This post may contain affiliate sales links. Please read my disclosure policy.
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. Read on to get all my tips, tricks and instructions about how to dry brine a turkey!
But First, What the Heck is a Dry Brine?
A dry brine is just like a wet brine but uses no 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 skin also dries out, giving you extra crispy skin after it’s been roasted. Seriously, a dry brine 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’ and kosher salt is the best way to do that. I used Morton Coarse Kosher Salt and it worked perfectly.
Through my extensive online research and plain old trial and error, I’ve found that 1 tablespoon of kosher salt 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.
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. 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.
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.
Place Turkey in Refrigerator
Place turkey uncovered into the refrigerator for 24-36 hours. After this time, your turkey should be completely dry!
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. (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!
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.
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!
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 would add delicious flavor. 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.
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 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…what do you serve with it? Here are some classic side dishes that are popular and traditional for Thanksgiving.
- Dinner Rolls – a must have
- Amazing Thanksgiving Stuffing
- Perfect Scalloped Potatoes or Funeral Potatoes…both are extremely popular on my site around the holidays
- Thanksgiving Turkey Gravy
- Mashed Potatoe or Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes
- Green Bean Casserole (with bacon!!)
- No-Knead Crescent Rolls– includes make ahead directions
- Cranberry Sauce
- Pumpkin Pie or Sweet Potato Pie
- Pecan Pie
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 for Turkey
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt must be kosher!
- 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 orange zested
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
- 12 pound turkey completely defrosted
- 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.
- In a small bowl, combine kosher salt, brown sugar, orange zest, pepper and thyme. Rub entire mixture on the exterior of the turkey. Your turkey will start releasing moisture and look damp after a few minutes. This is completely normal!
- Place turkey uncovered into the refrigerator for 24-36 hours. After this time, your turkey should be completely dry! (All that moisture you saw on the bird the day before has been reabsorbed.)
- After turkey is done brining, use paper towels to 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. (There shouldn't be much at all.)
- 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 and roast turkey as desired.
This was the first time I tried a dry brine, and I can’t thank you enough for this simple and fabulous recipe. Our guests love deep fried turkey so that was the cooking method used this year. Our guests were very pleased with the end results of a very moist turkey. I look forward to receiving your emails with great tips and wonderful recipes.
First time trying dry brine.. She is all brined up and in the fridge.. Can’t wait to cook.. Smells so good. Thank you
Since I have a 20 pound turkey I know I up the kosher salt but do I up the other ingredients
I have a question. I generally use an oven bag to cook my turkey in. Would I eliminate that when using the dry rub??
Kathy, the drine brine will already make the turkey super moist, but the oven bag won’t hurt anything if you’d still like to use it.
Thanks you so much for responding. I can’t wait to try this.
Can you stuff the turkey with dressing using your dry brine?
Dawn, you sure can!
Can I smoke the turkey instead of oven roasting?
I’ve never done a dry brine before. Your recipe was so helpful because it really explained everything. I tried it and it was SO much easier than a typical brine and the turkey was absolutely delicious. I highly recommend this recipe!! I will be making this again the same way next Thanksgiving!!
Do I brush melted butter or oil on the turkey after dry brined and before it goes into the oven?
You can, but its not necessary.
Love this and will definitely use this for our Christmas turkey as our Thanksgiving has passed now being in Canada. Thank you. Great idea.
I just want to say—how proud so am to have ‘Made the blog!’ on a post about turkey. 😆 Good luck to all future dry-brining experimenters out there. You got this! Follow Lauren’s advice – and don’t freak out when it looks like a shrunken dried out dinosaur before you put it in the over. If you’re anything like our family it will become your GO-TO way to prep a turkey / chicken from now on. Juicy meat, crispy skin- WIN!
Great information and well written. Thank you!
Hi! Can you deep fry a turkey after dry brining?