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Dry Brined Turkey

The easiest and best way to prepare a turkey for roasting, Dry Brined Turkey. Ditch the brining bag and use this simpler method that creates the tastiest and super moist Thanksgiving Turkey!

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Overhead view of a full thanksgiving table with the roasted turkey in the center with crispy golden brown skin from dry brining on a large platter.

How to Dry Brine and Roast a Turkey

As Thanksgiving approaches many start dreaming of the famous feast that gets enjoyed on that day… Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Cranberry Sauce, and of course the centerpiece of it all TURKEY.

Oversized and at the center of attention the turkey can seem super intimidating. For those in charge of making it the last thing you want to do is mess it up. So how are you suppose to choose how to make it with so many options right?

Well I am here to share with you what I think is the best and easiest way to prepare and roast a thanksgiving turkey.

Dry Brine.

A large white platter with carved dry brined turkey sit-in non a thanksgiving table surrounded by side dishes.

What is Dry Brining?

First let’s cover brining.

Brining was originally used as a way to preserve food, but as we have moved into an era where we don’t spend as much time preserving food we use it to flavor meat and create better texture.

Let’s hop back to middle school science class, do you remember osmosis? Yeah I don’t really either but it is the process in which molecules of a solvent pass through a barrier from a less concentrated solution into a more concentrated one, equalizing the concentrations on each side of the membrane.

So basically: The in an example of a classic wet brine, the salt solution and the water retained in the meat pass back and forth between the barrier. The salt that enters the meat breaks down tough protiens causing a more tender meat while also flavoring, as well as adding moisture to the meat that then would be lost during cooking.

Dry Brining essentially works the same way, well mostly… technically dry brining is a little bit of an oxymoron. It technically isn’t a true brine because it doesn’t involve water, technically it is a ‘cure’, but it works the same way.

With a dry brine the salt coating draws out the juices and redistributes the moisture creating a natural brine, then creating an osmosis reabsorbing this natural brine and creating flavor while breaking down the tough muscle proteins.

Have I lost you yet?

Most likely, so let’s talks about why you should dry brine.

Close up of a fully cooked golden brown turkey that was dry brined on a roasting pan.

Is Dry Brined Turkey Good?

YES.

My husband claims it is the best turkey he has ever had. The turkey stays incredibly moist. The meat ends up perfectly seasoned. And don’t even get me started on how amazing dry brining makes the skin, perfectly crispy and golden brown every time.

You also have the ability when dry brining to make your turkey more flavorful using aromatics. In my recipe you will see I use just a bit of dried thyme to my thanksgiving bird, you may also use additions like pepper, other herbs, or citrus peels.

I also stuff the empty cavity of the bird with aromatics to add additional flavor as well.

Does Dry Brining make the Turkey too salty?

A very reasonable thing to ask.

No it will not be too salty! Promise.

Overhead of a dry brined turkey sit-in non a large white platter in the center of a thanksgiving table.

Reasons to Dry Brine Turkey

  • It is easy, you do most of the work a couple days before Thanksgiving and when it is time to roast very little actually has to be done
  • If you don’t have room for a large water filled container in your fridge this might be the best option for you. For me personally I found dry brining to be easier/take up less room in my fridge
  • I find it cleaner than trying to do a wet brine
  • I have found the turkey to actually cook a little quicker, in the best way possible. I have never had a turkey take longer than expected using this method, if anything dry brining tends to make the cooking process speed up slightly due to the tender meat. So I even advise to check the turkey half an hour before you think it will be done
  • It makes a really good turkey, like reeeaaaallly good

Supplies Needed

  • Everyday kitchen accessories like measuring spoons, bowls, paper towels
  • Sheet Pan with a Wire Rack (or you can just using the roasting pan)
  • Roasting Pan with Rack
  • Kitchen Twine
  • Instant Read Meat Thermometer (I highly recommend this one)

Ingredients Needed

  • 12-16 pound whole minimally processed turkey – The size of the turkey doesn’t really matter with dry brining (it can be smaller or larger, that just impacts cooking time) but you do need to use a ‘minimally processed’ turkey so one without brine solutions/salt already injected in, so your classic frozen butterball will come pre-brined, this will not work. Look for a fresh farm turkey or heritage, those will work best for this recipe.
  • kosher salt – It HAS TO BE KOSHER SALT. Kosher salt is magical, if you don’t have this for your kitchen yet, now is the time
  • dried thyme – I like this to add a little flavor to the dry brine, if you aren’t a fan of thyme use a different herb or just leave it out
  • unsalted butter, room temperature – This is for cooking, you will make a quick butter garlic mixture to spread on the turkey before going in the oven
  • 1 head garlic – you don’t need the whole thing for the butter mixture, some of the garlic will go inside the empty cavity

and optionally for stuffing the turkey cavity:

  • lemon – halved
  • fresh herbs like rosemary, sage, & thyme – a small bundle

For a complete detailed list of the ingredients continue towards the bottom of the page.

All the ingredients needed laid on a table for dry brining and roasting a turkey.

Instructions for the Dry Brine

Up to 3 full days before roasting (and at the very least the night before) prepare your turkey.

For storage in the fridge you will want a sheet pan/platter with a wire rack, a roasting pan with wire rack will work as well if it fits. I did try a test without a wire rack, just sitting in a large platter. I did work OKAY, as long as you make sure the breasts are faced up. I did find it easiest and cleanest when using the wire rack.

Remove the turkey from the packaging (set aside/discard any giblets or neck), place on the center of the rack breast side up, and pat dry with paper towels.

With clean hands mix together the salt and dry thyme in a small bowl. Start adding the salt to the turkey by gently opening the skin over the breasts and adding a few tablespoons directly onto the meat, place the skin back overtop the breasts. Gently sprinkle the remainder of the salt over the entirety of the turkey. 

Collage showing a turkey on a wire rack and a bowl full of salt with a little dried thyme.
Collage showing turkey being salted for the dry brine including lifting up the skin to add the salt.

If prepping more than 24 hours ahead of time carefully cover the turkey and pan with plastic wrap. Transfer the turkey to the fridge. About 24 hours before you are ready to cook uncover the turkey, but keep in the fridge, the point is to dry the skin of the turkey out. 

1 hour before you are ready to cook remove the turkey from the fridge. DO NOT RINSE THE TURKEY OFF, if you have any large pools of liquid or a lot of salt on the turkey you can gently brush it off with a paper towel. 

Roasting the Turkey

Preheat the oven to 425ºF and make sure that the racks are placed low in the oven.

Prepare the butter mixture. Peel and mince 3-4 cloves of the garlic, you will want about 1 tablespoon. In a small bowl mix together the garlic and room temperature butter to form a garlic butter mixture. Set aside.

Collage showing the turkey after being dry brined and the garlic butter rub in a bowl.

If you are wanting to stuff your turkey with aromatics, smash the rest of the cloves from the garlic head to later add to the turkey cavity. 

Transfer your turkey to the roasting rack. Now spread the butter mixture. Start by opening the skin on the breasts open and spread a couple of tablespoons directly on the meat, close the skin and put it back in place. Using the remainder of the butter graciously spread it evenly across the top of the turkey, ensuring to fully cover the breasts, the legs, and even a little on the wings. 

Collage showing hands buttering a turkey with garlic butter.

Next, it isn’t necessary but I think it helps the turkey cook more evenly, tuck in the wings. To do this grab a wing and bring the tip up towards the neck of the turkey. Bend the tip of the wing back behind itself and under the entire bird, the wing should stay in place, leaving the large part of the wing in view on the side but the tip hidden under the bottom. Repeat with the other side. 

A collage showing how to tuck the tip of the wing under the turkey for a more even and better roast.

If you are are adding aromatics to the turkey do that now, add the halved lemon, bunches of herbs, and smashed garlic to the empty cavity. 

Collage of photos showing aromatics being added to the empty cavity of the raw turkey.

Tie the legs. Some birds might come with a plastic holder, you can use that in place of string. If not cut about a foot of kitchen twine. Cross the legs together at the end and wrap the twine around the two legs. Wrap a few times to hold it in place and then tie a bow, trim any extra twine.

Collage showing the steps on how to tie a turkeys legs together for more even cooking.

Transfer to the oven. Cook at 425ºF for 15 minutes. 

Reduce heat to 325ºF. Cook according to the timing on the chart below. On average my 13 pound turkey was done in just under 3 hours. Watch the turkey towards the end of cooking, if the outside starts looking too dark cover loosely with aluminum foil. The turkey is done when a meat thermometer registers 170ºF in the deepest part of the breast and inner thigh. (Some turkeys come with the handy pop-up timer, you can use and follow that if you have one)

A chart titled Turkey Roasting Times, showings pounds and time in hours.

When done remove from oven and rest at least 30 minutes before carving. (In the meantime gather all the drippings to make Gravy)

Overhead of a dry brine turkey on a roasting pan just pulled out of the oven.
Overhead of a large white platter with fully carved dry brined turkey laid out.
Close up of sliced turkey breast showing golden brown skin and a moist looking piece of turkey tender meat.

You might like these other Thanksgiving Recipes:

Overhead view of a full thanksgiving table with the roasted turkey in the center with crispy golden brown skin from dry brining on a large platter.

Dry Brined Turkey

Yield: about 8 servings
Prep Time: 2 days
Cook Time: 3 hours
Additional Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 days 3 hours 30 minutes

The best and EASIEST way to prepare and roast your Thanksgiving Turkey! Say goodbye to the messy brining bag with a dry-brine, with just salt and a few spices your turkey will be prepped and ready to go without the big mess.

Ingredients

  • 12-16 pound whole minimally processed turkey*
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 head garlic

Optional for Stuffing Turkey:

  • 1 lemon, halved
  • fresh herbs like rosemary, sage, & thyme

Instructions

The Dry Brine

  1. Up to 2 full days before roasting (and at the very least the night before) prepare your turkey. For storage in the fridge you will want a sheet pan/platter with a wire rack**, a roasting pan with wire rack will work as well if it fits. Remove the turkey from the packaging, place of the center of the rack breast side up, and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. With clean hands mix together the salt and dry thyme in a small bowl. Start adding the salt to the turkey by gently opening the skin over the breasts and adding a few tablespoons directly onto the meat, place the skin back overtop the breasts. Gently sprinkle the remainder of the salt over the entirety of the turkey.
  3. If prepping more than 24 hours ahead of time carefully cover the turkey and pan with plastic wrap. Transfer the turkey to the fridge. About 24 hours before you are ready to cook uncover the turkey, but keep in the fridge, the point is to dry the turkey out.
  4. 1 hour before you are ready to cook remove the turkey from the fridge. DO NOT RINSE THE TURKEY OFF, if you have any large pools of liquid or a lot of salt on the turkey you can gently brush it off with a paper towel.

Cooking The Turkey

  1. Preheat oven to 425ºF and make sure that the racks are placed low in the oven.
  2. Prepare the butter mixture. Peel and mince 3-4 cloves of the garlic, you will want about 1 tablespoon. In a small bowl mix together the garlic and butter to form a garlic butter mixture. Set aside. If you are wanting to stuff your turkey with aromatics, smash the rest of the cloves from the garlic head to later add to the turkey cavity.
  3. Transfer your turkey to a roasting rack. Now spread the butter mixture, start by opening the skin on the breasts open and spread about a couple of tablespoons directly on the meat, close the skin and put it back in place. Using the remainder of the butter graciously spread it evenly across the top of the turkey, ensuring to fully cover the breasts, the legs, and even a little on the wings.
  4. Optional: It isn't necessary but I thing it helps the turkey cook more evenly, tuck in the wings. To do this grab a wing and bring the tip up towards the neck of the turkey. Bend the tip of the wing back behind itself and under the entire bird, the wing should stay in place, leaving the large part of the wing in view on the side but the tip hidden under the bottom. Repeat with the other side.
  5. Optional: If you are are adding aromatics to the turkey do that now, add the halved lemon, bunches of herbs, and smashed garlic to the empty cavity.
  6. Tie the legs. Some birds might come with a plastic holder, you can use that in place of string. If not cut about a foot of kitchen twine. Cross the legs together at the end and wrap the twine around the two legs. wrap a few times to hold it in place and then tie a bow, trim any extra twine.
  7. Transfer to the oven. Cook at 425ºF for 15 minutes.
  8. Reduce heat to 325ºF. Cook according to the timing on the chart (above in the post). On average my 13 pound turkey was done in just under 3 hours. The turkey is done when a meat thermometer registers 170ºF in the deepest part of the breast and inner thigh. (Some turkeys come with the handy pop-up timer you can use, follow that if you have one)
  9. When done remove from oven and rest at least 30 minutes before carving. Carve and enjoy!

Notes

*The size of the turkey doesn't really matter with dry brining (it can be smaller or larger, that just impacts cooking time) but you do need to use a 'minimally processed' turkey so one without brine solutions/salt already injected in, so your classic frozen butterball will come pre-brined, this will not work. Look for a fresh farm turkey, those will work best for this recipe.

**I did try a test without a wire rack, just sitting in a large platter. I did work OKAY, as long as you make sure the breasts are faced up. The underside of the turkey does sit in it's own juices, most of it was a part of the turkey that doesn't get eaten so it doesn't affect it too much. I did find it easiest and cleanest when using the wire rack.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1.5 pounds turkey
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 1506Total Fat: 66gSaturated Fat: 23gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 39gCholesterol: 834mgSodium: 4299mgCarbohydrates: 3gFiber: 1gSugar: 0gProtein: 211g

Nutritional data is automated, final nutritional information will depend on ingredients used and any changes made.

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment below on the blog or share a photo with me tag @the_schmidty_wife! Can't wait to see what you made!

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Peace & Love

Lauren, The Schmidty Wife

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