Dry Brine for the Best Turkey Ever

I debated whether to take the extra step to brine my Thanksgiving turkey. I’d encountered several disasters in previous years, yet the process yielded deliciously succulent meat. The first time I brined, I did not have a brining bag, and the only way I could get the turkey covered and refrigerated was to use one of the vegetable bins. I didn’t have a bucket or container that would fit in my refrigerator. Well, all I can say is much sloshing ensued, producing a messy, watery cleanup.

The following year,  I tried brining in a large plastic bag, but the bag leaked, and again my refrigerator was a mess. 

My Dry Brined Thanksgiving Turkey
My Dry Brined Thanksgiving Turkey

But, in 2021, I read a few blogs that suggested a dry brine.  The method sounded odd, and to be honest, somewhat wrong, but several reviewers claimed it worked perfectly and involved no water.  So, I was ready to try.  

Directions said to mix a few herbs into kosher salt and rub the mixture all over the bird.  They also said to rub it inside the cavity. The method is easy, cheap, and quick.  But,  the odd part, at least to me, was placing the bird in the refrigerator uncovered for the next two or three days. 

Dry brining is supposed to tenderize the muscle proteins and retain moisture. In my opinion –it works!!! My Thanksgiving turkey was the absolute best bird I have ever cooked, and I have roasted many over the years.  I will absolutely follow this method from now on.  I highly recommend you try it.  

One more tip, since you don’t wash off the salt, you must watch how much of the pan drippings go into the gravy.  I didn’t think about that, and my gravy tasted salty. (I generally do not eat a lot of salted food.)  When making my gravy, I added turkey broth from one of those soft-sided cartons and did not use a low-sodium version.  Lesson learned.  

A candlelite table ready for Thanksgiving dinner.
Thanksgiving table set with a dry brined and roasted turkey.

Directions for Dry Brining a Turkey 

  1. Pat the turkey dry.
  2. At least one day (and up to three days) before you intend to roast your turkey, start the salting process.
  3. Remove the giblets from the turkey cavity, and then pat dry. Be sure to swab the whole turkey (both inside and outside).
  4. Cover the turkey in salt. Use 1 tablespoon of kosher salt for every 4 pounds. Mix the salt with a few dry herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme! Use kosher salt for the brine, not refined table salt, because of the size and structure of salt crystals. Rub the dry brine into all the crevices and inside the cavity too.
  5. Refrigerate the turkey uncovered. Set the salted bird on a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet (to catch any liquid that drips off) or whatever pan you plan to cook it in. Pop it in the refrigerator and leave it there, uncovered, to brine for at least 1 hour per pound. With a dry brine, you can’t really over-brine, but we are talking poultry, so you’ll probably want to max out the salt-covered rest at three full days before you roast the turkey.
  6. Don’t rinse it. After a few days, the salt will have done its job. There’s no need to rinse the bird because there shouldn’t be any salt residue on the outside of the skin (though there may be residual spices or herbs if you used them—feel free to leave them or brush them off). 
  7. Let your dry-brined turkey sit out at room temperature for up to an hour before you proceed with cooking, though. I rinsed out the roasting pan (used during the brining) and returned the turkey to the roasting rack. I stuffed the bird right before I put it in the oven

Roast your turkey or cook it however you like.

I am a traditionalist and always roast my turkeys. But if you want to deep-fry, go ahead. Whatever method you choose, feel free to coat the turkey with softened unsalted butter.

Just remember—unlike wet-brined turkeys, dry-brined birds don’t absorb liquid during the brining process—the dry brine just helps the turkey to hold on to the moisture it has. So you might want to add an extra cup or two of water or another liquid to your roasting pan to ensure the drippings don’t burn.

The dry rubbed turkey is carved and the table is set.
Carved turkey and side dishes at Thanksgiving.