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How to Dry Brine a Turkey for Your Best Bird Yet

This Thanksgiving, wow your guests with a deliciously dry-brined turkey.

how to dry brine a turkey
Mike Garten

Thanksgiving turkey is something we wait all year to eat, but it often comes out dry and flavorless, merely a vehicle for gravy. This year, when you’re cruising down the grocery aisles wondering if it’s worth it to brine or not to brine your turkey, grab a container of salt because brining is the secret to a succulent, savory bird! We’ll teach you how to dry brine a turkey (it’s easy, promise!) using our best brined turkey recipe so that you won’t have to stress about sub-par protein ever again.

What is dry brining?

Brining is the process of applying a highly seasoned salt solution, called a brine, onto meat or vegetables and letting it absorb over time. A wet brine combines water with salt, while a dry brine takes the water out of the equation. That’s right — if you’re dry-brining your bird, all you really need is salt. As time passes, the food absorbs the salt through osmosis, allowing the brine to season the meat (or vegetable) all the way through. When brining meats like turkey, the salt in the solution breaks down tough muscle proteins, resulting in tender, well-seasoned meat.

Why dry brine?

• It seasons the meat all the way through. Dry brining your turkey ahead of time will allow the salt to sink deep into the meat of the bird, whereas sprinkling salt on it just before roasting will result in a salty exterior with flavorless meat underneath.

• It gets the skin extra crispy. During brining, moisture is eventually drawn from the surface of the meat back into the interior, creating a drier surface. Dry surfaces brown much more easily than wet surfaces. Browning = deliciously crispy flavor.

• It helps the turkey retain moisture. Dry meat — especially breast meat — is one of the most common mistakes when cooking turkey. So how exactly does dry brining keep turkey moist? During the brining period, the salt from the brine causes some of the proteins in the turkey to unwind. Moisture gets trapped between the proteins as the meat cooks and the proteins bind back together. The result is a forkful of juicy, tender turkey meat that’ll have everyone at the table talking— and asking for seconds.

 • Easiest, less-mess method. If you’re wondering whether it’s better to wet or dry brine a turkey, here’s the solution (literally!): Wet brining certainly works, and it’s actually faster than dry brining (wet brining takes at least 8 hours, dry brining can take up to 3 days depending on the size of your bird). However, it requires finding enough space in your fridge for a whole turkey plus a sloshing bag or container of liquid that might leak. Once it’s brined, the wet turkey can also get slippery and hard to work with. Overall, dry brining requires less space and a whole lot less fuss.

Before you brine:

• Check the label. Make sure your bird isn’t pre-salted or seasoned, or self-basting. These types of turkey have been injected with a salt solution already, so brining them will make them too salty. We prefer to buy a completely unseasoned bird and add our own brine, rather than relying on processed ingredients.

• Plan ahead. While you can technically dry brine a still-frozen turkey, it’s much more effective if the turkey is completely thawedA defrosted bird allows you to apply the dry brine under the skin and directly on the meat for the best flavor. You can dry brine a turkey in one day, but it’s best to let it sit in the fridge for up to three days.

• Use the right salt. We like to use Kosher salt in this recipe because it’s not too salty and the flecks are the perfect size to evenly season the bird. You can brine a turkey with table salt but you will need to use a lot less, and this recipe was not developed with table salt in mind. Kosher salt is great for seasoning any type of meat and in baking recipes, so it’s worth picking some up on your next grocery trip.

• Don’t rinse. You do not need to rinse a dry brined turkey before roasting. That will just cause the skin to become wet and soggy, and it’ll never crisp up in the oven. Plus, rinsing a raw bird can cause harmful bacteria to splash all over your sink. As best as you can, keep the exterior of that bird dry.  

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Yields: 1
Total Time: 0 hours 30 mins

12 to 14-lb turkey

2 tbsp.

kosher salt

2 tsp.

fresh thyme or rosemary, chopped

  1. Working on a rimmed baking sheet, remove giblets and neck of turkey from cavities. Reserve neck and discard giblets. Using paper towels, pat turkey dry.
  2. In small bowl, combine salt and herbs and rub salt mixture all over turkey.
  3. Place baking sheet and turkey into a large plastic bag (you may need 2) and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days before cooking.
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