How to Dry Brine a Turkey

For the perfect turkey or holiday bird, a dry brine is essential.  In just 3 days and a few easy steps, you will have the moistest and incredibly juicy bird you have ever had.  My recipe to dry brine a turkey is simple, easy, and all you need is your turkey, salt, and a bag.   It takes a few days and overnights in the refrigerator so you need to plan ahead. That is really the hardest part of a dry brine, remembering to start this a few days before you want to cook your turkey, chicken, or other bird.   Salt makes a simple brine with a lot of flavor and impact and I highly recommend you make this a Thanksgiving Turkey Tradition!

What is Dry Brine?

I am a huge fan of the dry brine method. If you have not heard of what a dry brine is, it simply means to “pre-salt”.   By salting a turkey or any other poultry for several days before cooking, you are allowing the meat to breakdown like a natural tenderizer.   It is an easy and relatively clean process.  Not to mention it only takes 2 ingredients; your turkey and salt!

Seriously, no one should NOT be doing this.  I recommend this method for turkeys and chicken. I have done this method for several years now and I get so many compliments on how amazing the turkey comes out year after year.

I know many people wet brine which includes a huge bucket of solution that the turkey needs to soak in for days. I have to admit I have never tried it but the fact that almost my entire refrigerator for days will be taken over by this massive concoction is just not something I am ready to commit any time or space for.  I mean who has all that extra space in their refrigerator during the holidays?

Dry Brine All The Way!! 

 

dry brine a turkey
All you need to dry brine a turkey

 

Why Dry Brine a Turkey?

The simple answer is to retain moisture, flavor, and result in tender meat.  But how this exactly works is a bit of food science. I am no Alton Brown but to put it into simple terms, the process of dry brining is a form of osmosis.

The salt draws out the juices and passes it through the bird.  As the salt dissolves into the juices, it begins turning into a natural brine without any other liquid needed (no huge bucket of solution).  This dry brine is a natural process that is then reabsorbed into the meat and begins breaking down the muscle proteins so they are succulent instead of tough.

 

Salt to Turkey Ratios:

The rule of thumb is 1 TB of kosher salt for every 4 pounds of turkey.  For this post, I am working with an almost 15# turkey so the amount of salt used is 4 TB which is equal to 1/4 cup.  I tend to round up, the salt will all get worked in since there is no way to ‘over salt” and have too much dry brine.

1 Tablespoon of kosher salt = every 4 pounds of turkey (or chicken)

Salt = Moisture! 

1 TB salt = 0-4# bird

2 TB salt = 5-8# bird

3 TB salt = 9-12# bird

4 TB salt = 13-16# bird

5 TB salt = 17-20# bird

6 TB salt = 21-24# bird

 

How Many Days to Dry Brine a Turkey?

I believe 3 days are ideal but aim for at least 24 hours before you plan to cook your bird.  For Thanksgiving, I begin this process typically Sunday evening.  That gives me 3 full days to brine.  We typically eat around lunchtime on Thursday, which means the bird goes in the oven pretty early and I want at least 3 full days for my bird to brine.

 

Steps for Dry Brining a Turkey:

 

Cut open the packaging to remove the turkey.  Next, remove the turkey parts that are packaged within the turkey carcass (typically neck bone, heart, liver, etc).  Discard or save for other uses later, like turkey neck soup!

 

Turkey ready for dry brine
Turkey ready for dry brine

 

I do NOT rinse my poultry before cooking. There are two sides to this debate and I am on the, do not wash the bird side. HERE IS WHY YOU SHOULD NOT WASH YOUR TURKEY OR CHICKEN! 

 

I pat the skin dry as much as possible. This is so that any moisture does not start to dissolve the salt immediately. The key is to have the salt absorb slowly and work its magic through the skin and into the meat below.

 

dry brine turkey
Pat the turkey dry

 

At this point, I measure out my salt and start with the breast side up.  On this side, I tend to use about 2/3 of the salt. I sprinkle it all over the skin facing up and concentrate on the breasts and thighs the most.  This is because these areas are not only a very meaty section but can be the first part to dry out when cooking. Therefore, the more dry brine in that area, the better.  For the underside, the wings and bottom of the thighs are where I concentrate the salt.

 

salt turkey for dry brine
Pour salt over the turkey

 

pat salt for dry brine
Pat the salt evenly over the turkey

 

Once the entire bird is coated and the salt is patted on evenly to stick, it is ready for the refrigerator.  With the assistance of my husband, we get the bird into a large bag.  I use a large 13-gallon trash bag (UNSCENTED is key).  I then twist tie it closed. The bagged turkey goes on a baking sheet into my refrigerator.  This is where it will stay until Thursday morning.

Turkey in the bag!
Turkey in the bag!

 

However, every day I will rotate the bird each morning and each evening so it can be breast up at times and breast down at times.  Each time I rotate, I will also “massage” the bird through the bag and work that salt in.

 

dry brine a turkey
Refrigerate while dry brine works its magic

 

dry brine turkey massage
massage & flip the bagged turkey 2x daily

 

When it is time to cook your bird, simply remove it from the sealed bag.  Pat it dry.  There is no reason to rinse it, the bird will not be “salty”.   Then season, dressing, roast, smoke, fry, or whatever next steps you do.  This year we will be frying ours at a friend’s house. He has mastered this and will be teaching Ian how best to do it and to stay safe. I cannot wait!

 

How Long to Cook a Turkey

Cook time on a turkey when roasting in the oven is all about two things; how big is your bird and is it stuffed?   Here is the ultimate Turkey Roasting Time Chart when cooking in an oven at 350° and the bird is 100% defrosted.

Unstuffed Turkey Cook Times, 15 minutes per pound:

8 – 12 pounds = 2 – 3 hours

12-18 pounds  =  3- 4.5 hours

18 – 22 pounds  =  4.5 – 5.5 hours

22 – 26 pounds = 5.5 – 6.5 hours

 

Stuffed Turkey Cook Times, 20 minutes per pound:

8 – 12 pounds = 2.5 – 4 hours

12-18 pounds  =  4- 6 hours

18 – 22 pounds  =  6 – 7.5 hours

22 – 26 pounds = 7.5 – 8.5 hours

 

Make sure your turkey has reached an internal temperature of 165° to be sure it is done.  Check either the middle of the breast or the innermost part of the thigh.

There is no better way to prepare your holiday turkey.  You will wonder why you have not been doing this all these years.  Prepare to get so many compliments and for people to ask you how you did it.  Let them know it is so easy and share the step by step guide here.  Happy Holidays!

 

 

PIN FOR SAFEKEEPING & SHARING!

 

how to dry brine a turkey
How to Dry Brine a Turkey PIN

 

Product Recommendations for this Recipe:

 

 

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pat salt for dry brine

How to Dry Brine a Turkey

Angela
In just 3 days you can have the perfect holiday bird. When you dry brine a turkey, it is so moist and juicy. This works great for turkey, chicken, and other birds.
5 from 4 votes
Prep Time 3 d
Total Time 3 d
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 10

Equipment

  • baking sheet
  • 13-gallon unscented trash bag

Ingredients
  

  • 1 TB kosher salt PER 4# OF TURKEY (or chicken)
  • Whole Turkey or chicken

Instructions
 

  • Cut open the packaging to remove the turkey.  Next, remove the turkey parts that are packaged within the turkey carcass (typically neck bone, heart, liver, etc).  Discard or save for other uses later, like turkey neck soup!
  • I pat the skin dry as much as possible. This is so that any moisture does not start to dissolve the salt immediately. The key is to have the salt absorb slowly and work its magic through the skin and into the meat below.
  • At this point, I measure out my salt and start with the breast side up.  On this side, I tend to use about 2/3 of the salt. I sprinkle it all over the skin facing up and concentrate on the breasts and thighs the most.  This is because these areas are not only a very meaty section but can be the first part to dry out when cooking. Therefore, the more dry brine in that area, the better.  For the underside, the wings and bottom of the thighs are where I concentrate the salt.
  • Once the entire bird is coated and the salt is patted on evenly to stick, it is ready for the refrigerator.  With the assistance of my husband, we get the bird into a large bag.  I use a large 13-gallon trash bag (UNSCENTED is key).  I then twist tie it closed. The bagged turkey goes on a baking sheet into my refrigerator. 
  • Every day I will rotate the bird each morning and each evening so it can be breast up at times and breast down at times.  Each time I rotate, I will also “massage” the bird through the bag and work that salt in.
  • When it is time to cook your bird, simply remove it from the sealed bag.  Pat it dry.  There is no reason to rinse it, the bird will not be “salty”.   Then season, dressing, roast, smoke, fry, or whatever next steps you do.
  • How long to cook a turkey times are listed above. Enjoy!
Keyword dairy-free, gluten-free, grain-free, holiday, thanksgiving

 

WHAT TO SERVE WITH TURKEY:

Instant Pot (pressure cooker) Cranberry Apple Sauce

 

Amazing Roasted Green Beans with Everything But the Bagel Sesame Seasoning


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