Dry Brine Turkey

This dry brine turkey gets blanketed in a salt and sugar rub overnight and is then rinsed and roasted until golden. The result? Perfectly moist and tender turkey. No basting required.

A dry-brined turkey, with rich brown skin on a white plate with sage

It’s hard not to love the tender juiciness that brining a turkey coaxes into existence. But it’s not hard to feel daunted by the thought of finding a large enough container to hold all that brine plus a bird and somehow make space for that in your fridge which is already crammed full. Try this nifty little trick. It’s known as dry brining. And as the name implies, it achieves the same tremendous effects as regular wet brining but with virtually no effort, fuss, or fridge overwhelm.

As to why dry brining works, it’s a little complicated and has to do with stuff you learned in seventh-grade science class. But even if you don’t understand it, what you will understand, in the words of the recipe’s author and in our experience, is the reaction you’ll get from guests when I serve this bird. Hands-down, it’s the best turkey they’ll have ever eaten. It’s turkey magic.–Angie Zoobkoff

*What Kind Of Salt Do I Use To Brine?

It is absolutely critical that you use kosher salt, preferably Diamond Crystal brand, for this dry brine turkey recipe. Trust us. Regular salt is too fine and will permeate the fibers of the turkey and you’ll be unable to rinse it off, ruining your centerpiece.

Dry Brine Turkey

  • Quick Glance
  • 30 M
  • 1 D, 4 H
  • Serves 8 to 10
5/5 - 1 reviews
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Ingredients

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  • 3 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups Diamond brand kosher salt* (if you are using a different brand of kosher salt, you’ll want to weigh out 270 g)
  • One (13-to-15-pound) fresh turkey
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme, parsley or sage, or a combination
  • 3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Directions

  • 1. In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar and kosher salt. Place the turkey in a large plastic bag and place the bag in a roasting pan.
  • 2. Pack the sugar mixture all over the breast, legs, and wings of the turkey, pressing firmly so as much of the mixture sticks as possible. Carefully close the bag, just for neatness’ sake, and then pop it into the fridge for 24 to 36 hours.
  • 3. About 4 hours before you plan to serve the turkey, preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C).
  • 4. Take the turkey out of the bag and rinse it under cold running water, gently rubbing it until every last speck of the brining mixture comes off. Don’t forget to rinse out the inside, too. It’s okay if the turkey looks a little dry. Trust us on this one.
  • 5. Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan and dry it with paper towels. Place the thyme in the cavity and tie the legs together with twine. Bend and tuck the wing tips under the back. Brush the turkey all over with the oil.
  • 6. Roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 175°F (80°C), 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Transfer the turkey to a carving board and tent loosely with foil. Let rest at least 30 minutes and as much as an hour before carving.

Recipe Testers Reviews

I’m very happy I invited company over to try this recipe because it was amazing. The turkey was perfectly seasoned and incredibly juicy with a gorgeous, crisp skin.

I coated a 12.8-lb Butterball in the dry brine mixture for 24 hours. Since I used Morton’s sea salt, I weighed out 270 g. There was some brine left over, but my turkey was on the small side, so I think the recommended amount is perfect.

There was no specification about placing any brine inside the turkey cavity, so I just sprinkled a little bit in there. I followed the rest of the recipe, using both sage and thyme, and then placed the turkey in the lower third of my oven. Initially, the lack of basting instructions puzzled and confused me. I checked on the turkey after 90 minutes and it was browning nicely. I loitered around the kitchen for another 90 minutes, continuously peering through the oven window as I was quite sure the turkey would begin to look dry. After 3 hours, the turkey was a gorgeous bronze color and perfectly cooked. I removed the turkey from the oven and covered loosely with foil for one hour. I grew up in a one-oven home, so this hour was standard because we needed to cook all the side dishes after removing the bird from the oven.

I served it with my great-grandmother’s oyster dressing and homemade gravy. I can’t wait to impress my family with this on Thanksgiving! With no need to baste, I can literally throw this bird in the oven and forget about it, which essentially gives me back three hours of my life. I don’t care who you are—that’s priceless.

Extremely delicious and moist. It’s much easier to dry brine than wet brine, that's for sure.

I brined the bird for 26 hours using Diamond Kosher salt. At first I was a bit worried because the turkey looked very dry, almost desiccated, but it ended up being perfect. The cook time was accurate. We served 7 people, with all the traditional Thanksgiving fare, and had plenty of leftovers for sandwiches and jook.

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Comments

  1. This is exactly the recipe I’ve been looking for! Wish I had had it when we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving, but I am happy to keep it handy for Christmas. Thanks for this, for the other turkey tips, and for all your always reliable recipes.

  2. Hi. I use a turkey recipe that requires putting boiled maple syrup and cider, plus butter, lemon zest, and herbs, under the skin of the breast. Can that still work with a dry brined turkey with the dried out skin, or will the skin tear when I reach under it? Thanks, and I love your recipes.

  3. Why is the dry brine rinsed from the bird for this recipe? In a dry-brine tutorial also posted on this site, the chef does not rinse the dry salt brine off the bird. Other dry brine recipes do not rinse off the brine.

    1. Hi Sarah, it really depends on the amount of salt used in the brining process. This recipe calls for a 1 1/2 cups of Kosher salt which might give you a really salty mouthful if not rinsed off.

      1. Thanks so much for the clarification! First turkey for me, so I am comparing recipes and doing my homework :)

  4. Just the right formula for a delicious turkey that won’t take up the entire fridge for days before the big dinner. Dry brining is certainly easier than finding room for an enormous brining bucket, there is no chance of accidentally slopping the brine around in the fridge, and ensures crispy, beautiful skin. I’m not sure if it would work on the huge birds that I used to cook, but now that I am most often cooking turkeys in the 12- to 14-pound range, this has become my “go to” recipe.

    1. Love hearing this, Lisa! And yes, it’s just so darn practical in terms of refrigerating it (and am relieved I’m not the only person who’s slopped raw brined-bird water all over her fridge) and so reliable in terms of its output. Thank you for taking the time to let us know and grateful that it’s become your go-to recipe. Love everything about this.

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