How to Dry Brine a Turkey
Delicious roast turkey (or any poultry) prepared using a dry brine with a salt, sugar, and spices rub. Step-by-step directions on how to dry brine a turkey!
How to Dry Brine a TurkeyJump to Recipe
For the last few years, I’ve been preaching the joys of brining turkey to anyone who will listen. Brining really does make a big difference to your finished bird, but most importantly, it gives you some margin of error.
If you aren’t familiar with brining, basically you submerge your bird (or any protein really) in a salty solution and using science the meat can better retain moisture. How it works is fairly complicated, but if you care a recent episode of the sporkful did a good job of explaining it.
But anyway, just trust me that brining is a good idea. In fact, I really like brining with apple cider. It’s out of this world.
One problem: It’s a pain in the butt. Mixing gallons of salty liquid and figuring out how to store a bird in it overnight can be a bit tricky.
This easy guide will teach you, step by step, how to dry brine a turkey. My method lets you skip all that nonsense and still get all the advantages of brining! Not only does this work great on turkey, but also can be used if you roast chickens. It’s a method that requires very little work and results in deliciousness. In fact, some argue that it’s actually better than a liquid brine because it retains the natural juices rather than adding a lot of other flavors.
Personally, I like both ways, but this year is a dry brine year for me. My step-by-step recipe will show you how to dry brine a turkey for the most delicious bird you’ve ever had!
Dry Rub Turkey Brine
- ⅓ cup kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes opt.
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice opt.
- Other optional spices: dried rosemary/sage/parsley
- Stir together dry rub ingredients in a small bowl.
- Rub your turkey with the dry brine. I like to separate the skin a bit and rub some of the brine rub under the skin. Most can go on top though. Rub the entire bird or breast. I would say to use 1 teaspoons of rub per pound of turkey. A 12 pound turkey should be rubbed with 3-4 tablespoons of dry rub.
- Lightly cover the turkey and let it rest in the fridge overnight (at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours).
- Before cooking the turkey, you can optionally rinse off any salt on the surface of the bird or just wipe it off with a paper towel. You can just cook it without doing that also and the skin will be saltier. I also recommend adding a sliced lemon and orange to the bird cavity before roasting also.
- Roast until the bird is 165 degrees in the thick part of the breast or thigh (if you’re cooking the whole bird). Let rest at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
Did you make this?
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How to Dry Brine a Turkey
Mixing the Brine
The first thing you’ll notice about this rub is how simple it is. While my apple cider brine solution has 13 (really?!) ingredients, this has just a handful and you probably already have most of them.
Just stir the ingredients together and feel free to add any other dried herbs you want. I wouldn’t make it too complicated but a teaspoon of something extra won’t hurt.
One important note though is that you do want to use a coarse salt for the brine. Something like kosher salt or coarse sea salt works fantastically.
Once you mix the rub together, you want to season the bird liberally. While not necessary, I like to actually rub some under the skin of the bird also.
If you are doing a 12 pound turkey, using 3-4 tablespoons of the dry rub would be about right. You should have a visible coating on the whole bird, inside and outside.
I just did a turkey breast for this post and used 1 1/2 -2 tablespoons of the rub.
Waiting is the Hardest Part
Just like if you are doing a liquid brine, this needs to sit on the bird to really do the work. Cooking it immediately is useless. Overnight is about the minimum you can let it sit, but a full 24 hours is a better bet. Really try to give it some time for the salt and sugar to break down and do its osmosis thing.
As far as rinsing the bird off, you definitely can. Or you can just wipe it down with a few paper towels to remove any excess salt. Personally, I didn’t do any of that. I just left it all on there and cooked it as is. Most of the salt is in the meat anyway at this point so you’re just washing off herbs and flavors. You can do it though if you are worried that you used too much rub. It won’t hurt the brining process to rinse it off.
Roast the turkey however you want to after that. I like the Alton Brown method of roasting, starting at a really high heat and then reducing the temperature down.
I also like to add some citrus to the bird cavity.
I roasted this one for the post, but I’ll be frying one on Thursday!
Whatever you do, please use a meat thermometer. The worst is to go through all this work only to overcook your bird by 15 degrees and have it be tough and rubbery. The brine will give you some wiggle room in cooking time, but I always say it’s best to shoot for 165 degrees F. in the thick part of the breast (or thigh). The turkey will still continue to cook more after you take it out of the oven.
I roasted my turkey breast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes and then turned it down to 350 for another 75-80 minutes until it hit the right temperature.
Look at that beauty!
Be sure to let the turkey rest for at least 15 minutes before you try to carve it up. If I’m cooking a full turkey, I’ll let it sit for 25 minutes or so before trying to carve it. There’s a lot of residual heat and cooking still happening in the turkey and cutting into it early is a bad idea.
I thought this was really delicious turkey. Betsy thought it was a tad on the salty side, but definitely super tender. I didn’t rinse off the turkey or anything after the brine which is maybe why mine was a bit salty, but still super good. I’ll take slightly salty over very dry any day of the week! Give this method of how to dry brine a turkey a try and you will love the results!
Are you making a turkey this year for Thanksgiving? What’s your game plan? Curious to hear what people are planning to cook and happy to help if people have questions!
Leave a comment!
54 Responses to “How to Dry Brine a Turkey” Leave a comment
One thing I like about Nick’s brine turkey is that when you make stock out of the carcass, there seems to be no fat and the broth is wonderful. Course the turkey is wonderful, too
Thanks Mary! The drippings would be good on this version also. I do like the apple cider one though… :)
This looks great and will give it a try for Christmas. We missed turkey at Thanksgiving cause our daughter is vegetarian and we had it at her home. Then I decided that we should celebrate your Thanksgiving, but it turns out that I didn’t realize how soon we were leaving for an early season ski trip. Don’t want to deal with a large meal and all the leftovers when we are leaving. So turkey deprived until Christmas !
A Christmas turkey is always a hit in my mind Susan! Good luck!
Thanks, Nick! I am going to do this. One question…for that 24 hours of brining do I cover the turkey as it sits in the fridge or does the skin need to dry out?
Hey Kate! I would definitely cover it just so stuff doesn’t get on it, but cover it loosely so it can get some air. I wrap mine very loosely in plastic wrap usually and that works well. Good luck!
BEEN BRIMING FOR MANY YEARS–
ALWAYS 2/1 SALT TO SUGAR + WHATEVER HERBS WE HAVE-
Q—ALWAYS BRING MY BRIME TO A BOIL, LET COOL–IN THAT WAY THE SALT & SUGAR ARE IN SOLUTION—
GONNA TRY YOURS —
Yea… I found that you don’t need nearly as much sugar in a dry brine… the salt gets the job done. Give it a shot for sure. :)
Hi Nick. While this looks great, I’m sticking with your wet brine we now call the Withches Brew. It was the first time I found you several years ago and it’s the most amazing turkey. Thank you and happy holidays!
just a question about timing you said you just did the breast for this post. But if you were doing a 12 lb turkey what would the timing be closer to. do you leave it on high longer etc. this looks great and definitely I will try this for Christmas as being Canadian we already have had thanks giving. tx
Hey Tammy, it’s tough to say really. You pretty much have to use a meat thermometer. But generally, I will roast a full turkey at 425 for 30 minutes and then turn it down to 350 until it reaches the right temperature. Hope that helps!
Two hopefully quick question for you. I’m doing a boneless turkey breast. And I’m attempting your dry brine.
Do I have to use coarse salt? I only have regular salt. Also, how dry does the meat have to be when you apply the dry brine/rub?
Hey Joanna! To be honest, I think it will be too salty with regular (I’m assuming you just mean table salt). The grains are too fine. You really need a coarse salt for it to work.
THAT SAID, you can absolutely make a liquid brine using regular salt and brine in that without an issue. Take a recipe like my apple cider brine (https://www.macheesmo.com/2011/11/apple-cider-brined-turkey-breast/), but cut the salt in half if you are using table salt instead of kosher salt. (You can simplify the liquid brine substantially if you don’t have all that stuff. Really you just need salt, sugar, water, pepper, maybe some herbs.) It’ll be great.
If you do get coarse salt though for the dry brine, it doesn’t matter how wet/dry the turkey is when it’s applied. It should be thawed though… Hope that helps!
This looks excellent! I used a wet brine last week and it really was frustrating. I love the flavor but all that water gets heavy since I’m always working with a giant bird to start with. My husband keeps telling me I should try a dry brine and now I’m determined to. Maybe I will do up some chickens to experiment!
Yes, it did help! Thanks!
I found some coarse salt in the back of the pantry. I mixed it with some herbs and sugar. I’ll try to remember to come back after it’s been eaten and let you know how it goes. Thank you again for the quick reply!
Last year we used your recipe with the 13 ingredients, the hubby complained until he tasted it. I was convinced it was the only way to go, then, you posted this recipe. It looks so easy, we’re rubbing the bird now. Thanks for sharing all your ideas with us.
Tried this method this year and everyone raved about the turkey! It was perfectly seasoned and cooked thoroughly without drying out. (I did wash off the brine before roasting.) It was so easy! Thanks for this alternative to wet brining!
Awesome Erin! Glad you tried it and liked it! Happy holidays!
nick, we did try the apple cider brine—used about 3/4 gal of cider, 6 fresh bay leaves, rosemary & parsley + peppercorns, anise, garlic & cinnamon–1/2 cup salt, 1/4 brown sugar,–bialed, cooled-
left the bird in the brine for 18 hrs–
we’ve been priming turkey, meats for lots of yrs, always with great results-
Q-we had on glitch -for our 21 # stuffed turkey, we planned to cook @ 325 for 4 hrs, basting every hour–at hr 2, we noted the bird was much darker, let cook for a total of 3 hrs—my Q, does the cider brine shorten cooking time—my wife checks the turkey by pressing the thighs , not science, but she knows the feel—tks
gordon—-we will try again @ Xmas
Hey Gordon, the brine shouldn’t really affect cooking time at all although it will make the skin slightly darker during cooking. As you probably know, I’m a big fan of using both an oven thermometer and a meat thermometer to make sure everything is at the right temp. My guess is that your oven might be running a little hot (I’ve seen some frequently run 25-50 degrees hot).
Hope that helps!
I did the dry brine. It was a tad salty, and I think it was because 1) the mesh holding the boneless breast together soaked up the salt, and 2) I didn’t wash enough of the brine off the breast before roasting.
That being said, it was pretty good, if a bit salty for me. I normally cook with very low salt.
Hey Joanna, yea… I think the mesh might have affected that. If you try it again, I would take that off and also rinse off the brine and dry the skin before roasting. Thanks for the comment!
I started experimenting with dry brines last year and have liked the results. Great post, Nick.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
I wanted to post that I did the dry brine again, this time on a bone in turkey breast. It didn’t look quite as nice as yours, but it tasted pretty good.
The change I made was I left out the pepper flakes and allspice, added some thyme and sage, then buttered the meat up.
Nice Joanna. Thanks for the comment. Glad it came out tasty!
What was the weight of your turkey breast, so I can gauge how long mine needs to cook? Thank you. Lisa
Hey Lisa, you should use a thermometer. It’s really impossible to know when a turkey breast is done by weight/time. Good luck!
Aloha Nick! Just found your wonderful site as I was trying to find out whether or not to cover the dry brined bird. There seems to be comflicting views out there, but your suggestion to cover it made more sense to me. Also, I am using a convection oven. Do you have any suggestions for the temp and timing for convection ovens? Mahalo!
Oh it is a twelve pound bird and i do use a thermometer
Hey Gina! I cover my bird just for sanitary reasons b/c normally my fridge is pretty packed! The argument for not covering it is to make sure the skin stays dry. I just pat my dry before roasting it and it works great. :)
As far as timing goes, really tough to say. Assuming you are roasting it at 350 degrees in convection, I’d guess 2 1/2 hours as a starting point. The thermometer is the way to go though and if it were me I’d start checking it around 2 hours and it might need up to 3 1/2 hours… the range is pretty huge and depends on a ton of variables. Good luck!
Thanks for the quick reply, Nick! So I tried the dry rub brine this year and it was okay. I dont think I used enough kosher salt. It was not “fall off the bone” tender like my wet brine usually is. I may have overcooked it a tad in the convection oven (2&1/4 hours) but I was thinkinking there was no way it could have been done in two hours! I did face the open cavity towards the fan, so that might have sped it up a bit. I started at 350 degrees and after an hour turned it down to 300 degrees and basted with butter. The flavor was excellent and made perfect gravy from the dripping. Thanks for all your helpful suggestions! Will visit your site often! Happy Holidays!
Hi I am just trying the dry brine for the first time this year. I applied the dry brine to a bone in turkey breast (almost 7lbs) last night and left it uncovered in the refrigerator. I’ve been concerned about leaving it uncovered for a few days as it feels counter intuitive. I’m not worried about cross contamination as I have plenty of room. Are there any concerns with leaving it uncovered for a few days? Also do you recommend buttering the skin once I’m ready to put in the oven? Or just pat dry and cook as is?
Monica from Pasadena, CA
Hey Monica, the only real concern of leaving it uncovered is cross-contamination. If you have the space it’s actually best to leave it uncovered so the surface moisture can evaporate. Personally, I still cover mine just because I don’t have the space and then I just pat it dry. Either way is fine but there’s nothing wrong with having it uncovered assuming nothing else is in danger of touching it!
Ok thanks! Also when it’s time to cook the turkey do you add anything else? I’ve read other sites where they suggest to but some butter on the skin before cooking?
Butter always helps. :)
Do you cover the turkey while roasting
Not normally… unless it’s getting too dark or hot. Then I’ll cover it with some foil for more even cooking.
Hi Nick! I used your brine and Alton’s roasting strategy on our 20lb family turkey this year. WOW, what a bird!!! :) We will definitely use this brine again. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
Isn’t leaving a previously frozen and then thawed turkey in the fridge for 3 days too long before cooking? Or does the dry brine preserve it? I plan on having an18 lb turkey for Christmas, and it is frozen at this time. The thawing process will take a few days, and I’m concerned about the safety, of leaving it raw for this long .
Hi Irene, there’s really no danger of leaving a thawed turkey in the fridge for a few days, especially if it’s in a brine. I dry-brined a turkey this year for about 72 hours in my fridge before frying it.
If you were really concerned about it, I might recommend doing a wet brine which would keep the bird in liquid and only needs to be brined for 24 hours to be really effective. That’s the method I use if I’m short on time! You could double this apple cider brine recipe and it would be plenty for a whole turkey. Good luck!
Do you recommend/discourage using a roaster oven for a dry-brine turkey?
Hey Chris, I’ve never tried it but I assume it would work okay. You can cook it any way you normally would once it’s brined. Good luck!
If my turkey is basted in salt, sugar, and broth should I skip the salt in the dry brine?
Hey Jill, I wouldn’t brine a turkey that is already basted. I’d only do this to a turkey that is fresh and has no additives already. Hope that helps!
Hey Nick, I plan on using your dry brine on this years bird. It’s only a small fresh breast 3 1/2 lb.What ratio of salt would you suggest, I don’t want to crush my wife, I’ve used dry rubs and brines on other before and she always says they are too salty.
Hey Jeff, I’ve done a turkey breast with it before. I’d keep the ratio the same actually on the dry brine, but just use slightly less of it. I ususally use about 2 TBSP of the rub for a full bone-in turkey breast. You could cut that back to 1-1 1/2 TBSP for sure. Good luck!
I’ll give it a shot and see how it turns out. I’ll give ya a shout on the results.
Hey Nick, Just a little follow up. I did your dry brine and my bird turned out perfect! .
I followed your directions to the T. I did add about 1 1/2 Tsp. of Herbs De Provence to the mix and brined the bird for 2 days. I followed your roasting method and it was great, everyone raved about how crispy the skin was and yet how tender moist the meat was. They kept asking how I did it? I just smiled and said, it’s a secret recipe and I had a little help! Thanks Nick!
I have 2 Ring Neck pheasants that I’m going to try the brine mix on. Do you have any input?
Pheasant dries out so fast.
Once again Thanks!
Hey Jeff! Glad the turkey came out well! I don’t have much experience with pheasant. I usually just fry them. :) You might check out Hank at http://www.honest-food.net He’s a foul expert. :)
I plan on dry brining a 22-24# turkey and baking it in a Mielle convection oven. It has a setting for turkey, but last year it said it was done in 1-1/2 hours which I felt was impossible. So I had to change to a manual setting and try to figure out how long to cook it. As a result I had a very nerve wracking afternoon and dinner was late. The guests were waiting around. I’d like to know exactly how long it should take to bake a 22-24# bird. I’d also like to know how to keep it safely warm while I make the gravy and mashed potatoes.
Hey Diane! Sorry to hear about your stress. I’ve been there. Might I suggest running out and getting a good probe thermometer? I’ve used one for the last five years or so and they are AWESOME. Even the same size of bird can actually bake at very different times depending on an number of factors. You can leave the thermometer in while the bird bakes and set an alarm so it’ll let you know when it hits the right temp. Easy and fail-proof! I’m sure if you call around to a few stores, you can find one even the day before Thanksgiving. It’s a life safer and stress reliever for a few bucks. :) Good luck!
Also why does the recipe call for DRIED herbs? I have a garden filled with fresh herbs. Couldn’t I use them?
Hey Diane, I wrote the recipe with dried herbs just because they are more consistent for a dry rub like this, but you could sub fresh. I’d times the amount by 2-3 for each herb as dried are more concentrated. Good luck!
Thanks for the quick response. I have an old fashioned simple meat thermometer. Will that be sufficient?