How to Dry Brine a Turkey: Step-By-Step

November 2, 2019
Want a tender, juicy, and flavorful turkey for your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner? -- Dry brine it!  Follow this step-by-step guide on How to Dry Brine a Turkey to get that juicy, flavorful, tender turkey you'll love.  And I must say, it's actually easy to do.
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Roasted Dry-Brined Turkey on Roasting Pan Rack Image

You've heard all the wonderful benefits of brining your holiday turkey, right? -- A moist, tender, juicy and flavorful turkey with well-seasoned meat throughout the bird.  It's a result for which we all strive.  And that's exactly the result brining can bring us.

Before we get into the step-by-step process of how to dry brine a turkey, let's first take a look at a few common questions about brining itself.  Then follow this step-by-step guide to get that juicy, flavorful dry-brined turkey you'll love ... and I must say, it's actually pretty easy to do.

What is a brine?  How does a brine work?

A brine is quite simply a salt mixture.  More specifically, it's a salt mixture that actually changes the muscle tissue of the turkey in a way that helps prevent the meat's moisture from leaving the meat while it cooks.  The brine works by altering the muscle fibers in the meat to help them better retain and absorb liquid, which means there's less chance of the meat drying out as it cooks.

The salt in the brine draws out a tiny bit of the meat's natural moisture, and opens up the skin pores.  This natural moisture then mingles with the salt in the brine and works its way back into the turkey's meat -- allowing the meat to absorb more liquid before cooking, and seasoning the bird throughout, too.

Want a tender, juicy, and flavorful turkey for your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner? -- Dry brine it! It's actually easy to do.

While the brine does help season the meat, especially if other seasoning elements are combined with the salt, the brine's main purpose is moisture -- which creates that moist, tender, and juicy meat we all crave.

Now, some ask is there any type of turkey you shouldn't brine? -- The answer is yes.  Both kosher turkeys and self-basting turkeys have already been treated with a salt solution and should not be brined.

So, then what is a dry brine?

To answer the question of "What is a dry brine?", we've got to first briefly note that when it comes to brining that holiday turkey, there are two types of brine -- a wet brine, and a dry brine.

Wet brining involves soaking the turkey in a salt water solution for many hours.  Whereas dry brining involves rubbing the turkey all over with salt and letting the salt sit on the meat for many hours to do its thing.

So a dry brine is simply a mixture of salt and selected seasonings combined with a little bit of olive oil to form a paste.  This salt mixture is then rubbed into and onto the meat and skin of the turkey and allowed to sit there working upon the meat over a period of time.

How to Dry Brine a Turkey Image

Why do we prefer dry brining over wet brining?

We much prefer a dry brine over a wet brine.  Why, you ask? -- There are two main reasons.

1.  Using dry brine is a much less cumbersome, easier process.

Wet brining involves first boiling together salt, flavoring ingredients, and multiple gallons of water to create a liquid brine solution.  It then involves submerging an entire turkey in this liquid brine salt solution -- and keeping it submerged -- for the entire brining time of approximately 2 days.

This in turn requires having a large enough container in which to make this happen, and having a large and/or empty enough refrigerator to accommodate said large container.  For me, refrigerator space is a commodity when preparing our holiday meal.  And I generally don't have enough to accommodate wet brining a turkey.

Dry brining, on the other hand, simply involves rubbing a salt mixture over the entire surface of the turkey -- a process that I can easily handle -- and then refrigerating the turkey for the brining time of about 24-36 hours.

The dry brine turkey requires no more refrigerator space than it was already taking up simply by being there in the first place.  We do recommend placing the dry brine-rubbed turkey in a baking dish or rimmed jelly roll pan to catch any liquid drippings, but that's all the "container" that's needed.

Dry brining simply involves rubbing a salt mixture over the entire surface of the turkey-- a process I can easily handle.

2.  Dry brine imparts more flavor.

Since the salt and other seasonings in the dry brine are rubbed on the meat and skin of the turkey itself, they are in direct contact with the bird.  This concentrated brine imparts much more flavor within the meat as opposed to a wet brine, in which the flavoring ingredients are more diluted within the liquid.

The one drawback of the dry brine's concentrated flavor, to be honest, is that occasionally a bite of meat can be quite salty on the "edge."  We've found that the salty seasoning brings fabulous flavor into and throughout the meat -- and every now and then, brings a little too much flavor to spots on the very outer surface of the meat where the rub sits directly on it.

These "hot spots" of salt still taste good, but may be a tad overpowering to those whose taste buds are salt sensitive.


Okay, so exactly how do you dry brine a turkey?

Now that we've talked a little bit about brine and the process of brining itself, let's look step-by-step at just exactly how to make it happen.

You may be asking, is it hard to dry brine a turkey?  And I'm happy to say, it's not -- it's actually pretty easy!

How to Dry Brine a Turkey - Dry Brine Ingredients Image

Step 1:  Gather Your Dry Brine Ingredients

We recommend a very simple dry brine that's made of just four simple ingredients -- kosher salt, ground black pepper, poultry seasoning, and olive oil.

The type of salt is important here, as not all salts are created equal.  When it comes to brining your turkey, it's got to be kosher salt.  

Why?  The short answer, as strange as it may sound, is that kosher salt is less intensely salty than regular table salt.

The long answer is a little more complex.  Kosher salt's larger, more flaky grains dissolve more readily in both water and on the skin and tissue of meat than regular table salt does, making it a better choice for brining.  Kosher salt also distributes more evenly, "sticks" to food better, and as previously mentioned -- oddly enough, is less salty in flavor.

If you grab that regular table salt to prepare your dry brine, instead of ending up with fabulously flavored turkey you're going to have a bird that's just too darn salty to enjoy.    

How to Dry Brine a Turkey - Mixing Ingredients for Dry Brine Image

Step 2:  Combine the Dry Ingredients

Place some kosher salt, ground black pepper, and poultry seasoning in a small mixing bowl.  Mix it together with a fork until everything's well combined.

For a 10-pound to 14-pound turkey, use 1/4 cup of kosher salt, 1 & 1/2 tablespoons poultry seasoning, and 1 tablespoon of pepper.

If you have a larger bird, increase the amounts slightly.  For a 15-pound to 18-pound turkey, I suggest using 1/3 cup of kosher salt, 2 tablespoons poultry seasoning, and 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon of pepper.

How to Dry Brine a Turkey - Adding Olive Oil for Dry Brine Mixture Image

Step 3:  Add Olive Oil

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the salt mixture.  (Again, if you're preparing the dry brine for a larger turkey, use a little more.)

Dry Brine Mixture for Turkey Image

Continue to mix with a fork until the salt mixture and olive oil are well combined.  The dry brine mixture will form into kind of like a paste. 

Blotting Turkey Dry with Paper Towels Image

Step 4:  Prepare the Turkey For the Brine

If you're using a frozen turkey, be sure it is thoroughly thawed before beginning the dry brine process.  Plan ahead for this -- Keep in mind that thawing a frozen turkey thoroughly takes at least two days, and must occur under refrigeration.  It is completely not food-safe at all to thaw the bird at room temperature to try to rush the thawing process.

Reach inside the turkey cavity and remove the turkey giblets and neck.  The giblets should be in a little paper envelope-type packet, while the neck may just be in there loose.  Be sure to get them all out.  Discard those or put them aside for another use.

Plan ahead! This can not be emphasized strongly enough -- Successfully brining a turkey takes time, and must be planned for.

Place the turkey in a rimmed jelly roll pan or other rimmed baking dish large enough to hold the turkey.  You'll definitely want something rimmed -- the turkey does release some liquid as it's being refrigerated with the brine mixture on it.  To avoid a big mess in your refrigerator, you'll need something with a rim to catch and retain this released liquid.

Pat the turkey dry all over, inside and outside, with paper towels.

Then using your fingers, gently loosen the skin of the turkey wherever possible, lifting the skin a little bit away from the meat without completely detaching it.

Be careful and be gentle when loosening the skin -- you don't want to tear the skin completely away from the meat.  Just get the skin loosened where you can.  If an area won't loosen at all, just move along and let it be.

How to Dry Brine a Turkey Image

Step 5:  Rub On the Dry Brine Mixture

With your hands, spread the salt mixture evenly all over the entire turkey -- under the skin where you've loosened it, on the skin, inside the breast cavity, and inside the neck cavity.

Cover as much of the surface area under the skin as possible without completely detaching the skin from the meat.

Wear plastic gloves to protect your hands from the salt, if you'd like.  I don't wear gloves, but will admit the salt does sting a little bit by the time you're done.

Turkey Coated with Dry Brine Mixture Image

Lift up those wings and legs and get into the crevices of those, too.  Turn that turkey over and get some on the bottom.  

You want to make sure to get the dry brine mixture onto every area of the turkey.

How to Dry Brine a Turkey - Covered with Plastic Wrap Image

Step 6:  Cover and Refrigerate

Cover the turkey completely with plastic wrap.  Then, refrigerate the turkey for 24 to 36 hours to let the brine mixture work its magic.

This brining time is important -- stick to the recommended 24 to 36 hours.  If the turkey doesn't sit with the brine on it for long enough, the salt won't work into the meat, alter the muscle tissue to allow it to retain moisture as it should, and your turkey will still bake up dry.

If the brining time is too long, you'll have over-brined somewhat spongy meat once its cooked.  I've seen some dry brine recipes that call for 3 days of refrigerated brine time, so I think a little over the 36 hours would probably be okay.  But (while I've never tried it) 3 days sounds excessive to me!

Some dry brine recipes call for refrigerating the turkey uncovered once the salt mixture has been applied.  This is supposed to allow the skin to dry out, resulting in extra crispy skin once the turkey is roasted.  Personally, I'm not comfortable with leaving the turkey uncovered in the refrigerator for that long.  But go for it if that's your thing.

Now, what I will do is uncover the turkey for the last 3 to 4 hours of its time in the refrigerator to help with crisping up that skin.  This allows some of moisture on the skin to dry out before the turkey hits the oven.

Roasted Dry Brined Turkey in Roasting Pan Image

Step 7:  Roast the Turkey

Remove the dry brined turkey from the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature for 1 hour before cooking it.  Tie the turkey's legs together with kitchen twine, and fold the wing tips back to keep them from burning.

You may be thinking, do you need to rinse the dry brine mixture off the turkey before you cook it? -- no, you do not.  It's not necessary to rinse off the brine, and doing so will leave the turkey skin wet which will in turn make it less crispy when it cooks.

Then, follow the steps in the recipe card below for a basic recipe for roasting the turkey.

The result will be one moist, tender, juicy, and flavorful turkey indeed!  One you'll be proud to serve at your holiday dinner.

Make sure to get the salt brine mixture into every area and crevice of the turkey -- This ensures the best result, with juicy tenderized meat throughout the entire bird.

Tips for How to Dry Brine a Turkey:
  •  Plan ahead!  This can not be emphasized strongly enough -- Successfully brining a turkey takes time, and must be planned for.  Allow at least 2 days to thoroughly thaw your turkey if you're using a frozen one.  And then allow 24-36 hours for the turkey to be refrigerated with the dry brine on it.  Allowing the dry brine to work its magic for anything less than 24 hours simply will not give the moist, tender, juicy result you're after.
  • Make sure to get the salt brine mixture into every area and crevice of the turkey -- This ensures the best result, with juicy tenderized meat throughout the entire bird.  Get the dry brine mixture inside the breast cavity, inside the neck cavity, on the top of the turkey, on the bottom of the turkey, under the skin, on top of the skin, lift those wings, lift those legs ... you get the idea.
  • Use a rimmed pan or baking dish that's large enough to hold the turkey -- The turkey will release some liquid while it's being refrigerated and the brine is doing its work.  You'll definitely want something with a rim to catch and retain this released liquid.
  • Stick to the 24-36 hour brining time -- The meat will still be dry once cooked if the brine time is not long enough.  If the brine time is too long, the meat can become over-brined and somewhat spongy in texture when cooked.  A few hours over the 36 hours probably won't hurt, but don't let that brined turkey sit for days.
  • Uncover the turkey for crisper skin -- Remove the plastic wrap from the turkey as it sits in the refrigerator for the last 3-4 hours.  This allows some of the moisture on the skin to dry out before the turkey hits the oven, making the skin crisp up more as it bakes.

Check out these other Thanksgiving-inspiration recipes:
Roasted Dry Brined Turkey Image
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dry brine turkey recipe, dry brining a turkey, how to dry brine a turkey, salt mixture recipe to dry brine a turkey
Main Dishes
American
Yield: 1 turkey
Author:

How to Dry Brine a Turkey

How to Dry Brine a Turkey

Want a tender, juicy, and flavorful turkey for your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner? -- Dry brine it! Follow this step-by-step recipe on How to Dry Brine a Turkey to get that juicy, flavorful, tender turkey you'll love. And I must say, it's actually easy to do.
prep time: 37 H & 45 Mcook time: 2 hourtotal time: 39 H & 45 M

ingredients:

  • 1 (12 lb.) whole turkey (thoroughly thawed, if frozen)
For the Dry Brine Mixture:
To Roast the Turkey:
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 2 c. chicken broth

instructions:

How to cook How to Dry Brine a Turkey

Prepare the Dry Brine Mixture:
  1. Place kosher salt, poultry seasoning, and pepper in a small bowl.  Stir with a fork until well combined.
  2. Add the 2 tablespoons olive oil and continue to mix until olive oil and the salt mixture are well combined.
Prepare the Turkey for Brining:
  1. If using a frozen turkey, be sure it is thoroughly thawed.  Remove the turkey giblets and neck from the turkey cavity; discard.
  2. Place the turkey in a rimmed jelly-roll pan or other rimmed baking dish large enough to hold the turkey.
  3. Pat the inside and outside of the turkey dry with paper towels.
  4. Using your fingers, gently loosen the skin of the turkey wherever possible, lifting the skin a little bit away from the meat without completely detaching it.
Dry Brine the Turkey:
  1. With your hands, spread the salt mixture evenly all over the turkey -- under the skin where you've loosened it, on the skin, and inside the cavity.  Cover as much of the surface area under the skin as possible without completely detaching the skin from the meat.
  2. Cover the turkey completely with plastic wrap.
  3. Refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours.
To Roast the Turkey:
  1. Remove the dry-brined turkey from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
  2. Tie the turkey legs together with kitchen twine and fold the wing tips back.
  3. Place the turkey, breast side up, on the wire rack of a roasting pan.
  4. Drizzle the turkey evenly with 3 tablespoons olive oil -- gently spread the oil over the turkey skin with your fingers, if needed. Pour chicken broth into the pan.
  5. Bake at 350℉ until a meat thermometer inserted in the breast registers 160℉ and the skin is golden brown. This should take from about 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours and 30 minutes, depending on your oven.
  6. Rotate the pan in the oven after 1 hour. If the skin is getting too dark, cover the turkey loosely with aluminum foil.
  7. Once the breast registers 160℉ on a meat thermometer, remove the turkey from the oven, cover with foil, and let it stand to rest at least 30 minutes before carving.
TRACEY'S NOTES:
  1. Plan ahead for this recipe -- Keep in mind that thoroughly thawing a frozen 12-pound turkey takes AT LEAST 2 days. Be sure to take the turkey out of the freezer enough time in advance to allow for this. Also, the turkey must be refrigerated with the dry-brine mixture on it for at least 24 hours for the salt to do its thing.
  2. Make sure to get the salt brine mixture into every area and crevice of the turkey -- This ensures the best result, with juicy tenderized meat throughout the entire turkey. Get the dry brine mixture inside the breast cavity, inside the neck cavity, on the top of the turkey, on the bottom of the turkey, under the skin, on top of the skin, lift those wings, lift those legs ... you get the idea.
  3. Use a rimmed pan or baking dish that's large enough to hold the turkey -- The turkey will release some liquid while it's being refrigerated and the brine is doing its work. You'll definitely want something with a rim to catch and retain this released liquid.
  4. Stick to the 24-36 hour brining time -- The meat will still be dry once cooked if the brine time is not long enough. If the brine time is too long, the meat can become over-brined and somewhat spongy in texture when cooked. A few hours over the 36 hours probably won't hurt, but don't let that brined turkey sit for days.
  5. Uncover the turkey for crisper skin -- Remove the plastic wrap from the turkey as it sits in the refrigerator for the last 3-4 hours. This allows some of the moisture on the skin to dry out before the turkey hits the oven, making the skin crisp up more as it bakes.
  6. This recipe should work for a 10-14 pound turkey.  If you have a larger bird, increase the dry brine amounts slightly. For a 15-pound to 18-pound turkey, I suggest using 1/3 cup of kosher salt, 2 tablespoons poultry seasoning,  1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon of pepper, and 3 tablespoons olive oil.
Created using The Recipes Generator

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1 comment

  1. Thanks for the recipe! I've been wanting to know how to brine a turkey so this is very helpful.

    ReplyDelete

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