Dry Brine Turkey

I’m already on record as a pumpkin pie hater, I might as well publicly announce I feel the same way about turkey. I understand how people are inspired by the look of a gargantuan perfectly browned Norman Rockwell bird as the centerpiece of a holiday meal. I just don’t understand how so many folks actually like the taste and general lack of moistness of the darned things. I much prefer roasting a large capon (always juicy and tender), but cave into peer pressure every couple of years and give turkey another try.

I’ve had turkey prepared in every way imaginable-injected & deep fried, smoked, crock-pot cooked, spatchcocked & grilled…and with every imaginable spice combo on earth. To date, I’ve only found one way to make a turkey palatable and that would be brining. But not wet brining in an unwieldy vat of salt water, but dry brining.

Brining works this way…soaking in a salt water solution draws the moisture out of the bird initially but then is reabsorbed into the cells of the flesh, seasoning and moisturizing during the process. The salt works to make the turkey retain water as it roasts. The scientific name for this is diffusion and osmosis. I also feel that dry brining improves the texture of the meat (unlike wet brining). Dry brining is easier and far less messy than the current darling of cooking shows, wet brining. The recipe and dry brining technique are straightforward. This is the method I use and I highly recommend it (unless you are roasting a nice plump already juicy capon):

Dry Brined Roast Turkey

For a 12 pound “natural” whole thawed turkey (not Kosher which is already salted) you will need

½ cup kosher or sea salt

2 tablespoon granulated white sugar

(optional but definitely not needed-seasonings such as garlic, herbs, spices, citrus peel, wine, etc.)

Thaw, wash and dry the turkey with paper towels well. Combine the salt and sugar and gently work about a teaspoon under the skin of each breast and thigh as far as possible without tearing the skin.  I carefully use the blunt end of a wooden spoon handle to gently separate the skin from the meat to reach way under the skin. Rub another teaspoon all over the outside of the bird and evenly sprinkle the remainder in the cavity.

Place on a rack, loosely covered with plastic wrap in a large pan (the pan you will be roasting the bird in will do) for 12-24 hours.

To roast, rinse the bird well inside and out under cool water to remove the excess salt and dry the skin and cavity very well with paper towels. The dryer the skin, the crisper the skin will become. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine and tuck the tips of the wings under the bird. Rub the bird all over with softened butter. Place the unstuffed bird in a 425 degree oven on a rack and roast for 30 minutes.

After the first 30 minutes, lower the heat to 350 degrees and baste every 30 minutes with additional butter or pan drippings for approximately 2-3 hours or until the internal temperature taken in the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees on a meat thermometer;  juices from inside the cavity will have no trace of pink. Don’t rely on that pop-up thermometer that comes with your turkey.

Remove the turkey from the oven, place on a large platter, uncovered, to rest while you make gravy with the pan drippings. Resting allows the meat juices to redistribute and makes carving easier.

  1. Well, I’m going for it girlfriend. The turkey is almost thawed and I’m starting the dry brine in the morning (Wed.). I printed out the recipe you gave & showed it to hubby and he was all for it. Then tonight he says are you sure you want to try a recipe you’ve never used before? And you know what? I’m going with it. It sounds wonderful coming from someone who doesn’t even like it, lol. And hey, I’ve screwed up turkey every other way you can even imagine… So, why not this way or bust? It just sounds so incredibly simple that it must be good. I trust you, my blog friend. I mean, you can make freaking witches fingers, for crying out loud! I’m sure I’ll be singing your praises…

      • lvegas
      • November 24th, 2009

      Make sure to rinse the brine out from under the skin really well before you roast it so it’s not too salty……..now I’m going to be a nervous wreck worrying about your turkey! LOL!!!!

  2. like this very much … will have to give it a try…maybe on a large roaster…not doing the turkey myself this year – doing smoked from a fundraiser….

  3. Your turkey sounds delicious! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. I’m so bad at making turkey that we almost always have a big beef tenderloin for Thanksgiving & Christmas because I know I can’t screw that up.

    However, this year we’re invited over to the home of close friends and they asked me to do a turkey and they are doing the tenderloin. I am scared to death I’m going to screw it up but this really does sound easy. I think I’m going to have to put your theory to the test because I always feel that wet brining is a huge pain in the arse.

      • lvegas
      • November 21st, 2009

      You know what Liz? I always make a standing rib roast, too. That way there’s something tasty on the table. I’m just not a fan of turkey. I don’t even like the way it smells when it’s cooking but this dry brine thing seems to kill some of that smell. And it honestly does make the bird juicier. It’s the only way I’ll cook a turkey anymore. Let me know if you try this method and how it turned out for you.

  5. wow what a beautiful roasted turkey you really captured that color perfectly delicious

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