Thankful for Dry Brine

I normally don't post anything really food-related on this blog that isn't somehow used as an art project first, but I have been meaning to share this.  A few years ago I was asked by a friend to cook the turkey for our upcoming Thanksgiving dinner.  My first go-around turned out okay, but ever since then I have been searching for the recipe for a perfect turkey.

In recent years I started looking into the process of brining the turkey before cooking.  However, brining in itself can be a messy process since it includes immersing a large, dead piece of poultry in a salty solution for a long period of time.  An alternative solution I learned about was dry-brining, which gives the same benefits without the mess.

Over the past year I have been experimenting with dry-brining poultry and have come across a combination that seems to work fairly well.  It leaves the turkey moist, tender, and with just the right amount of salt and herb taste to it.  Here is my typical recipe that I follow for a 16 pound turkey:


  • 3 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon thyme
  • 1 onion
  • 1 orange
  • 4-6 bay leaves
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
  • Black pepper
  • Rosemary

Supplies and equipment:


I hope the turkey is thawed when you try this, otherwise you'll have a hard time.  Typically you want to do your brining for three days.  You can do this in two days in a pinch, but the longer it stays in, the better the effects.  Three days before your dinner, lay the turkey out on a cookie sheet (or another type of container that will contain any spills).  In a small bowl mix together 3 1/2 tablespoons of kosher salt and 1 tablespoon of thyme.  You can remove the giblets and place them aside if you're going to be using them.  Pat the turkey down with paper towels to remove any excess moisture.  Rub the salt and thyme mixture on the outside and interior cavity, focusing on the breasts and thighs.

You will then need to place the salted turkey into the 2.5 gallon storage bag.  (Place the giblets in as well if you are going to use them.)  Place the turkey in the refrigerator, breast side up.  Every 12 hours, massage the breast and thighs of the turkey through the bag, then alternate between breast side up and breast side down.

At least 8 hours before you need to start cooking the turkey, take it out of the bag and place it on a platter or cookie sheet in the fridge.  Pat it down to remove any excess moisture.

One hour before cooking remove the turkey from the fridge and place at room temperature.  Slice the onion and orange into quarters and set aside.  Remove the butter from the fridge to soften up and slice into 1 tablespoon sized segments.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  Here's where things can get a bit tricky, but with a careful hand, you can make it work.  Carefully separate the skin from the breast and thighs of the turkey, taking care not to tear the skin.  Place the pads of butter under the skin and inside the inner cavity.  Season beneath the skin with salt, pepper, rosemary, and bay leaves.  Stuff quartered onion and orange into inner cavity.

Place turkey in a roasting pan on top of a roasting rack (I find that if I don't elevate it from the bottom of the pan, it tends to fall apart while cooking... not ideal)When cooking your turkey, follow the standard guidelines for cooking length.  I typically cook mine at 500 degrees for the first 30 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 325 for the remainder of the cooking time.  If the skin around the breast starts to look too brown the last hour, I place a light foil tent over it to shield it from the direct heat.

Once your turkey is done cooking, remove it from the oven and let it sit for 30 minutes lightly tented in aluminum foil.  After that, have at it!  I hope it turns out good.  This method hasn't ever let me down for creating moist, tender, savory turkey that all can enjoy.

One thing to note is that because of the salt-brining, the drippings might be too salty to be used in any gravy.  That is one drawback to this method, but you can always find alternative methods to cook gravy.

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