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Easy Dry Brine Turkey Recipe

While you might enjoy sliced turkey throughout the year, there are only a couple select times each year that you probably enjoy a giant turkey meal. Most commonly, this is during Thanksgiving, partially due to needing a bird big enough to feed a large gathering of people. 

If you’re in charge of cooking the turkey this year, this easy dry brined roasted turkey recipe is one that people will be craving long after the leftovers are gone.  

What is a Dry Brine Turkey?

A dry brine turkey is where we first prep the turkey by dry brining it (rather than wet brining it). One this has happened, we then roast the turkey in the oven to fully cook it. This results in a flavorful and juicy turkey.

Sliced dry brine turkey recipe

As an important note, if you are planning to dry brine your turkey, you will need to start this process 2-3 days in advance of when you are planning to eat your turkey meal.

When Do You Start Prepping a Turkey for Dry Brining?

A fully thawed turkey or fresh turkey will not last much longer than 3 days in the coolest part of your fridge (<40°F). Since at this point you should know how much turkey you need and how long it will take to thaw the turkey, you need to know how long it is going to take to prepare the turkey for cooking. Use this chart below to help determine when you should start:

Turkey Size (lbs)Days in advance to start with a fresh turkey (time needed to brine)Days in advance to start with a frozen turkey (assuming you immediately start thawing it)
1024
11.2524.25
12.524.5
13.7524.75
1525
16.2536.25
17.536.5
18.7536.75
2037
21.2537.25
22.537.5
23.7537.75
2538

For a sub 15 pound turkey you will need about 2 days to dry brine the meat. For a larger turkey we’d recommend 3 days. Worried about bacteria? Bacteria hate salt, which is why salt has been used to preserve food for hundreds of years. Also, since we’ll be right at 3 days before popping it the oven, we are in range for fresh turkey safety anyways.  

What is a Dry Brine?

A dry brine is basically just coating your meat with salt and refrigerating it rather than dunking it in salt solution. Osmosis will still happen like a normal wet brine, but now there is no dilution of flavor or need for a giant bucket.  

Why Do We Dry Brine Turkeys? 

One of the main reasons turkeys get dry is because they have muscle fibers called myosin that constrict and force juice out of the meat before the meat is at a safe temperature to eat. We brine turkeys to relax and dissolve these fibers so they don’t constrict, leaving all that moisture in the bird.

Person putting spices under a turkey's skin

How Does a Dry Brine Work?

In short, you have two processes happening. The first is the physical process of osmosis which moves salt from outside the turkey to inside the turkey. The next is the chemical process of salt acting on the muscle fibers and proteins which denatures them and preventing constriction during cooking. 

Our Approach to Dry Brined Roasted Turkey

You have probably heard of brining before. What you probably haven’t heard of is dry brining. We are going to dry brine a turkey because it is easier and results in more concentrated turkey flavor. 

One of the big factors for developing this dry brining recipe was ease. We don’t own a bucket or cooler to do a full wet brine on a 15-20 pound turkey. But, a 15 pound bird in a disposable baking tray fit just fine in our apartment sized side-by-side fridge. 

For a much longer explanation of this process, we dive more into the details in our wet brined turkey breast recipe. 

Developing Flavors in Your Brine

We do a fairly traditional brine of 1 part salt, 1 part sugar (split half white, half brown sugar). The only added thing we do to ours is add a teaspoon of liquid smoke. 

Ratio wise, we did 1 tablespoon of salt per 5 pounds of turkey. I do not recommend adding anything that isn’t water soluble (no spices or herbs since they really just sit on top and absorb moisture which you do not want).   

Tools Required

For dry brining and roasting your turkey you need the following tools:

Turkey wrapped in foil
  • Baking tray and can to hold your turkey
  • Roasting rack to keep the bottom of the turkey off the tray 
  • Aluminium foil to control browning 
  • Thermometer (oven or thermapen, ideally both)

As you can see, we are keeping our tools simple!

Sliced dry brine turkey recipe

Dry Brine Turkey

Yield: 4 - 20 Servings
Prep Time: 3 days
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 3 days 4 hours

Ingredients

  • Turkey of your choice

Dry Brine Mixture

  • 1 tablespoon salt for every 5 pounds of turkey
  • ½ tablespoon white sugar for every 5 pounds of turkey
  • ½ tablespoon brown sugar for every 5 pounds of turkey
  • ½ teaspoon of liquid smoke for every 5 pounds of turkey

Butter Mixture

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon zest (orange or lemon)
  • 1/2 tablespoon rosemary

Aromatics

  • ½ orange or lemon to stuff into middle

Seasoning

  • Salt, pepper, paprika (optional) to taste

Instructions

Prep turkey

a. Thaw turkey according to thawing guide (if needed)
b. Remove neck (check neck area and cavity)
c. Remove innards (check neck area and cavity)

Make the dry brine

a. Mix the salt, sugar, and liquid smoke together in a bowl

Brine the turkey

a. Place roasting rack in baking tray
b. Place turkey on rack
c. Carefully separate the skin on the breast from the meat (do not tear it, do not remove it)
d. Apply 1/3rd the brine to the breast meat directly (under the skin on the meat)
e. Apply the rest of the brine liberally to the rest of the turkey
f. Massage the meat to evenly spread and dissolve the brine mixture (this is critical to not end up with chunks of salt anywhere, it also increases the speed of osmosis as dry salt doesn’t go anywhere)
g. Cover loosely with foil (it should not be airtight)
h. Refrigerate for 2-3 days
i. DO NOT rinse the turkey after brining (it will not be too salty)

Once the turkey has been brined for 2-3 days, make the butter mixture

a. Wash and cut herbs so they are finely chopped
b. Zest your citrus
c. Mix together with butter (you can microwave butter for a few seconds if you need to soften it)

Cooking the turkey

a. Preheat oven to 450°F
b. Separate skin from breast and fill with half the butter, spreading evenly
c. Spread the rest of the butter on the rest of the turkey
d. Place half the citrus fruit used into the cavity
e. Bake for 30 minutes or until skin is golden brown
f. Cover breast loosely with a piece of foil to prevent further browning
g. Reduce heat to 350°F and continue baking until internal temperature reads 150°F (if you have a 10 pound turkey, this will be approximately 2.5 hours)

Rest it for 45 minutes

Slice the turkey as desired and serve