How to Cook & Dry Brine a Turkey

I'm not a huge turkey fan, but a few years ago, I volunteered to make the turkey for my family I made it my mission to figure out how to make it magically delicious. So there were two things that I wanted to address when making my turkey. First, roasted whole turkey tends to be dry and second, it tends to be a bit bland.

My sister suggested that I brine the turkey. While wet brining is a great way to inject flavor and tenderize  meat, its a pain in the ass to pull off! Especially for a large turkey. I'm not fooling with that mess. Enter my savior, the dry brine. You accomplish the same juicy, delicious, tenderness of a wet brine without the hassle.

For peak flavor I recommend starting the process three days in advance. But if you don't have the time, brine for one day at least! I only had one day for the turkey pictured above and it came out delicous! Of course the bigger the piece of meat the more time you want to allow for the process.

What You'll Need

  • 10-13 lbs fresh turkey (make sure it has not already been brined and/or there is no salt added!)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 orange
  • 2 tablespoons fresh or dried herbs (I used rosemary, thyme, and sage. You can add lavender, oregano, or marjoram, I used them last year. Most grocery stores sell a bunch of poultry herbs in the fresh herb section.)
  • 3 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse black pepper
  • 5 sprigs of fresh herbs
  • 1 teaspoon Sugar (optional)
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter


  • Roasting pan (I recommend a non stick pan, it makes clean up so much easier)
  • meat thermometer
  • Knife
  • cutting board
  • Small bowl
  • Measuring spoons
  • Large baking sheet

Remove the turkey from the package. Remove the giblets inside, save them (you can use them to make delicous stock so pop them in a freezer bag and save them for later). Remove any remaining feathers, trim fat, and rinse your turkey. Pat dry and set aside.

Place the course salt, pepper, and sugar in a bowl. Zest the lemon and the orange and add to salt mixture. Slice them both into quarters and set aside.

Finely chop the fresh herbs and add them to the salt mixture. Save 5 sprigs for when you roast the turkey.

Mix the rub really well. You don't want any clumps.

First you want to season the cavity with about 2 teaspoons of the dry brine mix.

Gently, loosen the skin and put the seasoning directly on the meat. Generously season the breast meat. Be careful not to rip the skin. If you do rip it all is not lost. you can use a toothpick to put the pieces back together.

Let the turkey rest in your refrigerator uncovered for at least one day.

The night before you roast, take a stick of butter out of the fridge so that it will be nice and soft the next morning.

About an hour before go time I like to take my turkey out and let it come close to room temp.

Spread the butter all over the turkey, but especially under the skin. Stuff te turkey with the remaining fresh herbs and the lemons and orange pieces.

Now you're ready to cook it however you want!

I roast mine (one day my deep frying dreams will come true). 20 minutes for every pound of turkey has worked well for me, these 13 lb turkeys took just under 4 hours.

Notes on Cooking the turkey:

  • Take note of the total number of pounds on the packaging before discarding the packaging.
  • Using a thawed turkey is best. You can use a semi thawed turkey, but you really want access to the meat under the skin.
  • Carve the turkey before you bring it out to the table. Watch this video to learn how to do it.
  • Save the remaining meat and bones for stock. Don't let any of that delicous meat go to waste.
  • Consider making two small turkeys instead of one big turkey. It saves time and there are more yummy pieces for the fam.