Using this dry brine for turkey recipe is a sure way to get a perfectly crispy, super flavorful and moist turkey. It takes a little more planning to use a dry brine, but the end result is the best oven-roasted turkey you ever had!
Over the years I’ve cooked turkeys in a variety of ways and always had varied results from the different cooking methods, brines and spices used.
This year for Thanksgiving I decided to try Ina Garten’s make ahead turkey recipe. I’ve modified it a little and the result was an amazingly crispy, flavorful and still moist turkey that had my husband going for seconds, something he hardly does when it comes to turkey.
When I host Christmas this year, I might just have to dry brine and roast another turkey for my family. It was really the best turkey we’ve ever had.
This process of applying dry brine to a turkey requires a little more planning, but it makes things much easier for the day that you are cooking the turkey, which to me is completely worth it.
What is a Dry Brine?
A dry brine is a mix of herbs, salt and sometimes sugar that is spread on turkey to flavor the meat and improve the texture (i.e. crisp the skin).
The main difference between a dry brine and wet brine is the liquid used in a wet brine. For whole turkeys, a dry brine is much more manageable since you don’t need a container big enough to submerse the entire turkey. You also don’t need a dedicated fridge to store it either.
The other difference and maybe the biggest advantage of a dry brine is that if you follow the steps of this recipe, the salt will draw the liquid away from the skin of the bird, which allows it to crisp beautifully in the oven.
Another reason to dry brine versus using a wet brine is with a dry brine you can leave the meat in the fridge longer without affecting the protein. In wet brines, you can affect its moisture and texture if left in liquid for too long.
While you can dry brine any meat for a few hours before roasting, you will achieve the best results if you follow the brining and resting instructions on this recipe.
Can I Dry Brine a Turkey Breast?
Yes, you can dry brine turkey breast, chicken, steak or any other type of meat.
For steaks, 24 to 48 hrs resting time in an airtight container is recommended.
Can I Dry Brine a Frozen Turkey?
Brining a completely frozen turkey is impossible, because of two reasons:
- you need to clean the turkey and remove the innards before dry brining
- the dry brine will not penetrate the skin of the turkey to flavor the meat
If you are short on time, you can dry brine a partially frozen turkey as long as the bird and its skin have thawed enough to be cleaned and rubbed.
If you choose to do that, you still want to allow the turkey to thaw and brine in the fridge for a couple days before roasting.
My recommendation is that you thaw the turkey before applying the seasoning mixture. The reason for it is that you can properly clean it and apply the seasoning in the cavity of the bird, which will make it more flavorful.
How to Dry Brine a Turkey
There are a few steps that you absolutely should follow in order to achieve the results I achieved.
Step 1- Plan your timeframe (5-6 days)
To dry brine a turkey before roasting it takes some planning. Usually you brine for 1-2 days before roasting and depending where you get your turkey you might also have to allow for thawing before brining.
The turkey I bought was not completely frozen, but I left it the fridge for 2 days before starting the brining process. Once brined, I left it in the fridge for another 3 days. I roasted the turkey on Thanksgiving day. If you like to have yours roasted the day before, then allow 6-8 days for thawing and brining.
Step 2 – Clean and dry brine the turkey
This process is pretty straight forward. Clean the turkey, remove innards, place it on a baking sheet and pat it dry with a paper towel.
Spread the dry mix all over the turkey, including inside the turkey, cover with a plastic wrap and place it back in the fridge for 2 days. One day before you want to roast the turkey, take the plastic wrap off the turkey and let it rest overnight in the fridge.
This last is very important as it will dry the skin of the turkey to a translucent color, which will make the turkey skin crisp up beautifully in the oven.
Step 3 – Fill, baste and roast the turkey
Remove the turkey from the baking sheet, discard any liquid in the baking sheet and place it in a roasting pan with a rack.
Don’t rinse the turkey or you will remove the dry brine.
Fill the poultry cavity with the herbs and lemon and baste the entire turkey with melted butter and lemon zest. Roast it, turning it at midpoint and basting it again.
Add liquid to the bottom of the roasting pan before putting it in the oven to make sure you don’t burn the drippings.
Dry Brine for Turkey
- 12-14 lbs turkey
- 3 tbsps salt
- 2 tbsps thyme powder
- 2 lemons zested
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme
- Clean turkey and remove innards. Place turkey on a baking sheet and pat the turkey dry with a paper towel.
- Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and rub it on the turkey, making sure to coat the skin well and get the mixture into all the folds.
- Cover the turkey with plastic wrap and put the turkey back into the fridge for 2 days.
- On the 3rd day, remove the plastic wrap and keep the turkey in the fridge for another day uncovered.
- Roast the turkey per instructions on package.
What recipe should I make next?