How to Brine a Turkey

For the most succulent turkey ever, try this easy method for dry brining. It’s the ultimate way to season a bird through and through, and makes the crispiest, crackliest skin you’ve ever tasted.

A raw turkey with salt rubbed on it for briniing.

Forget the big heavy tub and sloshy salt water! The secret to a juicy, never-dry turkey is dry brining, aka pre-salting. Even though it seems a little bit magical, it’s all about science. How does it work? The salt draws out the extra moisture in the turkey, forms a salt solution on the outer layer of the bird, and then is reabsorbed back into the meat to season it.

But all you have to know is how to do it. It’s the easiest thing in the world, even if you’ve never roasted a turkey in your life. No special equipment, magical ability, or giant bucket required. Just make sure you have a thawed turkey and a day or so to let the brine do the work.

Recipe ingredients:

A raw turkey next to bowls of baking powder and salt.

Ingredient notes: 

  • Turkey: Look for a natural or heritage turkey with the words “no salt added” on the label. Stay away from “self-basting” or Kosher turkeys, which are injected with a salt solution. Brining an already salted turkey will make the bird way too salty. How much turkey per person? Plan on 1 1/4- 1 1/2 pounds for each eater.
  • Kosher salt: A crucial ingredient. Kosher salt is iodine-free, with a coarse texture ideal for rubbing on meat. Don’t substitute standard table salt here, which is finer and much saltier than Kosher. And, you won’t like the taste of the added chemicals in regular salt. Morton’s and Diamond Crystal are both good brands to look for.
  • Baking powder: Baking powder dries out the outer layer of the turkey, resulting in deliciously crispy skin.

Step-by-step instructions:

  1. Before you start, prepare the turkey. Remove the organs (usually stored in a little packet in the cavity) and neck, which are usually tucked inside, and save them for another recipe. Then rinse the turkey inside and out under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Trim off any extra fat and pluck any pin feathers that were left on the skin.
    Patting a turkey dry with paper towels.
  2. Next, mix together the Kosher salt and baking powder in a small bowl. Sprinkle this liberally over the bird until coated, but not encrusted. Depending on the size of the turkey, you may not need all of the dry brine.
    A raw turkey with salt rubbed on it for briniing.
  3. Place the pre-salted turkey on a rimmed baking sheet that can fit inside the refrigerator and chill, uncovered, for 12 to 24 hours. If you have enough time, you may brine for up to 3 days, but in that case cover the turkey loosely with a plastic produce bag or foil. On the day you plan to cook, take the turkey out 2 hours before you put it in the oven.

Recipe tips and variations:

  • Thaw before you start: The best (safest) way to thaw a frozen turkey is slowly in the refrigerator over several days. It takes longer, but it is much more safe. Never thaw a turkey using warm or hot water, in the microwave, or out at room temperature, all of which are dangerous and let bacteria grow before the turkey is completely thawed.
  • Use a pan to catch any drips: A roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet–something to keep the drips to a minimum.
  • Keep the turkey uncovered while brining: If you want to brine the turkey for more than 24 hours, cover it loosely with foil or a plastic bag.
  • Dried herbs: If you like, add any dried herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary) or spices (paprika, pepper, cayenne) to the dry brine to slather over the turkey.

More turkey skills right here:

A raw turkey with salt rubbed on it for briniing.

How to Brine a Turkey

For the most succulent turkey ever, try this easy method for dry brining. It's the ultimate way to season a bird through and through, and makes the crispiest, crackliest skin you've ever tasted.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 day 5 hours
Total Time: 1 day 5 hours 30 minutes
Servings: 12 servings
Calories: 531kcal
Author: Meggan Hill

Ingredients

To dry brine a turkey:

  • 1 (14 pound) fresh turkey neck, heart, and gizzards removed and discarded (see note 1)
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt (see note 2)
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder (see note 3)

To wet brine a turkey:

  • 3 cups kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 yellow onion chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns cracked

Instructions

To dry brine the turkey:

  • Under running cold water, rinse the turkey well inside and out.  Remove any excess fat or pin feathers.  Pat dry using paper towels.
  • In a small bowl, combine the kosher salt and baking powder. Sprinkle the salt mixture over the bird, from about 6 to 8-inches away. Coat well, stopping before a crust forms. (All of the salt mixture may not be needed.) Transfer the turkey to a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, about 12 to 24 hours.
  • Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature 2 hours prior to trussing and roasting

To wet brine the turkey:

  • In a pot large enough to hold the turkey and fit in the refrigerator, add cold water to fill pot 1/3 full.
  • Add 3 cups kosher salt, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 chopped yellow onion, 1 bunch fresh thyme, and 1 tablespoon fresh cracked peppercorns.
  • Place the turkey into the pot, breast-side down. Add additional cold water to completely cover the turkey and fill the pot as much as possible
  • Cover with the lid and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator 2 hours prior to roasting. Discard the brine, and under cold water, rinse the turkey inside and out. Pat dry with paper towels.
  • Place back into the stock pot and cover with cold water. Allow to sit at room temperature. Proceed with steps to truss and roast the turkey

Notes

  1. Turkey: Look for a natural or heritage turkey with the words "no salt added" on the label. Stay away from "self-basting" or Kosher turkeys, which are injected with a salt solution. Brining an already salted turkey will make the bird way too salty. How much roasted turkey per person? Plan on 1 1/4- 1 1/2 pounds for each eater.
  2. Kosher salt: A crucial ingredient. Kosher salt is iodine-free, with a coarse texture ideal for rubbing on meat. Don't substitute standard table salt here, which is finer and much saltier than Kosher. And, you won't like the taste of the added chemicals in regular salt. Morton's and Diamond Crystal are both good brands to look for.
  3. Baking powder: Baking powder dries out the outer layer of the turkey, resulting in deliciously crispy skin.
  4. Thaw before you start: The best (safest) way to thaw a frozen turkey is slowly in the refrigerator over several days. It takes longer, but it is much more safe. Never thaw a turkey using warm or hot water, in the microwave, or out at room temperature, all of which are dangerous and let bacteria grow before the turkey is completely thawed.
  5. Use a pan to catch any drips: A roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet--something to keep the drips to a minimum.
  6. Keep the turkey uncovered while brining: If you want to brine the turkey for more than 24 hours, cover it loosely with foil or a plastic bag.
  7. Dried herbs: If you like, add any dried herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary) or spices (paprika, pepper, cayenne) to the dry brine to slather over the turkey.

Nutrition

Calories: 531kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 81g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 271mg | Sodium: 5348mg | Potassium: 842mg | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 210IU | Calcium: 162mg | Iron: 3mg
Tried this Recipe? Pin it for Later!Mention @CulinaryHill or tag #CulinaryHill!

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  1. Paul

    Hi,
    I get what you are saying about Turkey & I know you can do same with chicken.
    We, are two so will probably have duck.
    I’m confused about whether we can improve duck meat. Looking on Google gives a mass of consumercentric info
    Better to ask an expert. So, can I, should I Brine my duck (& how). Keep safe & vote
    Thabks
    Paul.

    1. Meggan

      Hi Paul, great question. I haven’t tried brining duck, but I don’t see why you couldn’t. Sorry about that – Meggan

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