Ready for the easy way to cook moist turkey? Make Dry Brine Turkey! It’s the best, most foolproof way to cook Thanksgiving Turkey that’s perfectly juicy and will wow at the holidays.
The Best Thanksgiving Turkey Starts with Brining
Brining is the process of salting meat prior to cooking.
It is the key to the juiciest meat, and it is EASY and foolproof!
For turkey, plan on 24 hours of dry brining.
Have less than 24 hours or prefer a traditional wet brine? Check out our wet Turkey Brine recipe.
Why Brine at All?
During brining, the structure of the meat transforms.
- Salt draws out the meat’s juices, dissolves into them, and then is reabsorbed.
- Once reabsorbed, it breaks down the meat, making it more tender.
- Brining seasons the meat from within so it has flavor all the way through, not just on the outside.
- Brined meat can better retain moisture.
Result: an ultra juicy, tender turkey with succulent flavor throughout.
If your turkey has dried out in the past, likely you did not brine it (or did not brine it for long enough or did not use enough salt)—or you overcooked the turkey (155 to 160 degrees F is the number; see How Long to Cook Turkey for details).
Now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you to brine, let’s talk.
Wet vs. Dry Brine
For a brine, you have two choices, a wet brine and a dry brine.
- A wet brine involves submerging the turkey in a saltwater solution that is flavored with spices, herbs, and other aromatics like citrus peels for 12 to 24 hours. (This is the best wet brine turkey recipe).
- For a dry brine, a mixture of kosher salt and other herbs/spices is rubbed on the outside of the turkey, then allowed to sit on the skin for 24 to 36 hours.
Why Do a Dry Brine?
Each brining method has its pros and cons.
Nine times out of 10, I prefer a dry brine over a wet brine.
- A dry brine is easier than a wet brine. All you do is mix up the brine, then rub it on the turkey with the brine. There’s no worry about boiling, submerging, etc.
- A dry brine is less messy than a wet brine. You don’t need to pour gallons of liquid in or out of a stock pot and bucket.
- No special equipment. You can brine the turkey right on a regular rimmed baking sheet; no bucket or bag required.
- No need to rinse. Unlike a wet brine, you don’t need to rinse dry brine off of the turkey, saving you a messy step.
The downsides to a dry brine are that it takes longer than a wet brine, and some argue that dry brine turkey is not *as* plump and moist as wet brine turkey.
- Plan for at least 24 hours of dry brining time. If you only have 12 hours, do a wet brine instead.
- As far as moisture goes, dry brine and wet brine both make EXCELLENT juicy, moist turkeys.
- Wet brine is a little more moist and plump; it’s up to you to decide if the extra fuss is worth it.
For a visual of dry brine vs. wet brine, see this Baked Chicken Breast post. I tested both brining methods and took a photo of each so you can compare them side by side.
Dry Brine Ingredients
- Turkey. Because you will be salting the turkey yourself, make sure you start with a bird that is not salted or seasoned in any way. Avoid kosher turkeys, which are pre-salted, and self-basting turkeys, which are injected with a salt solution.
If you aren’t sure if your turkey has been salted, just check the ingredients. You shouldn’t see salt listed.
- Kosher Salt. Yes, the type of salt you use does matter. I used Morton kosher salt. Using kosher salt is non-negotiable, as table salt isn’t coarse enough and will make your turkey taste metallic. If you use Diamond Crystal brand kosher salt, add an extra 1 ½ teaspoons per tablespoon of Morton’s.
- Rosemary. One of the best herbs with turkey! Chopped fresh rosemary gives the turkey skin a cozy, earthy flavor that is perfect for the season.
- Lemon Zest. To give the turkey brightness. Lemon pairs well with rosemary.
How to Dry Brine a Turkey
- Thaw your turkey (see How Long to Cook a Turkey for tips).
- Prepare the brine mixture.
- Pat the turkey dry. Add some of the brine to the inside of the cavity, then rub the remaining brine on the outside.
- Cover the turkey with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator.
- Uncover the turkey 1 day before cooking, allowing the skin to dry. Let the turkey come to room temperature 1 hour before cooking. ENJOY!
Meal Prep Tip
Up to 1 day before brining the turkey, prepare the brine mixture as directed. Cover and refrigerate the brine until you’re ready to use it.
Frequently Asked Questions
I recommend dry brining a turkey for at least 24 hours. If you have less time, do a wet brine, which works in as few as 12 hours. If you want to brine a turkey in 1 day, do a wet brine.
Thawed is best when brining a turkey, because you know it will be fully thawed before it goes in the oven, but if your turkey is close and you still have 24 hours to go (which you should since you are doing a dry brine), you can certainly brine a frozen turkey.
No, dry brine does not need to be rinsed off of the turkey. It’s another reason this dry-brined turkey recipe is easy! The salt you use for the brine will also flavor the turkey as it cooks.
Absolutely! Simply scale down the amount of brine to suit your piece of meat. This dry brine works well with other cuts of meat too.
Any you like! Use this dry brine for roast turkey, smoked turkey, grilled turkey, or however you and your family enjoy preparing it.
Dry Brine Turkey
- 1 14- to 16-pound turkey* thawed (see step 1 for guidance)
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt** I use Morton’s
- 1 ½ tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
- Zest of 2 small or 1 large lemon Reserve the zested lemons for stuffing the turkey if desired
- 4 to 6 Days Before Cooking (depending upon weight) – Thaw Your Turkey (if needed): Place the turkey in the refrigerator for 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey (that's 3 days thawing for a 15-pound bird). For faster thawing, place the turkey in a cold water bath and change the water every 30 minutes. This will take about 8 hours for a 15-pound turkey.
- 1 to 2 Days Before Cooking – Brine the Turkey: In a small bowl, combine the salt, rosemary, and lemon zest. Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey and discard or keep for gravy. With paper towels, pat very dry (you do not need to rinse the turkey; this has a greater chance of spreading bacteria than removing it). Transfer the turkey to a rimmed baking sheet or shallow baking pan. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the salt mixture inside the cavity.
- Rub the rest all over the outside of the turkey, including under the wings and the legs, and concentrating especially on the breast (no need to salt the very backside of the bird that is touching the pan).
- Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours, until either the day before or morning of cooking the turkey (the length will depend upon how early you started.)
- 1 Day Before or the Morning of Cooking – Let the Skin Dry Out: Uncover the turkey, then return it to the refrigerator. Refrigerate uncovered for 24 hours, or until 1 hour before cooking. This step dries the skin, which is important in order for it to crisp. The skin will turn somewhat translucent.
- 1 Hour Before Cooking – Let Come to Room Temperature: Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature (do not brush off the brine). If you haven't removed the plastic "carrier" attached to the legs, do so now. Cook as desired. See How to Cook a Turkey and Spatchcock Turkey for methods.
- IF YOUR TURKEY IS FROZEN: Flash-thaw the turkey in an ice-water bath. Submerge the turkey in water, ensuring the water always stays between 33 degrees F and 38 degrees F. This process will still take about 8 hours for a 15-pound turkey.
- *MAKE SURE YOUR TURKEY IS NOT PRE-SALTED: Kosher turkeys (which are already salted) and pre-brined or pre-salted turkeys will be far too salty if dry-brined. Look for a natural or heritage turkey; if you aren’t sure, check the ingredient list—you should not see added salt.
- **USE KOSHER SALT: I used Morton’s kosher salt, which is coarser than table salt and has a much cleaner flavor. Do not use table salt, as it tastes metallic. If using Diamond Crystal, use an additional 1 ½ teaspoons, as it is coarser than Morton’s. If you use a fine salt, use ¾ of the amount called for.
- SCALING THE BRINE FOR A LARGER OR SMALLER TURKEY: If your bird is smaller than 14 pounds or larger than 16 pounds, follow these guidelines: For every 5 pounds of turkey, use 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 ½ to 2- teaspoons fresh herbs, the zest of ½ a small lemon, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.
- FRESH VS. DRIED HERBS: I absolutely recommend using fresh herbs for turkey brine and roasting. They have far superior flavor and will make a big difference in your results; plus you need the sprigs for the cavity anyway. If you must substitute dried, use one-third the amount.
- Nutrition information was calculated for a 14-pound turkey.
- The total time for this recipe can vary based on the size of your turkey and whether or not it was fully thawed.
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