How to Dry Brine a Turkey

roast turkey

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It’s a dilemma you face every year.

Preparing a turkey with golden crispy skin that’s still moist on the inside.

Everyone has a secret recipe they swear by for cooking a turkey.

But here’s the thing, there’s really only one crucial step you need to follow to give yourself the highest chance of turkey success.

Keep it simple and dry brine your turkey. The process is as simple as covering your turkey in salt and letting it sit in the fridge for a couple of days.

This guide will take you through the necessary steps for dry brining a turkey.

What is dry brining?

Dry brining is really just a fancy way to describe the process of rubbing meat with salt and letting it sit in a refrigerator before cooking it.

This simple act does two important things:

  1. Salt draws out juices through osmosis and then it dissolves in the juices turning into a natural brine. After that, the natural brine is absorbed back into the meat.
  2. Salt makes the meat more tender and moist – Once the natural brine has been reabsorbed in the meat, it breaks down tough proteins.

The result of this process is that the proteins hold moisture much longer, resulting in a more juicy end product.

Why dry brine a turkey?

Large, lean pieces of meat like turkey are susceptible to drying out.

Dry brining your turkey gives you many benefits:

  • If you let the turkey sit in the refrigerator uncovered for two days, the skin will dry out completely. This in return will give you a crispy and golden-brown turkey once it’s nicely cooked. 
  • Unlike wet brining which involves subliming meat in a container with a salt solution, dry brining helps you to save on space. Plus, you don’t need any special equipment to dry brine a turkey. You only need a sheet pan or a roasting pan. 
  • Dry brining is less messy than wet brining.

How to dry brine a turkey

Before you start the process, make sure that you pick the right turkey that has not been seasoned.

Avoid kosher turkeys because they are pre-salted and stay away from self-basting turkeys. They are injected with a salt solution before they are frozen.

Just go for a natural turkey.

1. Pat the turkey dry

Basically, the salting process should be done 3 days prior to cooking.

Let the turkey thaw first if it was frozen

Yes, dry brining can be done on a frozen turkey, but it won’t be that effective.

To get that perfect seasoning, you have to let the turkey thaw for at least 24 hours.

Once thawed, pat the inside and the outside of the turkey.

Make sure that the turkey is completely dry. Dryness on the turkey’s surfaces ensures that the salt does not get dissolved in any pre-wetness once it’s applied. 

2. Salt the turkey   

It doesn’t really matter if the turkey is whole or not.

Brining can also be done on a piece of turkey. 

My favorite method is to first spatchcock and then brine the turkey.

Salt is more effective when it’s rubbed directly on the meat. It makes the turkey tastier and juicier. On the contrary, sprinkling salt on the turkey’s skin means that it will take more time to penetrate completely to the meat. 

Use a ½ tablespoon of diamond crystal kosher salt per pound.

The granules of table salt are too fine to be used in this case.

Using it may leave your turkey a little bit salty. Rub the kosher salt in each and every part.

This means that you have to rub it even under the skin. And don’t forget to rub some more salt on thick areas. Something like the breast may require more salt because it’s thicker.   

3. Put the turkey in a refrigerator 

It’s better if you let the turkey sit in the refrigerator uncovered to dry off the skin.

Find a nice tray or sheet to place the turkey

You can use a rimmed baking sheet for this purpose. It will trap any moisture that drips off the turkey. What’s more? You can also place the turkey in a pan that you’ll be using later when cooking it. 

Put it in the refrigerator

Once you’ve made room for the turkey in the refrigerator, let it sit there to brine.

Normally, the process requires at least one hour per pound. It can extend up to three days depending on the size of your turkey. 

If the idea of letting a turkey sit in your refrigerator uncovered seems bizarre, you can lightly cover it with a plastic bag. However, you have to uncover it during the last six hours before cooking to dry off the skin.

4. Don’t rinse the turkey

After 3 days, the salt will season the turkey completely. You’ll notice that there will be no salt residue on the skin or on the meat.

This means that you don’t have to rinse the turkey. If you rinse it, you won’t get that crispy skin once you cook it. 

After you get past that, you can go ahead and cook your turkey. Our favorite method cooking the turkey is to smoke it at a hotter temperature than usual to help get crispy skin.

Wrapping it up

In a nutshell, dry brining is quite easy. If you have a turkey in your refrigerator consider dry brining it.

You’ll get a well-seasoned piece of meat from that. Additionally, the turkey will be quite juicy. Just remember to use kosher salt and take your time to apply it.

You should also give the turkey some good amount of time to allow the brine to settle in. 

Otherwise, let us know what you think about the article in the comments below. And don’t forget to share if you’ve enjoyed reading it. 

Joe Clements

Joe Clements

As the son of a vegeterian, I grew up dreaming about meat. Now as the founder and editor in chief of Smoked Barbecue Source I get to grill, barbecue and write about meat for a living!I'm sharing everything I learn along the way on my journey from amateur to pitmaster.

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