This Dry Brine Turkey recipe creates an incredibly tender, juicy turkey with beautifully browned, crispy skin. Dry brining is an easy method that will create a gorgeous centerpiece for your holiday table!
I’m so excited about this dry brine method, guys.
I’ve been roasting my turkeys in pretty much the same fashion for most of my life and yesterday I decided to give this dry brine method a try and I was seriously blown away by the result. I know I’m a bit late getting this out to you but if you don’t have a definite plan for your bird yet, I highly recommend you give this method a try.
I’m super attracted to make-ahead recipes for my holiday menus and one of the most exciting aspects of this recipe is that you will get all the messy turkey prep out of the way up to 3 days in advance of Thanksgiving Day.
Table of contents
- What is Dry Brining?
- Ingredient Notes
- The Best Turkey for a Dry Brine
- How to Safely Thaw Turkey Before Brining
- How to Dry Brine Turkey
- Chill Out, Man
- Prepare the Turkey for Roasting
- How to Roast a Dry Brined Turkey
- Let it Rest
- More Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes
- Serving Suggestions
What is Dry Brining?
Dry brining is the process of applying a dry rub consisting of coarse salt and seasonings to a cut of meat, in this case a whole turkey, and then allowing it to rest in the refrigerator for two or three days.
The salt works to draw out the turkey’s juices and then the salt dissolves in the juices. It’s all reabsorbed back into the turkey to help break down the tough muscle proteins. A little scientific but a lot AMAZING. The result – a bird that is succulent, juicy, tender, and flavorful. Resting uncovered for at the last part of the chilling time dries out the skin a bit, resulting in that beautifully browned, crispy skin you see in the images in this post.
The dry brine method is SO much cleaner and easier than a wet brine and I believe the result is at least as good if not better. Plus, it eliminates the need to hunt down a container large enough to accommodate gallons of water and a big turkey. Not to mention the refrigerator space.
You can start the dry brine process up to 3 days in advance of Thanksgiving and when the big day arrives, your turkey will require only a minimal amount of remaining prep before you pop it in the oven to roast.
- Turkey – A 12 to 16 pound natural, minimally processed turkey. See more details below on choosing the correct turkey.
- Low-sodium chicken or turkey broth
- Coarse ground kosher salt – This is the most crucial component to any dry brine.
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Dried thyme, dried rubbed sage – I like to add this trio of dried herbs to the dry brine to infuse some herb-y flavor.
- Softened butter
- Olive oil
- Granulated garlic or garlic powder – Combined with softened butter, it adds another layer of buttery-garlic flavor to the turkey.
- Carrot, onion, orange – The aromatics that add wonderful flavor to the drippings. Especially important if you plan to make gravy. Many recipes for dry brine include citrus zest but instead, I like to add fresh orange with the other aromatics in the cavity of the turkey.
The Best Turkey for a Dry Brine
Either a fresh or frozen turkey will work but it is important to select a natural turkey that has not been injected with a salt solution. As much as I love Butterball turkeys, they should not be brined. You also want to avoid Kosher turkeys which have been pre-salted. Read the package and select a natural turkey that has been minimally processed. If salt is listed as an ingredient, keep looking.
If you are unsure, talk to the butcher at your local grocery store and they should be able to steer you in the right direction.
I picked up my 13-pound turkey from Whole Foods. They had the best selection of minimally processed turkeys in my area.
How to Safely Thaw Turkey Before Brining
It takes approximately 1 day (24 hours) per 4 pounds to thaw in the refrigerator, so, for instance, if you have a 16 pound turkey, it will take 4 full days to thaw completely. Place it on a rimmed baking sheet before placing it in your fridge in case any juices escape the packaging while thawing. You can get more safe thawing tips on the USDA website.
Approximate Turkey Thawing Times
4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days
How to Dry Brine Turkey
At least two and up to three days before you plan to roast your turkey, remove the completely thawed bird from the packaging and remove the giblets. There is no need to rinse the turkey with water and in fact, it is not recommended for food safety concerns. Just pat the cavity and outside of the turkey dry with paper towels. I like to work on a foil lined board for easy cleanup.
Combine the dry brine ingredients in a small bowl.
Sprinkle some of the dry brine inside the cavity and use your hands to spread it around. Then carefully lift up the skin covering the breast meat and spread some of the brine directly on the meat under the skin. The remaining brine should be spread over the exterior of the bird.
Chill Out, Man
Transfer the seasoned bird to a rack in your roasting pan or a large rimmed baking sheet (whatever fits best in your fridge). Cover it tightly with plastic wrap, transfer it to the fridge, and go about your life! It should be refrigerated, covered, for one to two days. Two days is better if you have enough time, especially if you are roasting a larger bird.
At this point you’ll remove the plastic wrap and let it chill in the fridge for at least an additional 8 hours or for up to 24 hours. This helps the skin dry out a bit and will result in that gorgeous browned, crispy skin. If you are like me, you’ll need to set a reminder on your phone to remove the plastic wrap. I am seriously overloaded the day before Thanksgiving so my brain is not exactly running on all cylinders.
Prepare the Turkey for Roasting
When the big day arrives be sure to remove the turkey from the refrigerator and let it rest for 45 minutes to an hour on your kitchen counter before roasting to take the chill off.
Don’t rinse the turkey before roasting. Don’t do it! This will defeat the whole drying process and you won’t get that nice crisped skin. The salt will have been absorbed and done it’s job and the turkey will not taste salty.
Add any variety of aromatics you’d like to the cavity of the turkey before roasting. I went with onion, carrot, and a quartered orange. Lemon, fresh herbs, and celery are also wonderful options.
Garlic Butter Rub
The last step before roasting is to slather the bird with a mixture of softened butter, olive oil, and granulated garlic. The garlic butter rub goes both under the skin of the breast portion and all over the exterior of the turkey.
How to Roast a Dry Brined Turkey
Roast the turkey at 325 degrees F for about 12 to 15 minutes per pound, to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F when measured in the thickest part of the thigh. Brined turkeys can have a tendency to cook a bit faster so watch it closely towards the end of the cooking time.
You will need to have plenty of broth on hand since brined turkeys will not let off as much cooking liquid while roasting. This is a good thing because the juices stay in the bird! Add a couple of cups of chicken or turkey broth to the roasting pan before it goes in the oven.
Baste the turkey often during the roasting process to encourage the skin to brown and crisp, adding additional broth when needed. I used an entire 32 ounce carton of chicken broth.
Let it Rest
Once you pull it from the oven, tent the roasting pan with foil and let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving to help the turkey retain as much of the juice as possible.
More Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes
If you don’t have time to brine this year take a gander at my detailed instructions for my Herb Roasted Turkey. It has a more traditional method of preparation that works wonderfully with the beloved Butterball Turkey.
Serving a small group? My Roasted Turkey Breast with Gravy is the perfect choice!
For more general turkey info, check out my post on How To Choose, Prep, and Roast your Turkey.
This recipe works perfectly with my recipe for Easy Turkey Gravy, Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes and the most delicious Crock Pot Stuffing ever!
Check out my entire collection of Thanksgiving Recipes to complete your feast.
I wish you all a festive Thanksgiving and a fabulous feast. I’d love to hear what you’re making so feel free to comment or drop me a line.
Happy cooking and Happy Thanksgiving!
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Dry Brine Turkey
- 12 to 16 pound natural turkey, safely thawed
- 32 ounces low-sodium chicken or turkey broth
- kitchen twine, for tying legs together
Dry Brine (per 5 pounds of turkey weight)
- 1 tablespoon coarse ground kosher salt, (per 5 pounds of turkey)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme, (per 5 pounds of turkey)
- 1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage, (per 5 pounds of turkey)
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper , (per 5 pounds of turkey)
Garlic Butter Rub
- 1 stick butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
- 1 carrot, scrubbed clean and cut into chunks
- 1 small onion, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 small unpeeled orange, sliced into wedges
Brine the Turkey
- Remove the packaging (in or next to sink) and remove the giblets. Transfer the turkey to a large sheet of heavy duty foil for easy cleanup. Pat the cavity and exterior of the turkey dry with paper towels.
- Combine the Dry Brine ingredients in a small bowl. Sprinkle a few teaspoons of the dry brine inside the cavity and use your hand to spread it around. Gently lift skin on breast portion and carefully reach inside and coat as much of the breast meat as possible with a couple of teaspoons of the brine. Sprinkle the remaining brine all over the outside of the turkey.
- Transfer the seasoned turkey to a rack in your roasting pan (or a rimmed baking sheet). Cover it securely with plastic wrap – I used 5 or 6 sheets to cover my big roasting pan. Transfer the turkey to the refrigerator and forget about it for 24 to 48 hours.
- Remove the plastic wrap and let the bird sit uncovered in the refrigerator for an additional 8 to 24 hours.
- Remove the turkey from the refrigerator about an hour before you are ready to roast it. Stand the turkey up to pour out and discard any liquid that might have collected in the cavity and pour off or blot up any juices that have collected in the pan. Place the turkey back on the roasting rack. If you chilled your turkey on a baking sheet, transfer it to a rack in a roasting pan now.
Roast the Turkey
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Combine the butter, olive oil, and granulated garlic in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.
- Stuff the turkey cavity with the carrot, onion, and orange.
- Scoop up some of the garlic butter mixture with your hand and spread it under the skin of both turkey breasts. Spread the remaining butter mixture over the outside of the turkey, being sure to get into all the nooks and crevices of the wings and legs. Tuck wings securely under the body and use kitchen twine to tie the legs together. Pour about 2 cups of broth into the bottom of the roasting pan.
- Transfer the roasting pan to the preheated 325 degree oven. Allow the turkey to roast for about 45 minutes and then baste it once every 20 to 30 minutes or so throughout the remainder of the roasting time, adding additional broth if it begins to evaporate from bottom of pan. Rotate the pan in the oven about halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning. Tent with foil once skin is browned to your liking.
- Roast until the internal temperature of the meatiest portion of the thigh registers a solid 165 degrees. The roasting time should range from approximately 3 to 4-1/2 hours if your turkey is between 12 to 16 pounds.
- Remove the turkey from oven, tent it loosely with foil, and allow it to rest for about 30 minutes before carving.
- 3 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon dried rubbed sage
- 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Nutrition information is automatically calculated using generic ingredients, and is an estimate not a guarantee. For more accurate results, please refer to the labels on your ingredients at home.
Questions and Reviews
I was wondering if an oven bag would be ok to use instead of basting throughout the cook time.
How would you suggest to reheat if the turkey is Cooked earlier in the day, but will not be eaten until a little bit later.
Slice the turkey as you usually would, place the pieces in a baking dish, drizzle with a little stock or broth, and cover and cook at a very low temp in the oven (300 degrees F) for just long enough to warm it through. It should take about 20 to 30 minutes. The key is adding moisture, keeping it covered, and gentle heat. You can do the same covered in the microwave.
You had me at ‘garlic!’ Would fresh garlic work or should I stick with garlic powder/granulated?
Definitely stick with the powder or granulated form. Fresh garlic has a tendency to burn when cooked for a long time in the oven.
Can I use fresh herbs instead of dry?
You could although I much prefer dry herbs and spices for a dry rub. Dry herbs have a stronger intensity and a better consistency for this recipe.
Are these drippings ok to make gravy or are they too salty?
I always use the drippings to make gravy and it works beautifully. One thing to remember is that dry brined birds won’t let off as much liquid as they cook because the juices are retained so you’ll be using broth during the cooking process. Go with a low-sodium broth and your gravy will be perfect.
Do I use unsalted or salted butter? How would this turn out if I included rosemary in the dry brine? I can’t find kitchen twine anywhere is it ok to leave the bird the way it is without twine?
I use regular salted butter and I think it would be delicious with rosemary! You’ll be fine with no twine 🙂 The twine is meant to keep a uniform shape for even cooking and prevent those legs from splaying out for a prettier presentation. It also will help keep stuffing in place but since I don’t recommend stuffing a dry brined bird that is not an issue. Just tuck those wings back and under to prevent them from scorching and you’ll be just fine.
After removing the plastic wrap in the brining process, why is the turkey left uncovered in the refrigerator? Is it possible to cover it with a lid, instead of plastic wrap?
You want to give the turkey some time in the refrigerator, uncovered, so that the skin will dry out before roasting. This ensures that crispy, browned result we’re going for. I recommend using plastic wrap for the initial chilling time.
I am thinking about using my convection oven to cook the Turkey. Do you have any experience on cooking time/temp with this method?
I don’t but you should be able to find conversions in the literature that came with your oven or a quick Google search.
I am making this for Thanksgiving this year? Can you used a smoked turkey for this or will that throw everything off?
Hi Cyndi. If you have a fully-cooked smoked turkey all you need to do is reheat it. for this method yYou need an uncooked, unprocessed bird.
I followed your recipe very closely. I’d never cooked a whole turkey before, and was concerned about it coming out dry, but it was just perfect. I couldn’t believe how juicy and soft the breast meat was! I basted with a combination of leftover butter/garlic rub and leftover stock, which worked fine. Thanks for the brilliant recipe. Well written, easy to execute, and amazing results!
I loved this recipe. I had already purchased my turkey and was dismayed to see broth and salt added. Nevertheless I made my turkey using this recipe but reduced the salt for the rub. It turned out fabulous-I did stuff my turkey instead of adding the aromatics. This is definitely a keeper! Thank you.
Thanks so much for your comment, Ann. I’ve been wary to recommend dry brining to people when they’ve purchased a turkey that has been injected with a salt solution since I haven’t tested it myself. It’s good to hear that it worked well for you by just reducing the salt. I’m sure your comment will help others.
Hi Ann! I was wondering how much you reduced the salt for the rub and how big your turkey was? I received a free pre-brined turkey from my grocery store for spending a certain amount of money and I’d love to use this recipe but I’m scared it will be too salty. I’m hopeful to know it worked for you so it might work for me. Thanks in advance.
Hey I’m trying the recipe tomorrow and got a question. I know I’m probably missing the obvious here but am I Basting with the chicken broth throughout cooking ? Or the butter mixture ?
Thank you !
Hi Casey. You will baste it with the broth that you add to the roasting pan at the beginning of the cooking process and any turkey drippings that accumulate while it roasts.
Could this be done in a oval roasting pan without a rack?
You can make a sort of rack by making a snake of rolled aluminum foil in the base of your pan. Keeps the turkey off the bottom.