical. 

Dry brines, on the other hand, just require you to heavily salt the meat on all sides a day or two before cooking, and let the salted meat sit. Dry brining yields similar results to wet brining and allows for meat that is tender, flavorful, and easier to crisp and caramelize.

While both result in tender, delicious end products, dry brining tends to be a lot easier and more practical than wet brining.

Dry Turkey Brine Ingredients

The only ingredients you’ll need to execute a dry brine on your turkey are…

  • Whole Turkey – of course, you’ll need your turkey in order to dry brine it! Make sure that it is thawed and ready to go by the time you start your brine.
  • Salt – in addition to the turkey itself, you’ll also need about 1 tablespoon of coarse salt per 5 pounds of turkey.
  • Dried Herbs – about two teaspoons of dried herbs will combine with the salt to add some delicious flavor to the brine. Pictured here is a teaspoon of dried sage and a teaspoon of dried thyme.
  • Pepper – lastly, a 1/2 teaspoon of cracked black pepper goes into the dry brine mixture!

Must specific herbs and spices be used when dry brining turkey or can I make substitutions according to personal preference?

Make substitutions as you wish! The real *musts* here are the turkey and salt. Otherwise, play with the herbs to make them fit your tastes and preferences. Dried sage, thyme, oregano, basil, and rosemary are all great options.

Fresh Herbs vs. Dry Herbs

While you’ll likely use fresh herbs at some point in the turkey cooking process (if you’re using THIS recipe, it’ll be in the form of herby garlicky butter), all you need for a good dry brine are dried herbs. Because the salt and herbs sit on the turkey for a couple of days, it actually works out a lot better to use the dried herbs for this and save the fresh herbs for the garlic butter.

Do I need to rinse a dry brined turkey?

You don’t! While it’s definitely going to feel like you’re using WAY too much salt (especially if this is your first time dry brining a turkey), I promise your turkey will not taste overly salty when it’s time to carve into it. The salt acts as a seal for all of the delicious moisture that *is* possible to lock into a finished roasted turkey! 

How to Dry Brine a Turkey

As mentioned above, the dry brine process is incredibly easy, so if you’re intimidated, don’t be! You’ve got this. Here’s what you’ll do 2-3 days before you’re ready to cook the turkey:

  1. Prep – 2-3 days before you plan to cook the turkey, remove it from its packaging, take out the giblet package, pat it dry, and place it in a roasting pan.
  2. Combine the salt, herbs, and pepper – add the salt, dried herbs, and cracked black pepper to a small bowl, then whisk to combine!
  3. Add the salt mixture to the turkey – sprinkle 2 teaspoons of the salt mixture in the turkey cavity, then separate the turkey skin from the breasts and put one teaspoon of the salt mixture under the skin on each side. Sprinkle the rest of the brine liberally over the turkey, then cover and refrigerate for 1-2 days.

That’s it! Once you’re ready to cook your turkey, follow THESE instructions!

a raw whole turkey being rubbed with butter and herbs
a raw whole turkey being rubbed with herbs and butter
a raw whole turkey being rubbed with butter and herbs
a whole roasted turkey being covered with aluminum foil

Where should the dry turkey brine be applied?

Good question! You’ll want to apply the salt mixture in the turkey cavity, under the skin of the turkey breasts, and then all over the surface of the turkey. 

How Long to Dry Brine Turkey

For the best results, let your thawed turkey sit with the salt mixture for 1-2 days. If you’re in a pinch, a shorter amount of time (8-12 hours) will work just fine.

Is it possible to dry brine a turkey too long?

Because you need to wait until your turkey is thawed to start the dry brine and it’s best to cook a turkey within 2-3 days of thawing, I actually wouldn’t let the dry brine sit for longer than 2 days.

What type of turkey should I buy from the store in order to dry brine?

Most any turkey will do! Both frozen and fresh turkeys will work — you’ll just want to make sure to fully thaw a frozen turkey before brining it. I’d avoid pre-seasoned turkeys since the dry brine is going to take care of flavoring the turkey, but otherwise, pick whichever turkey looks the best to you! 

Other Uses for This Dry Brine Recipe

Dry brining isn’t exclusively for Thanksgiving turkeys, y’all! It helps to really tenderize steak, chicken, and all cuts of turkey. Here are a couple of dry brine recipes specific to certain kinds of protein:

Print

Dry Brine Turkey Recipe

Dry brining your turkey a couple of days ahead of cooking it makes all the difference between a bland, dry turkey and a juicy, flavorful one!

  • Author: Cassy Joy Garcia
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Inactive Time: 24-48 hours
  • Total Time: 49 minute
  • Yield: Serves 812 1x
  • Category: Dinner
  • Cuisine: American

Ingredients

Scale
  • 1, 12-16 pound turkey, thawed
  • 23 tablespoons coarse or kosher salt (use about 1 tablespoon for every 5 pounds of meat)
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Instructions

  1. 1-2 days before you'll be cooking your turkey, remove it from its packaging, take out the giblet package, pat it dry, and place it in a roasting pan.
  2. Add the salt, dried herbs, and cracked black pepper to a small bowl, then whisk to combine.
  3. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of the salt mixture in the turkey cavity, then separate the turkey skin from the breasts and put one teaspoon of the salt mixture under the skin on each side. Sprinkle the rest of the brine liberally over the turkey, then cover and refrigerate for 1-2 days.

Keywords: dry brine turkey

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