You’re going to love my dry brine turkey recipe. And my chef tips and tricks are going to make you look like a superstar in the kitchen!
As Thanksgiving and the holiday season approaches, thoughts to turn to plum juicy turkeys, roasted to perfection, served with gravy and all the trimmings…..sigh. But how many times have you had sat down to dinner to be disappointed by a dry and flavorless bird? It’s not a very pretty picture.
Of course, you may already be researching how to cook that oversized piece of poultry, and many of you might be feeling a bit intimidated by the thought of cooking a turkey. But fear not my friends, I’m here to share my dry brining and roasting methods to make your holiday turkey the star of the show…..some might say legendary.
There are different thoughts on brining, should I do wet or dry. Brining will help you cook the most succulent turkey you’ve ever had, and the smartest, easiest way to do it 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.
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.
What Is Dry-Brining?
When you’re dealing with a large piece of lean meat like a whole turkey, it’s easy to overcook it into a dry, unappealing texture. Also, just seasoning it right before cooking means there’s no time for the salt to penetrate into the meat, especially for thick cuts.
Brining, or soaking a piece of meat in salty seasoned water, is a way to inject both flavor and moisture at the same time.
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.
Common Questions about Dry Brining a Turkey
- 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.
- With a dry brine, you just mix the salt and spices, rub it into the meat, cavity and skin and you’re done. Cover it for two days, uncover for one and it’s ready to cook. No muss, no fuss and no water!
- Dry-brining can be done in a roasting pan, a throwaway aluminum pan or a sheet pan. You don’t need to find anything big enough to hold all the wet brine ingredients as well as the turkey. That also means you don’t need to find an extra refrigerator to store it in.
- Because the turkey sits uncovered in the refrigerator during the last day of a dry brine, it drys out the skin, which in turn gives you incredibly crispy, golden-brown skin on the finished turkey.
- 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, add an extra day to the process.
- Don’t rush dry brining. To enjoy the best turkey you’ll ever have, you need to give it enough time to be effective. 3 Days really is the minimum, 4 is even better especially if you’re working with a 20 pound plus bird.
- You can use any herbs that you like, but the salt really does matter. Use Kosher Salt for the best results. Table salt is too fine and will make the turkey too salty. Kosher salt say it out loud, twice.
- 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.
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.
I absolutely love my Thermopro Wireless Digital Meat Thermometer. It takes all the guesswork out of cooking meats in the oven, on the grill, or in a smoker.
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.
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.
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.
More Recipes You’ll Love!
- Potato Bread Stuffing
- Homemade Cranberry Sauce
- Thanksgiving Side Dishes
- Original Pumpkin Crunch Cake
- Holiday Pie Recipes
- Turkey Leftover Recipes
If you have leftover turkey, try my Old Fashioned Turkey Croquettes.