Dry brining turkey is a genius technique for truly juicy roast turkey. It’s far more practical than wet brines (no buckets!), it roasts faster, the turkey flavour is better, the skin is truly crispy and you can even start the brining while the turkey is still FROZEN!
There is nothing more devastating than labouring for hours over the Thanksgiving or Christmas table centrepiece only to find that it’s dry – especially the breast meat. Even drowning it in gravy can’t completely compensate.
Last year I shared my Slow Cooker Turkey Breast which is a fantastic alternative if you are feeding a smaller group or for a less hands-on alternative. But you can’t cook a whole turkey in the slow cooker!
So this year I’m sharing my other method – DRY brined whole roast turkey. It’s better and easier than wet brining. The wet brining method is more well known. It’s logistically more challenging because you not only need a bucket large enough to hold the brining solution and turkey, but you need space in the fridge for that bucket. My fridge isn’t large enough!
If you are determined to use a wet brine, here’s my tip – brine it in the vegetable crisper in your fridge. Yup, you read that right! It’s a tip I picked up from The Kitchn. My turkey is 10 pounds / 5 kg and it fits easily in the vegetable crisper. I could fit a 14 pound / 7kg turkey in there.
I didn’t actually cook this wet brined turkey in the photo below. I just did this to show you how it works. 🙂 The brine I used is from my Succulent Roast Chicken which uses a brine by the famous restauranteur Thomas Keller of Per Se in New York and the French Laundry in San Francisco. You can scale up the recipe to use it for Turkey.
Dry brining has the same effect as wet brining by trapping juices in the meat when the turkey is roasting. And this experiment by Serious Eats shows that there is very little difference in the juiciness of the flesh between dry brining and wet brining. Ever since I read that article, I have never wet brined a turkey.
Take a good look at this photo – you can actually see the moisture in the turkey breast. When you cut into the meat, juice actually squeezes out! You have to see it with your own eyes to believe it. 🙂
There are four more very important advantages of dry brining.
1. The turkey tastes like turkey. Not water. If you search on the internet, you’ll read lots of grievances by people who have tried the wet brining method who say that though the turkey is moist, the moisture tastes bland – not like turkey. Which makes sense, right? The turkey sucks in the brine and unless it is heavily flavoured with broth, the turkey is sucking in largely flavourless liquid. Whereas with dry brining, the turkey releases its own juices then sucks its own juices back in. Turkey on turkey flavour!
2. The roasting juices aren’t too salty to use for gravy. Another problem many people have with wet brined turkey is that the roasting juices can be too salty to use for gravy. You can compensate by plonking in raw potatoes into the gravy to suck out the salt, but….it’s just one more thing you can avoid by using dry brining! (PS You won’t have this problem with chicken because it’s so much smaller than turkey).
3. You can start brining while the turkey is still partially frozen. It takes 3 days – yes, 3 WHOLE days – to defrost a 10 pound / 5kg turkey in the fridge. Whereas with this recipe I’m sharing, I accelerate the partial defrosting of the turkey in cold water then it finishes defrosting WHILE it is brining.
4. It roasts faster. I roasted a 5 lb / 10kg turkey in 2 hours. True story. And look – here it is, straight out of the oven after 2 hours and the thermometer is bang on 175F/75C (which = perfectly cooked turkey!).
This is how I serve the turkey. After it’s had some time to shine as the centrepiece of the table (you do that too, right??), I whisk it away to carve up. Remove the legs first, remove and slice the breast, then remove the wings. Pile it all on a platter and let everyone help themselves! Don’t stress about time. Turkey stays warm for at least 1 hour – up to 1.5 hours – after taking it out of the oven.
This recipe also makes a killer gravy. You’ll find that there is far less pan juices with brined turkey and that’s a good thing because the juices are trapped inside the turkey instead of dripping into the pan. 🙂 However, there are enough pan juices to make a gravy and also, I toss the turkey neck in (you should find it stuffed inside the turkey when you purchase it).
Plus, I add extra flavour by roasting garlic and onion with the turkey. This actually serves a double purpose – flavour for the gravy and also elevates the turkey off the roasting pan in case you don’t have a roasting rack.
As you can see in the above photo, I do like to serve turkey with cranberry sauce too! Is it wrong to have gravy AND cranberry sauce on my plate? I don’t think so! Sweet and savoury – that’s all the rage nowadays, right? 😉
This turkey is part of my 2015 Thanksgiving / Christmas Menu Special where I show you how to make 8 dishes for a full feast with with just 2 hours of active effort. Plus, most of it can be made ahead – or you can make it all on the day (other than brining the turkey).
Here’s a list of everything in the feast (clockwise starting from the turkey). Maximum flavour, minimum effort, no crowding the oven!
- Genius Easy Juicy Roast Turkey (Dry Brined) – this recipe which takes only 2 hours to roast;
- Easy Classic Cranberry Sauce – 2 minutes prep, 15 minutes hands off cooking;
- Pork Sausage & Apple Stuffing by Kathleen from Hapa Nom Nom. Hands down still the best stuffing recipe I have ever had. Make ahead or on the day, reheat it while the turkey is resting. Also see recipe notes for why I don’t put the stuffing IN the turkey;
- Stovetop Glazed Carrots – 12 minutes on the stove, because I only have 1 oven and carrots don’t make the cut;
- Skillet corn bread – 10 minutes prep, make ahead or on the day. It can be baked while the turkey is resting;
- Iceberg lettuce wedges with ranch dressing – because if we must have greens, let make it something that takes 30 seconds to chop;
- Green beans – great make ahead, just blanch the beans and make the dressing the day before;
- Creamy Mashed Potatoes (with Restaurant Make-Ahead trick) – YES you can make mashed potato ahead! Find out how restaurants do it – super easy!
So here’s my recipe for the Genius Easy Juicy Roast Turkey made by dry brining. It is based on this recipe from the LA Times which has a cult following – with good reason! I’ve added extra tips and tricks to help make this a breeze for you!
We might not officially have Thanksgiving here in Australia, but I’ll use any excuse to cook for a crowd, and I’m having friends over TONIGHT for a Thanksgiving dinner to help me consume this! – Nagi x
Dry brining is my preferred method for roast turkey because it's easier and more practical than wet brining (no bucket!), you can brine while the turkey is still partially frozen and it cooks faster. Also, the turkey is juicy and tastes like turkey rather than water and the roasting juices are not too salty to use for gravy which is a common problem with wet brining. You need to start this recipe 3 days before serving. Don't get too hung up about the exact time you start brining, as long as it is approximately 3 days - give or take half a day or so. I've even done it for 2 days and 4 days and it was great! 🇦🇺AUSTRALIA: Do not make this using "self basting" turkey, see note 9 for more info.
- 10 lb / 5kg whole turkey , frozen or fresh (Note 1 & 2)
- 2 tbsp salt (Note 4)
- 2 tsp dried thyme , or other herb of choice (Note 5)
- 1 tsp paprika (Note 5)
- Black pepper
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp fresh herbs , finely chopped or 1 1/2 tsp dried herbs (Note 6) (optional)
- 1 garlic clove , crushed (optional)
- 2 heads of garlic
- 2 onions , quartered (white, brown or yellow)
- Small bunch parsley (optional)
- 3 cups / 750 ml low salt chicken broth / stock
- 3 1/2 tbsp plain flour (all purpose flour)
- Salt and pepper
Mix together the salt, thyme, paprika and pepper.
Pat the turkey dry with paper towels.
Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt inside and use you hand to spread it (roughly is fine).
Turn the turkey upside down, then rub 1 teaspoon of the salt mixture on the underside.
Turn the turkey upright and rub the remaining salt on the turkey, using most on the breast.
Place the turkey in a sealable plastic bag (Note 7) breast side down (drumsticks lying down in the pan), in a roasting pan in the fridge.
About 12 hours later, turn the turkey over so the breast side is up (drumsticks sticking up). On day 2 (24 hours later) turn it again so the breast side is down.
On day 3, remove the turkey from the bag. The skin should be moist but not wet. If wet, pat dry.
See note 9 for 2016 Christmas timeline for starting / brining recipe.
Preheat oven to 425F/220C.
Place the onions and garlic in the roasting pan. Place a roasting rack on top - if you have one, otherwise don't worry, the onion and garlic will elevate the turkey.
Melt butter with herbs and garlic in the microwave.
Optional - tie drumsticks together with kitchen twine.
Brush turkey with most of the melted butter - underside and on top.
Place turkey UPSIDE DOWN on the rack. Twist the wings so they are on top - see photo below.
Roast for 30 minutes.
Use a tea towel to turn the turkey over. Pour 1/2 cup water into the roasting pan.
Baste with remaining butter.
Turn oven down to 325F/165C. Roast turkey for a further 1 1/2 hours (total of 2 hours) until a) the thermometer that comes with the turkey pops up (America) b) a thermometer inserted between the breast and leg reads 165F/75C c) the juices run clear when you pierce the turkey between the breast and leg (if you don't have a) or b) ).
Add the neck into the roasting pan for the last 30 minutes or so.
Remove turkey onto serving plate, cover loosely with foil and rest for 30 minutes.
Place roasting pan (with garlic, onion etc still in it) on the stove over medium high heat. Add flour and cook for 2 minutes.
Add broth and use a potato masher to mash the onion and garlic into the mixture. Use a wooden spoon to scrap the bottom of the pan. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until thickened.
Strain into a bowl, pressing down to extract all the flavour out of the onion and garlic. Transfer to gravy boat.
1. DEFROSTING: If your turkey is frozen, follow the instructions in Note 1 to partially defrost before rubbing with salt. If your turkey has the giblets (Note 3) inside, remove them and set aside (to make gravy).
For a fast way to defrost frozen turkey (which should come tightly sealed in plastic) - submerge in a sink full of cold (not hot) tap water. Use tins or something heavy to weigh it down. Change the water every 30 minutes or so.
You just need to defrost it enough so the skin is defrosted (to rub the salt in) and so you can get the giblets out from inside the turkey and salt the inside. It took me 2 hours - but it's summer here in Sydney!
You can also defrost it overnight in the fridge (that usually enough to partially defrost) or on the counter for a few hours (not too long, otherwise you will be at risk of harmful bacteria starting to develop!)
OUT OF TIME! If you are super pressed for time, defrost the turkey enough so the skin is pliable (about 1 hour in the sink) even if it's not defrosted enough to get the giblets out from inside the turkey or to salt the inside. In this case, salt the outside of the turkey and reserve the salt for the inside of the turkey. Then refrigerate per recipe and 24 hours later it should be defrosted enough so you can remove the giblets, then salt the inside. 1 day less brining of the inside of the turkey is not a deal breaker. 🙂
Also, if you are really really out of time, you can brine for 2 days and it will be noticeably more moist than not brining at all, but not quite as good as brining for 3 days. 🙂
2. RIGHT TURKEY - you can NOT use this recipe for store bought brined or kosher turkey. It will be far too salty! Check the ingredients on the packaging. If salt is there, then the turkey is brined.
3. Giblets are a parcel of turkey offcuts that are usually stuffed inside the turkey and are used to make the gravy. It usually comprises of: neck, heart and liver. Use the neck and heart for turkey gravy.
4. SALT scale up: Use 1 tablespoon of salt + 1 tsp dried herbs / spices for every 2.5 kg / 5 lb of of turkey weight. So 2 tablespoons of salt for a 5 kg / 10 lb turkey. But if your turkey is 25 lb / 12.5 kg, which suggests using 5 tbsp salt, I would reduce it by 1 tbsp (because flesh thickness and skin surface area doesn't increase in proportion to turkey weight). Excess salt will drip off, and it melts during the brine time.
5. You can substitute with whatever herbs and spices you want. I like using paprika because it adds to the "golden" colour with a hint of warmth.
6. I used parsley, chives and sage because that's what I had when I made frozen Garlic Herb Butter which I pretty much always have on hand in my freezer. You can use whatever you want.
7. You can get resealable bags in America that are big enough for turkey. I'm in Australia, and I doubled bagged it using oven bags - worked perfectly, barely leaked. The fall back which works really well is to wrap the turkey in cling wrap. Be very generous and wrap it up like a mummy! There will be some leakage, but that's ok.
6. ROASTING TIME:
- I use a fan forced / convection oven. If you have a conventional / standard oven, increase the temperature by 20C.
- Meat thermometers start at $7 (even cheaper online) and I highly recommend owning one. The turkey is perfectly cooked when the thermometer readers 165F/75C. The turkey continues cooking while resting. Make sure you insert the thermometer into the part between the leg and breast and do not touch the bone.
- If you don't have a thermometer, pierce the meat between the leg and breast and if the juices run clear, the turkey is cooked.
- Remember, this turkey is brined so there is a bit of leeway with the cooking time even if you overcook it slightly, it will still be moist.
Total roasting time (including initial 30 minutes at high temperature) by weight:
10lb/5kg - 2 hrs, 12lb/6kg - 2 hrs 15 min,14lb/7kg - 2 hrs 30 min, 16lb/8kg - 2 hrs 45min. Add an extra 15 minutes for each 2 pounds / 1 kg.
7. NO STUFFING: I do not stuff turkey because I read that the stuffing needs to get to 160F in order for it to be safe which means the breast will be over 165F which means it's past the point of perfectly cooked. i.e. drier! 🙂 Also, in my humble opinion, stuffing cooked in a baking dish is so much more delicious because you get the golden brown crunchy top. Get my go-to Sausage and Apple Stuffing recipe here.
8. This is a GENIUS recipe from the LA Times.
9. SELF BASTING TURKEY: In Australia, "self basting" turkey is sold at supermarkets (Woolies, Coles, Harris Farms). Do not make this recipe using self basting turkey as it has already been brined (ie injected with salt, same effect as this recipe). Check the ingredients - it will say ~94% turkey, + salt/water and maybe even flavourings. This recipe is for plain turkey. If you make this with turkey that's already been brined, it will be too salty. If you have a self-basting turkey, roast it per packet directions. If you want gravy, make it after the turkey is roasted using the pan juices. Follow the recipe in my Roast Lamb Recipe, but use CHICKEN BROTH instead of beef, and you will probably need to scale up the recipe at least double, if not more, depending on how large your turkey is.
No nutrition. Christmas and Thanksgiving are not a time for counting calories!
Oh – as soon as I hit Publish, I’m jumping in the car to deliver a Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless guy. Here’s his meal pack. I’m out of beer so he’s going to have to make do with a Pink Vodka Cruiser. 😉