How to Dry Brine a Turkey (Easy!)

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So, you want to do something above and beyond a Basic Roasted Turkey this year for Thanksgiving and don’t want to deal with a wet brine. What are you to do? A DRY BRINE! Get seriously tasty and juicy results by dry brining your beautiful Thanksgiving Turkey this year with my Dry Brine Turkey recipe. Read on to get all my tips, tricks and instructions about how to dry brine a whole turkey!

turkey with rubbed with dry brine

But First, What the Heck is a Dry Brine?

A dry brine is just like wet brining but uses no cold water. Turns out, you don’t need it, thanks to osmosis! By leaving a flavored salt mixture on your turkey, it forces the turkey to release all its moisture and then thanks to the turkey’s semi-permeable membrane, the turkey reabsorbs that moisture back in with the salt and flavorings, leaving you with a juicy and tasty bird. As it sits for an extended period of time in the fridge, the turkey skin also dries out, giving you extra crispy skin after it’s been roasted. Seriously, a dry-brined turkey is win-win all the way around!

Kosher Salt is KING

When it comes to brines of any kind, the main ingredient is SALT. Most dry brine recipes use kosher salt and kosher salt only. Iodized table salt is much more sharp and salty. We don’t want our turkey to be salty, just ‘seasoned’ so for best results, use a coarse kosher salt.

Through my extensive online research and plain old trial and error, I’ve found that 1 tablespoon of salt (kosher) for every 4 pounds of turkey is an accurate measurement. My recipe is based off of a 12 pound bird, so you will want to adjust your salt/recipe accordingly, based on the size of the turkey you buy to make sure you have the best turkey ever. Ultimately the amount of salt you use will depend on the size of your turkey.

My Dry Brine Recipe

While defrosting your turkey and waiting for it to brine 24-36 hours does take some advanced planning, this recipe is really quite simple to do. I flavor this dry brine with a few simple ingredients, but the most important ingredients are the salt and the sugar. While you can change out the herbs, spices and zests to your liking, the salt and sugar should remain constant. Here is what I use, and why:

  • Kosher Salt: I used Morton Coarse Kosher Salt and it worked perfectly.
  • Brown Sugar: salt helps with osmosis but so does sugar! Brown sugar also helps gives color to the bird and caramelize the skin.
  • Black Pepper: I think black pepper is a good compliment to the salt and the general flavor of turkey, but this ingredient is definitely optional.
  • Orange Zest: I love the slight sweet and floral note orange zest adds to the turkey; can be omitted or substituted with lemon.
  • Fresh Thyme: Fresh Thyme brings so much to this party! Of course dried thyme is a fine substitution, as are any dried or fresh herbs. As long as you like them, they should work.

How to Dry Brine a Turkey

After you have defrosted or prepped your fresh turkey, these directions are pretty straight forward. Even if it’s your first time dry brining a turkey, you should see great results. See my note below about using a fresh versus a frozen turkey down below.

Prep Turkey + Set Aside

Remove neck and any giblets from your fully defrosted (or fresh) turkey. Blot with paper towels (inside and out) to dry completely. Place onto roasting rack inside roasting pan. Set aside.

wiping turkey with paper towel

Combine Dry Rub Ingredients + Rub Over Exterior of Turkey

In a small bowl, combine kosher salt, brown sugar, orange zest, pepper and thyme. Rub entire dry brine mixture on the exterior of the turkey.

After you rub your turkey in the dry brine, it will start giving off juices right away. This is totally normal! After 24-36 hours, the turkey will have absorbed these juices and all those flavors back into itself and be dry, ready for the oven.

rubbing dry turkey brine into turkey

Place Turkey in Refrigerator

Place turkey uncovered into the refrigerator for 24-36 hours. After this time, your turkey should be completely dry!

dry brined turkey in fridge

Remove Any Dried Orange or Thyme Leaves

After turkey is done brining, remove any dried orange zest bits or thyme leaves off the turkey so they don’t burn. Wipe out any excess moisture that has accumulated in the bottom of the roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet. (there shouldn’t be much at all)

After dry brining for 24 to 36 hours, your turkey should look a little bit sketchy and dry and you will question all purposes of life, but I promise this is totally normal!

dry brine turkey ready for the oven in roasting pan

Fill Inside of Turkey with Desired Aromatics, Fold Wings Down + Tie Legs Together

Fill turkey cavity with any desired aromatics, such as onion, garlic, apples, orange/lemon wedges or fresh herbs. Fold wings down and back, tie legs together with kitchen twine. Allow turkey to come to room temperature.

Ready to Roast!

Roast turkey as desired. I have a helpful beginners guide to roasting a turkey. Check it out if you feel intimidated by the process. I promise, it can be easy! If you want to smoke your turkey, I have step by step instructions for that in my Easy Smoked Turkey recipe post.

roasted turkey in roasting pan

Fresh vs Frozen Turkey

A brine is a good opportunity to add extra moisture and flavor to your Thanksgiving Turkey. How you do this is obviously your choice. A fresh turkey comes basically ready to roast…no prep work needed. Adding a brine will make for a delicious flavorful turkey. But what about a frozen turkey?

If you have read the fine print…meaning read the entire package that a frozen turkey comes in, you will probably recognize the following sentence: “contains up to 8% of a solution of water, salt, spices and natural flavor for tenderness and juiciness”. This basically means that your frozen turkey already comes with a brine of sorts. If you defrost your bird in the fridge for a few days, it will be sitting in this solution…therefore semi-brining itself before you roast it. Should you still dry brine a frozen turkey? I would say yes. Not only does it leave you with an overall juicier bird, but it also adds the flavors you want your turkey to have.

Do I Have to Rinse My Turkey off After I’ve Dry Brined It?

No! Stop! Step away from the sink! You shouldn’t rinse your turkey. If you’ve dry brined your turkey correctly, you should be sticking a bone dry turkey into the oven for roasting. There should be nothing to rinse off. If you give it enough time to release its juices and then soak them back in, after 24-36 hours you should have a dry turkey that is ready for the oven.

Also, keep in mind that you don’t want to add water to the skin! You want crispy skin on your turkey! Rinsing it would defeat the purpose and ruin all that hard work you put in the day before.

Won’t My Turkey Be Too Salty?

No! Just like when you season a large roast and add a lot of salt, this is exactly the same. It’s a 12-25 pound turkey…it needs a lot of salt. Instead of just rubbing it on the exterior and sticking it in the oven, we allow the turkey to ‘soak up’ the salt and flavors so it gets flavored the entire way through. It won’t be too salty. But you will have a super moist turkey!

You of course, do NOT want to re-season your turkey with salt before roasting. It has all the salt it needs, but feel free to add any other seasonings you want besides salt.

Will My Turkey Drippings Be Too Salty?

No! Just like I mentioned above, your drippings are coming from a properly seasoned turkey. It shouldn’t taste too salty at all. If you’re worried about it, you can add some chicken or turkey stock to the bottom of your roasting pan when you are noticing those drippings are starting to appear. OR another great option is to simply place your juicy turkey on a bed of onions, celery, carrots and fresh herbs for a more flavorful gravy. Yum!

Other Flavor Options

So, there are lots of varieties and combinations of flavors that are delicious when it comes to poultry. There are lots of rubs and seasonings out there. While I don’t recommend changing the salt or sugar, the herbs and spices are definitely up for interpretation. Here are a few tasty options that you could add to your dry brine this Thanksgiving:

  • Sage: a classic Thanksgiving/turkey flavor!
  • Rosemary: more earthy and strong flavor
  • Thyme: mild and classic
  • Herbs de Provence: a mixture of french herbs and spices in this blend
  • Lemon or Orange Zest: to add floral and bright flavors
  • Poultry Seasoning: a classic blend of dried herbs that compliment chicken or turkey well

Classic Thanksgiving Sides

So, you make this gorgeous Dry Brined Turkey recipe…what do you serve with it? Here are some classic side dishes that are popular and traditional for Thanksgiving.

I hope you try this dry brine method this year with your Thanksgiving turkey. Let me know in the comments how you liked it! Have a great weekend, friends! 🙂

dry brine turkey ready for the oven in roasting pan