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side view of a dry brine roasted turkey on a Thanksgiving platter
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How to Dry Brine a Turkey

Dry brining a turkey is the easiest way to enjoy a delicious moist turkey at your holiday table.  You'll amaze your guests and you'll be sharing my secrets on How to Dry Brine a Turkey with your family and friends.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time4 hrs
Total Time4 hrs 15 mins
Course: Entree
Cuisine: American
Keyword: dry brine turkey, how to roast a turkey
Servings: 16
Calories: 462kcal
Author: Chef Dennis Littley

Ingredients

Dry Brine Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp coarse kosher salt I use Morton's Kosher Salt (coarse grain sea salt may be used)
  • 1 tbsp coarse grind black pepper
  • 1 tbsp thyme finely chopped fresh or dry
  • 1 tbsp sage finely chopped fresh or dry
  • 1 tbsp clementine peel finely zested any citrus may be used
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika optional

Roasting Turkey

  • 1-2 carrots rough cut
  • 1 onion rough cut
  • 3-4 stalks celery rough cut
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled
  • 16-20 lb turkey fresh or frozen
  • rough cut onion, carrot, sage, thyme and orange skin for inside the turkey (optional)

Instructions

Prep and Dry Brining

  • Mix the dry brine ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside
  • Remove the turkey from the wrapping and remove the giblets and neck from inside the cavity and save for another use. Remove or discard any plastic or metal cages or pop-up thermometers.
  • If you can follow safe procedures, rinse the entire turkey in cold water thoroughly.  Then pat the turkey dry using paper towels, inside and out.  
    The FDA Does Not Recommend Rinsing Turkeys. If you do rinse your turkey make sure to clean and sanitize the counters, sink, faucet and any areas possibly exposed.
  • Using your hands, gently loosen the skin over the breast and separate it from the meat, making sure to break through the thin membrane between the skin and breast while leaving the skin itself intact.
  • Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of the salt mixture into the cavity of the turkey and rub it into the cavity.
  • Rub 4 teaspoons of the salt mixture into the meat of the breasts (under the skin).  Then sprinkle the remaining salt mixture over all the skin of both the breasts, legs and wings
  • 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.
  • After the time has expired, uncover the turkey and allow it to remain uncovered and refrigerated for 8-12 hours.  

The Secret to Roasting

  • Allow the turkey to sit at room temperature for one hour before roasting.
    **Do Not Rinse The Brine Off the Turkey
  • In the bottom of your roasting pan add roughly cut celery, onions, garlic, and carrots.  Include the skin from the onion and carrots.   Add 1 cup of chicken stock or water to the pan.
    **You can also place some aromatics inside the cavity of the turkey before cooking. Onions, carrots, herbs of your choice, orange peel and any other spices you like.
  • Place the turkey upside down on a rack in a roasting pan.   This will self baste the breast as the fat from the underside and dark meat flow into the breast.  This will help keep the turkey from being dry.
    **If you don't feel comfortable turning the hot turkey, cook your turkey right side up for the entire process. The breast meat won't be quite as moist, but it's not a deal-breaker.
    Safety First!
  • Preheat oven to 425º.  Brush the turkey with melted butter and roast upside down for 45 minutes.  At the end of that time very carefully turn the turkey over with the breast side up to continue cooking.   ( I used heat resistant gloves) Brush again with melted butter if you like.
    Decrease oven temperature to 325º.   Cook the turkey until it reaches the temp of 165º for the breast and 175º for the thighs.   The meat will rise an additional 10º continuing to cook as it rests.
    *My 20-pound turkey only took an additional 3 hours to cook using this method.  Make sure to check your turkey around the 2 1/2 hour mark.   
  • Allow the turkey to rest 30 - 60 minutes before slicing.  This will ensure that the juices stay in the turkey and don't all run out as you slice it.  

Notes

Dry Brining Turkey Tips

  • 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. Salt that is too fine will make the bird 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.
  • Add more water to roasting pan if necessary to prevent pan drippings from burning.
  • If you absolutely don't have Kosher Salt and have to use Regular Salt decrease the amount of the salt by 1/3.

Directions for a 12 pound Turkey

For a 12 pound turkey cut the seasoning mix by one-third and adjust the cooking time to 30 minutes inverted at 425, and 1.5 – 2 hours at 325.

Directions for a  6-7 pound Turkey Breast

For a 6-7  pound Turkey Breast use one-third of the brine ingredients. The roasting time will be, 20 minutes at 425 and about 1 hour at 325. It could be a little less so I would check the internal temp at the 45-minute mark of the 325 stage of roasting.

Nutrition

Calories: 462kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 69g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 231mg | Sodium: 1677mg | Potassium: 773mg | Vitamin A: 940IU | Vitamin C: 1.8mg | Calcium: 48mg | Iron: 3mg