By Cassie Johnston
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Here’s a bold statement for you: if you aren’t planning on brining your turkey before you cook it this Thanksgiving, you are making a mistake. A big one. Now, I tend to not be very fussy in the kitchen—and I like to skip steps whenever I can—but brining is one of those steps that you shouldn’t skip.
It sounds like something only fancy TV chefs do, but it really isn’t very complicated at all. In fact, it’s pretty quick! And it makes such a huge difference. It’s like spending $1 to get $100 back. You would do that, wouldn’t you? So then you should totally brine your turkey. #logic
If you’re reading this and thinking, “Um, Cass, that’s great, but I don’t even know what brining means,” well, hey! I get that. I didn’t either until a few years back. Let me do some explaining.
Brining is treating a bird with salt before cooking to help retain moisture and flavor. There are two kinds of brining—wet and dry. When you hear most folks talk about brining, they are referring to wet brining. It’s where you make a big ole vat of salted water (usually with some aromatics thrown in) and soak your bird overnight. The salt helps some of the brine get absorbed into the meat, and the moisture is retained when cooking—making the bird more tender and moist. You can find thousands of recipes for wet brines all across this glorious internet of ours.
Dry brining is the same idea, but without the water. Instead, you coat the bird in a salt mixture. The salt soaks into the turkey and lets the natural moisture of the meat stay in your final product.
Now, a lot of people out there will tell you you MUST wet brine. They bring out their big coolers or five gallon buckets each Thanksgiving and say that a wet brine is the key to a tasty turkey. And, while I do agree that wet brining a turkey is better than no brine at all, I’m 100% in the dry brine camp. If you have a wet brine recipe and method that you and your family love, cool beans, keep on keepin’ on. But if you’re looking to try out a much more simple way of getting a juicy and flavorful bird this Thanksgiving, I suggest you try a dry brine.
Dry brining a turkey is easier and less messy, and it produces a more flavorful bird, in my opinion. Serious Eats has a great (and exhaustive) article up about why dry brining is so much more awesome than wet. I won’t rehash it here, but basically, dry brining is the best combination of simplicity, flavor, and moisture. I’m all about making my Thanksgiving day prep easier, and dry brining is one way I do that.
So, let me show you how to dry brine a turkey! It’s really easy. Like, four steps easy.
1. Dry off your defrosted turkey.
Take either your defrosted frozen turkey or your fresh turkey and remove the giblets (set those aside to make stock—no waste!), and then pat the turkey dry inside and out with paper towels. Place that beautiful bird on a baking or roasting rack set on a rimmed baking sheet.
2. Mix up the brine.
For every five pounds of turkey you have, mix together 1 tablespoon Kosher salt, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and two teaspoons dried herbs of your choice (rosemary, sage, parsley, thyme—all those good Turkey Day flavors—a good poultry seasoning blend also works).
Sprinkle the mixture all over the turkey—inside the bird, on the breasts, on the legs and wings—everywhere! No need to rub or pat it in. Just let it fall on the skin. You don’t need to be obsessive about it, just give it a nice little blanket of snow.
You’re almost done! Now just slide that turkey on the baking sheet into the fridge uncovered. 24 hours will give you good results, but for the best flavor, you want the brine to work it’s magic for three days (meaning you need to start this on Monday for Thanksgiving Day roasting). Then, you’re ready to roast, fry, or smoke. Proceed with your usual recipe—just skip any more added salt your recipe may call for. No need to wipe the brine off before roasting.
My family uses this recipe (I can’t believe I found it online somewhere!) that my Mama clipped out of a newspaper about a decade ago. I skip the brining step in the recipe, and instead do my dry brine, but follow the rest as written. I’ve been using that recipe for years, and it consistently produces the best, most flavorful, and most juicy roasted turkey ever! We also sometimes smoke a turkey in our family (using apple cider in the smoker), and that is amazing as well. You can use whatever recipe you like.
Just promise me you won’t put the stuffing inside the turkey, k? Not only can it be dangerous, but it also soaks up all the moisture from the turkey like a sponge, leaving you with a dry, sad turkey that no amount of brining can save. Friends don’t let friends stuff their turkeys. And I consider you a friend.
And that’s it! You’ll get a flavorful, juicy, and totally awesome turkey without a ton of added work. Dry brine, for the win. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Dry brine your turkey this Thanksgiving for the easiest, most flavorful main. This is one corner you definitely don’t want to cut!
Keywords: Thanksgiving, turkey, poultry, dry brine
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Thanks so much for sharing this! I definitely want to try this and introduce my dad to the wonders of brining. Can I ask, why baking powder? I have not seen that in some other recipes, so I’m curious!
Baking powder (and some butter!) is the best way to get a super crispy and beautiful skin! It really has nothing to do with the brine itself, but it sure does make for a delicious and pretty bird. :)
Butter? The recipe doesn’t mention butter?
You can just put pats right on the outside of the bird. You can watch Cassie do it in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8wwFVV8Vwk
This looks amazing, I’m very impressed with how crispy and drool worthy the skin looks. In my family people always walk by my Uncle as he’s carving and try to steal some skin before dinner!
Silly question though….I have always had stuffing that was made in the bird. So how do you make it otherwise? Do you have a recipe you can share?
You can just cook the stuffing in a regular casserole dish (I believe technically, then it is called “dressing”). And if your family is particularly interested in having a stuffed turkey on the table, then you can spoon it into the turkey.
This is a really great cornbread dressing recipe (but it isn’t our “normal” dressing—I don’t have that one up!).
I always cook my stuffing in my crock pot. I drizzle a little of the drippings before making gravy. It is always moist and saves space in the oven for other things! Low for 2 hours or so.
Mind. Blown!!!!! I can’t wait to try this!
We smoke our turkey every year, for as long as I can remember. And my grandpa always got smoker salt from the local locker. Then we shoot up the bird with a salt water and seasoning blend using a syringe. So flavorful!
Happy Thanksgiving!! :)
iiinteresting! Love this idea (so much easier than a wet brine!) even though, I’m gonna be honest, the idea of the uncovered poultry in the fridge bothers me a little bit — partially because I’m always a little paranoid of flavors cross-mixing (for instance, my husband’s leftover Korean takeout in the fridge)…would it be okay to at least cover it with foil or something, you think?
Keeping the bird exposed to air actually helps with the moisture retention process! The skin starts to seal some, and that helps keep all the yummy juices inside the bird. But I totally understand your fear! We’re lucky to have a beer fridge that we just clear off the top shelf to do our brining in, but if you do have other strong flavored food in the fridge, you could do a lose covering of foil—I’m not sure it’ll keep all the other flavors out, but it should be enough to where you don’t have Korean takeout flavored turkey on your table. :)
Can/did you do this with a regular salt injected turkey? I want to try a dry brine this year, but all I could find at the store were salt injected turkeys. Now I’m reading all these sites that say I shouldn’t because my turkey will be too salty. Any advice?
You know, I’ve never done it with a pre-injected turkey, but I would say that if you back off the salt a little bit (maybe do two teaspoons per five pounds of turkey), and then brush off some of the brine before baking, you should be good.
Great idea! I’m Gonna use it! Do you still use a turkey oven bag when roasting? When would you inject. …right before cooking? Does dry brining affect cooking time? Thanks a million!
Nope, I don’t use an oven bag and I don’t inject it while roasting. I let mine roast uncovered, and just baste a few times. :)
You have some oranges, apples, garlic.. in the bird… What all have you put in there? And at what step should I do that?
Hi Joselyn: I link to the recipe for roasting the bird right before the last photo. It isn’t my recipe, so I didn’t feel comfortable reposting it in full, but it’s a great recipe to follow!
Hi Cassie, I am a very novice Turkey cooker, just wondering if i have defrosted my turkey and am then leaving it in the fridge for another three days with the brine – will it be ok, it won’t be spoiled will it. I alway thought you had to use defrosted meat straight away. Very keen to give this a go for christmas and have ordered my turkey from the farmers market but it will be a frozen one. Can you please advise thanks Anthea
It’ll be just fine!
I was quite busy last couple of weeks and didn’t get enough time to browse for Thanksgiving recipes. SO now I woke up at midnight and searching for receipes (phew). However, may be I got the right one. It looks so delicious in the pics. Many thanks Cassie for the recipe and pics. Happy Thanksgiving :)
Hey, FYI I had my doubts this would work for me because I started less than 24 hours before I was going to roast my turkey. It might not have been ideal, but it was delicious. And I used the mashed sweet potato recipe, too! Thank you so much!
I saw this post the week before Thanksgiving and immediately knew I was going to try it this year. I following your instructions for dry brining our 14 pound turkey and it was delicious! So simple and it added so much flavor and held moisture. My family and I decided it was the best turkey I ever roasted and the stock and then soup I made from the leftovers was amazing due to the brining flavors that were retained by the bird. Thank you so much! I will always dry brine my turkeys before roasting from now on!!
Why is it dangerous to stuff your turkey?
Because the raw turkey juices soak into the stuffing, and then you have to cook the stuffing to 165°. Most folks just measure the turkey meat when testing for doneness, which will reach 165° way before the stuffing will. So you either undercook the stuffing and risk food borne illness or overcook the turkey to get a safe stuffing.
Not necessarily. What if you use a pre-cooked stuffing? I use a sausage stuffing that is completely pre-cooked and make both stuffing and dressing using the same recipe. As the sausage heats up, it releases fat and and th onions and chestnuts release juice. Result: the turkey bastes from the inside. And, since all the ingredients are already cooked, the problem with getting both the stuffing and the bird to the right temperature is minimized.
I grill my birds in a Weber kettle, btw, and check their demo regularly.
The girls at my work were talking about brining with liquid and I mentioned your blog suggested to dry brine. They couldn’t seem to find it on your blog so I asked Craig and he told me to google it. I have printed it out and will give it to the girls tomorrow.
Thanks, Cassie and Merry Christmas!
I made this for Christmas and it was PHENOMENAL! Thanks!
Can you dry brine in a cooler instead of the refrigerator.
Maybe a dumb question….can you dry brine a defrosted frozen butterball turkey if it says that it has an 8% salt water solution in it?
What are the cooking time on this recipe. Last year I dry brined the turkey for the first time and I did not use the baking powder. But I would love to try to. Are the times and temperature the same as 400 degrees for 30 minutes in the oven breast side down. Then flip over and turn oven down to 325 degrees until the though temperature is 165? Just curious cause this recipe was slightly different. Thank you got your time
I usually just do 300° for about 10-12 minutes per pound (or until the temperature reaches about 160° and the leg joint is wiggly). I prefer the low and slow method!
First time for the dry brining, Just salted mine and set it in the fridge, I’m just apprehensive about the salt. I don’t want to serve a too salty turkey, which I have had from wet brining, probably from over soaking.. Wouldn’t a bit of a rinse be advisable first?
I’ve never had a problem with the turkey being too salty (just make sure to leave salt out of whatever roasting recipe you use), but if you’re worried about it, you can always wipe it off with a (clean and dry) kitchen towel, and then add more salt later.
Hi Cassie! I realize this post is a year old, but I’m hoping you’ll see this. I wondered if you still rub butter on the outside of the bird, or under the skin….or both? I can’t wait to try this! I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving! <3
I just put pats right on the outside of the bird. You can watch me do it in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8wwFVV8Vwk
Going to (spatchcock) butterfly my turkey this year, will this dry brine method will be fine for this? Or should i leave turkey whole while brining then butterfly when ready to cook? Thanks
I’ve never tried it with a spatchcocked turkey, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work just the same brining after spatchcocked. :)
Can or should you dry-brine a Butterball turkey.? Will it be too salty?
I’ve done it with a Butterball, and didn’t have any issues with it being too salty.
Have always wet brined my turkeys and had never seen a dry brine process was very worried after seeing it setting in the fridge for three days with no backup in place took it out deep fried an hour and was one of the juiciest turkeys we have ever had and the spices we used just enough without any over powering flavors Thanks
Giving this a try for the first time this year! Also wanted to let you know that I really enjoy & appreciate your writing style – it has such great flow. Happy Thanksgiving
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