Classic Dry-Brined Turkey

November 22, 2014

(this recipe was first published on November 13, 2013)

Everyone will tell you that brining a turkey is a must. And for good reason. A few days in a salt water bath and the turkey comes out deeply seasoned and perfectly moist. With traditional brining, you submerge the turkey in a bucket of salt and seasoned water. I only did this one year and swore NEVER again. First of all finding a bucket big enough is a challenge, and second who has room in their fridge for a huge bucket of raw turkey water! The solution? Dry-brining. You simply cover the turkey in herbed salt and let it marinate for a couple days before Thanksgiving in a bag or pan. I’ve used a simple and classic combination of citrus zest, pepper, bay leaves and thyme.

For our dinner, we used a pasture raised turkey, which has much better flavor. Marin Sun Farms provided us with a Broad Breasted Bronze turkey from their farm for the occasion. Their turkeys are raised completely out on pasture in a way that resembles the natural behavior of wild turkeys– they even roost in trees and enjoy a diet of grasses, pasture plants and insects! Marin Sun Farms has a limited supply of several types of turkeys that you can have shipped to you, so order soon.

Dry brine turkey

Photography shot with the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 digital SLR camera. Small in size, enormous in performance.

 Dry-brine ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of kosher salt (for a 13-15 pound turkey)
  • 2 tablespoons of black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon of pink peppercorns
  • 1/2 tablespoon of white peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme
  • zest of 2 large oranges
  • zest of 4 lemons
  • 5 bay leaves
  • Unsalted butter, softened

Turkey 2


Turkey 1

At least 24 hours before Thanksgiving, start by making the herbed salt brine. Toast the peppercorns and bay leaves in a skillet until they become fragrant. Keep them moving in the pan to prevent them from burning. Crush in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Dry brine turkey 3

In a bowl, mix together, thyme, salt, toasted peppercorns and bay leaves, and orange and lemon zest. Rub over entire outside of the turkey.

Dry brine turkey 4

Place in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. Flip the bird breast-side down on the last day.

Dry brine turkey 5

Remove turkey from bag and rinse all the salt off. Pat dry with paper towels and let the turkey sit out in room temperature for at least an hour to get to room temperature before roasting. Rub softened butter all over the turkey and lightly season with salt and pepper all over. Stuff in the inside cavity with stuffing or if not stuffing, quartered onions, cloves of garlic, lemon halves and bundles of herbs. Tie the legs together with string and tuck the wings under the breast.

Dry brine turkey 6

With oven preheated to 425 degrees, roast the turkey for 30 minutes.

Dry brine turkey 7

Turn down the heat to 325 and continue roasting until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh, about 2-3 hours. During this time, baste the turkey with a brush and add a little water to the roasting pan if it starts to dry out.

Dry brine turkey 8

Allow the turkey to cool for at least 30 minutes before carving.

Dry brine turkey 9

I love decorating the platter with fresh herbs and bright fruits such as pomegranates. And don’t touch those pan drippings. Stay tuned tomorrow as we make classic gravy!

Dry brine turkey

(images by HonestlyYUM)


I made a 21lb turkey yesterday and there was no way I could do the usual brine bath…so I tried this (making about 1/3 more of the recipe). It was fantastic! Everyone said it was amazing, and it was super easy! I’ll be making this every year now regardless of the size of bird. Thanks so much for sharing!

Does this brine have to take 2-3 days? Will it work if I only do it for a day?

That turkey is GORGEOUS! This is so much easier than a huge bucket of raw turkey water!!! 🙂

I use 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt per pound of meat, so I would use 2 tablespoons for a 12 pound bird. That’s plenty salty for me and the turkey is beautifully moist. I also use the same amount of salt for pork. No more dry pork chops at my house. I haven’t tried it, but I would be inclined to salt the turkey while it was still defrosting.

yay! I used this recipe for my turkey this year. I had to alter it because my local store didn’t sell individual peppercorns, so I found a blend in a grinder that included allspice and other things. I altered the amount of salt because mine was a 20 lb turkey, but I would reduce that in the future. I will do this again in a heartbeat. Such good turkey–and a good thing, too. The oven died on Thanksgiving morning, so we ended up putting it on the grill and I have to say it was the most beautiful (looking and tasting) turkey I have ever made. My daughter laughed at me as I was brining the bird and telling it how beautiful it is. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing!

Hi Karen,
I originally heard about the dry-brining method from an LA Times article. That calls for 1 tablespoon of kosher salt per 5 pounds of turkey. Yours calls for 1/2 cup of of kosher salt, or 8 tablespoons total. For a 15 pound turkey that works out to about 2.7 tablespoons per 5 pounds. Almost three times as much.
I’m not even close to what one might consider a good cook, so please don’t think I’m trying to dispute your recipe. But I am a little worried about over salting the turkey. Have you found your end result to end up on the salty side?
Humbly yours,

Hi Jeff I didn’t find it too salty but if you are concerned about saltiness you could decrease the amount of salt. Also be sure to rinse off all the salt before roasting and you could even skip the salting it then. I hope it turns out tasty!


I am testing out a dry brine for the first time, i have a 12 lbs bird, once its thawed out how many days should i leave the dry brine on? I just dont want to over salt the bird! thanks!!

Hi Emily, I just did 2 days but you could even start brining the night before for a small bird. Don’t forget to rinse off all the salt after you are done brining and if you’re concerned about salt just lightly season or skip the salt before you roast the turkey!

So..this is probably a terribly “newby” question, but you mentioned brining a turkey for around three days. Is that AFTER you thaw it? Or during?

Sounds like a fabulous alternative to water brining. I just need a little clarification. You say to “Flip the bird breast-side on the last day.” Does that mean flip the turkey so the breast is up or down?


this is just wonderful…even though I am not much of a turkey person, thanksgiving turkey with gravy is something else 🙂

This looks great but I’m wondering if the brining makes the stuffing saltier than usual?

Great question– it actually doesn’t because I rub the brine on the outside of the turkey. The stuffing we used also wasn’t very salty to begin with.

This looks amazing! Such beautiful photos of what looks like an amazingly flavorful bird. Now I’m SUPER excited for Thanksgiving…

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