If you want the most perfectly moist, flavorful, and juicy Thanksgiving Turkey, my recipe for dry-brining is what you’re looking for. All you need to do is rub the turkey down with salt, seasonings and fresh herbs. Then place the turkey in the fridge and let the dry brine work its magic for the next 48 to 72 hours.
That’s all you need the prep you need to do and you’re on your way to enjoying the best turkey you’ll ever eat!
When it comes to cooking a turkey, what you do before it goes into your oven makes all the difference in the world.
Don’t be intimidated by the thought of cooking a turkey. Because I’m here to share my dry brining and roasting methods to make your holiday turkey the star of the holiday dinner
There are different thoughts on brining a turkey, with the choices being wet brine or dry brining. While both techniques will help you cook the most succulent turkey you’ve ever had, the smartest, easiest way to achieve the best results every time is with a dry brine.
It doesn’t matter if this is your first Thanksgiving dinner, my dry-brine method will make you look like a seasoned veteran of Thanksgiving and turn out an impeccably juicy, flavorful bird.
What Ingredients do I need to Dry Brine a Turkey?
Let’s start by gathering the ingredients we need to dry brine our turkey. In Chef Speak this is called the Mise en Place which translates into Everything in its Place.
Not only does setting your ingredients up ahead of time speed the cooking process, but it also helps ensure you have everything you need to make the dish.
- Kosher Salt
- Black Pepper
- Smoked paprika
- Citrus zest
- Fresh thyme
- Fresh Sage
Do I have to use specific herbs and spices to dry brine a turkey?
That’s a tricky question because if you want a traditional Thanksgiving turkey, the answer is yes.
But If you like specific flavorings and aren’t into traditional Thanksgiving flavors, then by all means have fun substituting spices that you like.
Recipes should be used as guidelines and in all honesty, the salt is the only ingredient you really need for dry brining, the rest are added for flavor.
Why Should I dry brine my turkey?
When you’re dealing with a large piece of meat like a whole turkey, it’s easy to overcook it into a dry, flavorless disaster. Dry Brining gives the dry brine mixture time to penetrate into the meat.
Dry brining (dry rub) is a way to inject both flavor and moisture into a turkey, giving you a flavorful moist roasted turkey.
Rule #1 of Dry Brining – The larger the piece of meat, the more time is needed for the brine to be effective.
A dry brine, also called pre-salting involves rubbing the salt, seasonings, and/or sugar directly onto the meat and skin, and then letting the meat rest in the refrigerator for a period of time before cooking. During the process of dry brining, the salt draws out the juices through osmosis.
As the salt dissolves into the juices, it begins turning into a natural brine without any added liquid. This Natural brine is then reabsorbed into the meat and starts breaking down the tough muscle proteins. That is why this process needs up to 3 days to complete.
How to thaw a frozen turkey
The best way to thaw your turkey in the refrigerator in its original packaging. General defrosting times are 24 hours for every 4 pounds of Turkey.
If you have no choice and must thaw your turkey quickly, fill the kitchen sink with cold water and put the turkey in it, breast side down.
Make sure to completely submerge the turkey in water (in its original packaging) for the quick thaw method. Make sure to change the water every 30 minutes. This defrosting method will take 30 to 40 minutes per pound of turkey.
*When finished thawing the turkey make sure to clean and disinfect the sink, spigots, and all surrounding surfaces.
*Don’t leave the turkey out to thaw on the countertop.
Chef Tips for Dry Brining
- Don’t buy a preseasoned or kosher turkey (pre-salted) or self-basting turkeys. I always look for free-roaming or a heritage bird. But most importantly no added salt.
- Make sure your turkey is thawed if you buy a frozen turkey. *Buy your turkey early enough so that it’s thawed and ready to brine on the Monday before Thanksgiving.
- It doesn’t have to be a whole turkey, you can dry brine a turkey breast.
- Getting under the skin of the turkey and applying the brine directly to the meat will make a tastier, moister turkey. If you’re only going to brine the skin, try and brine it for the full 72 hours.
- Don’t rush dry brining. To enjoy the best turkey you’ll ever have, you need to give it enough time to be effective. 2 days is the minimum, and can go as long as 4 days if you’re working with a 20-pound plus bird. *Any length of time you can brine the turkey is better than not brining the bird.
- You can use any herbs that you like, but the salt really does matter. Use Morton’s Kosher Salt for the best results. Diamond Kosher salt is a smaller grain so reduce the amount of salt. Don’t use table salt it’s too fine and will make the turkey too salty.
- If you don’t have Kosher Salt you can use Coarse Sea Salt or Coarse Himalayan Pink Salt, because of the size of the coarse grains.
*The standard is 1 tablespoon of salt for every 5 pounds of turkey, but I like to go a little below that at 1 tablespoon of salt for every 6 lbs. So if you’re turkey is smaller adjust the amount of salt and herbs.
Does it Matter Where I apply the Dry Brine Mixture?
It does make a difference where you apply the dry brine. Separating the skin from the meat so that some of the dry brine can be rubbed directly on top of the meat (below the skin) will give you the best results.
If you apply the brine directly on the skin it will need more time to penetrate the skin and get to the meat. The breast will also get more of the dry brine than the rest of the turkey. The turkey breast has the largest amount of meat on a conventional turkey.
- After applying the dry brine, place the turkey breast-side up in a roasting pan. Cover the turkey securely using plastic wrap. Or place it into a small plastic bag and seal it, removing as much of the air as possible. Refrigerate for 48 – 60 hours.
- Remove the plastic wrap and keep it refrigerated uncovered for the last 12 hours of brining. This will help crisp the turkey skin.
Can I use Dry Herbs in the Dry Brining Method?
Yes, you can, although I prefer fresh herbs. You can find them at most grocery stores in convenient little plastic containers. If fresh herbs are not available by all means use dry herbs. You can also add any other herbs or aromatics that you like.
Should I cook a Heritage Turkey differently?
A heritage turkey is more elongated with drumsticks that are a good 1 to 2 inches longer than a modern bird, extending well beyond the tip of the breast.
Because of its more elongated shape, a heritage turkey cooks a little more quickly than a conventional turkey, so the biggest danger is overcooking. To make sure your Heritage Turkey is not overcooked, follow my recipe changing the cooking times.
Roast an unstuffed turkey at 425° for 20 minutes, then turn down the temperature to 325°F until the internal temperature of the thigh meat reaches 155°F.
Cooking 15-20 minutes per pound for the total cooking time. That being said, I would start checking the internal temperature 2 hours after the second phase of the process using an insta-read thermometer in the thigh.
Also, make sure to allow 1-½ lb. per person compared to about 1 lb. for a conventional turkey. As an example expect a 12-lb. heritage turkey to feed about eight people. Also, keep in mind that you’ll have as much dark meat as light meat. A conventional turkey will have more white meat.
Chef Tips for Roasting a Dry Brined Turkey
- Set your oven rack in the bottom third of the oven.
- Let the turkey sit out of refrigeration for about 30 minutes so it can come to room temperature before roasting.
- Allow the turkey to sit at room temperature for one hour before roasting. **Do Not Rinse The Brine Off Turkey
- Start off roasting the turkey at 425°F, and roast upside down for the first 45 minutes. At the end of that time very carefully turn the turkey over with the breast side up to continue cooking.
- You’ll find that some ovens have cold spots. This is why it’s a good idea to rotate the turkey halfway through and baste for even cooking and browning. Keep some turkey or chicken stock handy in case your turkey doesn’t produce enough juices during the roasting process and use that for basting if necessary.
- Always use an instant-read thermometer to insure that your turkey has been cooked properly. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of a thigh without touching the bone registers. Your turkey will be done when the thermometer reaches 165°F when. It will continue to cook once you remove it from the oven increasing by another 10 degrees.
- Let the turkey rest for 20-30 minutes before carving.
I absolutely love my Meater Plus | Smart Meat Thermometer It takes all the guesswork out of cooking meats in the oven, on the grill, or in a smoker.
Do I have to start the turkey upside down?
No, you don’t. Safety should always come first and if you don’t think you can flip the turkey safely, skip that step. Still use the instruction for roasting starting at 425 degrees, then lowering to 325 degrees.
**If you do flip the turkey, take the pan out of the oven first. Don’t attempt this while the pan is in the oven.
You might also find heat-resistant gloves a good option. They’ll come in handy throughout the year.
Can I still Dry-Brine a Self-Basting or Kosher Turkey?
No, you can’t. That will make the turkey too salty! What you can do, is leave the salt out of the dry-brine ingredients and use the remainder of the seasonings as a dry rub. Feel free to add in your favorite spices.
Apply the dry rub for 24-36 hours and follow the roasting instructions.
My Turkey has been injected with a Saline Solution, can I still Dry Brine it?
While it’s not a good idea to add more salt to an injected turkey, you can still use the dry brine method. If your turkey is in the 15-pound range cut the Kosher Salt down to 1 Tablespoon. If your turkey is under 15 pounds reduce the salt accordingly. You can use the rest of the ingredients as stated in the recipe.
Why shouldn’t I stuff my turkey?
I know that the stuffing from inside the turkey is the best you’ll ever have. But it’s not a practice I recommend for two very important reasons.
The stuffing sucks a lot of the moisture (and flavor) out of the turkey. That’s why a stuffed turkey is often dry and overcooked. And the really bad news is, it puts us at risk for foodborne illness.
The longer it takes the turkey to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees gives bacteria more time to multiply. And that means that uncle Sal (salmonella) might be paying you and your guests an unexpected holiday visit, which will definitely put a damper on the festivities.
**Stuffed turkeys also take longer to cook.
If you have leftover turkey, try my Old Fashioned Turkey Croquettes.
Dry-brining also referred to as salting is the process of rubbing the meat down with salt. The natural moisture content of the meat creates a concentrated brine that is naturally absorbed back into the meat before cooking.
A whole turkey needs two to three days of brining time, the dry-brining can be done days before Thanksgiving giving you extra time on Turkey Day.
For the last 24 hours of the dry brine leave the turkey uncovered in the refrigerator. This will dry out the skin, which in turn gives you incredibly crispy, golden-brown skin on the finished turkey.