Turkey! The big (dumb) bird that was originally going to be a symbol for the newly formed United States of America is today ubiquitously tied to Thanksgiving. For most it just isn’t Thanksgiving without that golden bird, on the table, ready to carve. Cooking a beautiful big JUICY bird can be a challenge though. It is prone to drying out, or if the white meat is perfect, the thighs are still raw. Brining helps, but it creates an odd spongy texture- and it such a huge inconvenience. Trying to find something big enough to hold the brine and the turkey, and then expecting it all to fit in the fridge – this is no simple feat my friend.
Not anymore! This year, you are going to DRY BRINE! When you dry brine your turkey, it creates an intensely flavored, extremely moist bird that is forgiving if overcooked slightly. Dry brining does not negatively affect the texture like wet brining, and it makes the cooking process slightly faster. Plus – if that wasn’t enough to convince you to try it; dry brining requires no large containers or extra room.
This technique is found many places online – but I modified it slightly to work better with unprocessed salts like Celtic Sea salt or a pink Himalayan salt. What follows is the technical information so that you can adjust based on the size turkey you are using
Few Key Notes:
Time: A dry brined turkey is best that has had at least 2-3 days to brine. Although you can get away with less time, you still need at least 2 hours per pound of turkey. Longer is better, with 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey being optimal
Do NOT stuff a brined turkey. The stuffing will end up too salty.
It is important to add some water to the roasting pan when cooking. The brined turkey does such an amazing job at holding on to juices, that if you don’t add water- you will just burn up all the drippings.
Prepare your salt. Grind up the salt if it’s not already a fine grind. Do NOT use table salt for this recipe. The proportions will be way off. Weighing the salt is the most exact way to know how much salt to use, but I included Tbs measurements for ease also. If your turkey is closer to 10 pounds, reduce the salt to about 2 flat Tbs (22-30 grams), and increase to 4 Tbs (45-50 grams) for a 20 lb turkey.
Feel free to add seasonings to the salt. It makes it easier to apply because the spices add some bulk to the salt and make it a little easier to apply evenly. Poultry spice is nice – I use about 1.5 Tbs for a 15 pound bird.
Open your turkey up and remove the giblet, organs and neck. Slide your hands underneath the skin, being careful not to rip the skin.
Take about 2/3 of the seasoning/salt and sprinkle under the skin on the breast of the turkey- rubbing it lightly to evenly coat everything. Take the remaining third and sprinkle it inside the cavity and on the backside of the turkey.
It is important at this point to truss (tie) your turkey if you choose to do so. The brining can make the skin easy to rip and the bird stiffer later on. I choose to do a simple truss with the turkey legs crossed.
Now just put your turkey on a tray (sitting on a rack of you have one) and place it in the fridge. You could lightly cover it with plastic wrap until the day before you are cooking it, or just leave it uncovered. Either option helps create wonderfully crispy skin.
You will need to pull the turkey out of the fridge 1 hour before you are going to cook it. Just set it on the counter in a roasting pan, breast side down.
Do NOT rinse the turkey! Preheat the oven to 425 °. After turkey has rested for one hour- place it in the hot oven (if you forgot to preheat the oven- wait until it reaches the full temperature until you put it in the oven). Pour in 2 cups of water into the bottom of the roasting pan.
Set a timer for 30 minutes. At the end of the 30 minutes pull the whole roasting pan out, and with towels or mitts – flip the bird so it is breast side up (there is no delicate/dainty way to do this). Reduce the heat to 325° and cook until the turkey thigh is 165° at the thickest point. This takes about 2 hours 15 minutes more for a 15-18 pound bird (so 2 hours 45 minutes total). Let your bird rest for 20-30 minutes before carvings. The pan drippings make excellent gravy – but probably won’t need much additional salt.
Your best turkey ever
- 15 pound turkey
- 2.5 Tbs fine ground Celtic or Himalayan sea salt (30-40 grams by weight)
- 1.5 Tbs poultry seasoning- or your favorite blend (optional)
- 2 cups water or broth (added to pan when bird is placed in the oven)
- Remove bird from package. Set aside package containing organs and the neck. Drain any liquid from the bird, pat dry and place on a tray.
- Using your hands, carefully separate the skin from the breast. Try not to rip or tear the skin.
- Take salt/seasoning combo and sprinkle approximately 2/3 under the skin, directly on the breast meat. Gently spread it around evenly.
- Flip the turkey over and apply the rest of the salt/seasoning to the back, thighs and inside cavity.
- If you are going to truss your turkey – you will need to do so now.
- Place turkey in the fridge for 2-3 days (see note above to determine exactly how long) You can either leave it uncovered, or cover with plastic wrap – and then uncover for at least 8 hours before cooking
- Allow turkey to come to room temperate for at least one hour. Preheat oven to 425°. Place 2 cups of water or broth in the roasting pan.
- Place turkey breast side down, in the roasting pan and cook for 30 minutes in the preheated oven
- Pull roasting pan with turkey out. Using mitts or kitchen towels to protect your hands – pick the bird up and flip it breast side up. Reduce oven temperature to 325°
- Put turkey back in the oven and cook until thickest part of the thigh registers 165°. This will take about 2hr 45 min total time for a 15 pound bird
- Allow bird to rest for 20-30 min under a tent of foil. Use the drippings to make amazing gravy.