How to Dry Brine a Turkey
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!
1) Stir together dry rub ingredients in a small bowl.
2) 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.
3) 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.
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!
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