How to Dry Brine and Roast a Turkey

This turkey is packed with all the flavors of the season (and a little help from Simon and Garfunkel): parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. I used dried sage for ease in this recipe, but make sure you buy a high-quality brand that has large bits of sage in it; it might be labeled rubbed sage. You don’t want ground sage that looks like fine dust. If you can’t find a good dried variety, opt to use 1 tablespoon fresh, minced sage. Or use fresh sage from the get-go, if you prefer it.

For turkeys larger than 18 pounds, use 1 1/2 times the brining ingredients.

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 2 hours
  • Dry Brining time: 24 to 72 hours

Ingredients

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary, the leaves from about one 9-inch sprig
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
  • 3/4 tablespoon dried sage, or 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
  • 1 1/4  tablespoon whole black peppercorns, ground
  • 3 tablespoons Morton's kosher salt (add 1 1/2 teaspoons if using Diamond Crystal)
  • 1 1/2  tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Zest from 2 lemons
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice (the juice from 1 lemon)
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (12- to 18-pound) natural turkey, thawed (not kosher, saline-injected, or otherwise pre-salted)
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 2 to 3 cups of turkey or chicken stock, if needed

Method

1 Combine the dry brine ingredients: In a medium-sized bowl, combine the minced garlic, parsley, rosemary, thyme, sage, ground black peppercorns, salt, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and olive oil. Stir to combine. Quarter the remaining lemons, and save them for the cavity of the turkey.

Brined turkey recipe make the brine

2 Prepare the turkey for brining: About 24 to 72 hours before you want to roast the bird, take the thawed turkey out of any packaging, and remove the pop-up thermometer, if it has one. Remove and reserve the giblets and neck for making gravy or stock.

3 Dry brine the turkey: Place turkey on either a cooling rack set on top of a rimmed baking sheet or directly on the roasting rack in the roasting pan (mine didn't fit easily in the fridge that way!). Thoroughly pat the turkey dry inside and out with paper towels. Loosen the skin of the breast and legs.

Spread about half of the brine mixture under the skin, massaging it into the breasts and legs, 1/4 on the outside and the remaining 1/4 inside the cavity. Refrigerate uncovered for 24 to 72 hours.

Dry Brined Turkey - transfer to rack Dry Brined Turkey - rubbing with salt

4 Prepare for roasting: When ready to roast the turkey, position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat the oven to 425°F.

If it's not there already, transfer the turkey to a roasting rack set in a roasting pan. Into the cavity of the turkey, put the quartered onion and lemon, and the rest of the fresh herbs you used for the dry brine.

To truss the bird, tuck the wings under the body as best as you can. Place butcher’s twine under the turkey, close to the wings. Cross the twine at the neck of the turkey, wrap each end of twine around the tip of the leg, and tie the legs together.

How to dry brine a turkey prepare for roasting

5 Begin roasting the turkey: Roast the turkey at 425°F until the skin starts to brown in spots, about 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and roast for another 45 minutes.

6 Baste the turkey and finish roasting: Rotate the roasting pan, baste the turkey with the pan juices, and tent the breast with foil to prevent it from overcooking. (If you find that your turkey hasn’t produced enough juices to use for basting, warm a cup or two of extra chicken broth on the stovetop or in the microwave and use that to baste the turkey.)

Continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh without touching bone registers 160°F. This should take an additional 30 to 45 minutes; check the temperature and baste every 15 minutes until the bird is fully cooked. How to roast a turkey baste the turkey Dry-brined turkey recipe tent the turkey with foil

6 Rest the turkey and serve: Transfer the turkey to a clean cutting board and tent with foil. Let it rest 20 minutes before carving. Pat yourself on the back. Pour yourself one of these bad boys, and put someone else in charge of the dishes.

How to roast a brined turkey let the turkey rest

Click on the comments you'd like to print with your recipe. Grayed out comments will not print.

Comments

  • Nicole

    Can I dry brine a pre-butter basted turkey? The label on my turkey says that is has been “deep basted with normandy style cultured butter”. I assume the butter has salt in it, so I would reduce amount of kosher salt for brining. But is it worth it, or better just to cook this type of turkey as norma, not brined?

    • Summer

      Hi, Nicole — I’ve never worked with a pre-butter basted turkey. If you were to try it, I would reduce both the salt and the oil in our recipe, but continue with the spices, and air drying method. You may need to use some oil just to evenly distribute the spices. Good luck.

  • Isabel

    Forgot to mention your link to the video on carving the turkey was a great help and the juices produced by the turkey resulted in the best gravy ever according to the family! Two thumbs up!

    xxxxxyyyyy

    • Summer

      Hi, Isabel — I’m glad the turkey carving link was helpful, and the gravy was tasty! Thanks for taking the time to let me know!

  • Isabel

    Thirty pound turkey dry brined and stuffed came out perfect!! Thanks for the perfect recipe. As with so many other readers this method goes into my Thanksgiving recipe folder for all future birds. Your detailed instructions and comments in brining gave me the confidence to try it out on such a special occasion. I’ve already passed this on to family and friends. Thanks again Summer and Simply Recipes! Regards, Thanksgiving in Málaga, Spain!

    xxxxxyyyyy

    • Summer

      Hi, Isabel — I’m so glad you had a lovely Thanksgiving. Thank you for trusting us with your Thanksgiving Turkey! Happy Holidays!

  • Ann

    Made this turkey for thanksgiving and it was definitely moist. That said, I would not use the lemon or garlic next time, as it imparted a bitterness to the turkey. The gravy turned out so salty it was hard to eat except for a drizzle. So next time we will rinse the at least the inside of the bird before cooking.

    xxxxxyyyyy

    • Summer

      Hi, Ann! I’m so sorry the recipe didn’t work for you. Thanks for letting us know. I’m not sure what could’ve caused the bitterness. Perhaps the white pith from the lemon made it into the zest? For the salt, is it possible you used table salt instead of Kosher. Maybe we can figure this out so it works for you next time, though it looks like you already have some ideas on how to do that. Orange and rosemary are also great flavor combinations for a turkey if lemon and garlic aren’t your favorite. Thanks for your feedback.

  • Angela

    Made this turkey two days in a row and both days it turned out perfect. Summer Miller is the bomb. Can’t wait to try her next recipe

    xxxxxyyyyy

    • Summer

      Hi, Angela! Two days in a row! That’s a lot of turkey making! I’m so glad the recipe worked for you. Thanks for letting us know!

  • Anne Coffman

    First time I have ever done a Dry Brine….my husband commented it was the best turkey I have ever made. 5 Stars for sure…..so easy!

    xxxxxyyyyy

    • Summer

      Hi, Anne — Yay! I’m so glad the recipe worked for you! Thanks for letting us know!

  • Teri

    After trying this, I will never make my turkey any other way. It was super easy to prepare, plumped up immediately (after looking dehydrated from sitting in the refrigerator), browned beautifully, and was incredibly moist.

    xxxxxyyyyy

    • Summer

      Hi, Teri! I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe. Thanks for letting us know!

  • Rhonda

    What about using this recipe for brining, but then following the directions to roast the turkey breast-down like Elise’s mom does?

  • Sara

    We plan to smoke a turkey breast. Can it be dry brined?

    • Summer

      Hi, Sara – I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t do both. Good luck!

  • Isabel Diaz

    Hi! I will finally be trying to brine my turkey this year with this dry method which makes the whole process sound much easier. My question is: can I stuff it with my usual bread stuffing? I present the bird whole on a nicely decorated platter and stuffing is a part of that presentation and also I find both stuffing and turkey benefit from sharing flavours. Should I take anything special into consideration if I do stuff the turkey? Thank you Also! have you posted a video or blog entry on how to cut the turkey? If so please pass it along as well! Gobble, Gobble from Málaga, Spain

  • Patricia

    I would like to try this, but would like to know how the brining affects the juices used for gravy. Does the gravy risk being too salty?

    • Summer

      Hi, Patricia! That’s a great question. Your gravy will taste delicious. This recipe has half the salt of traditional salt-curing recipes. Dry brine away!

  • Atanak18

    Oops, your ignorance (in the true definition as in not knowing something you should) is showing. Not all North Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving in November, only residents of the United States. In Canada we celebrated last month, more in keeping with harvest time a little farther north.

    This looks good and I will try it for my Christmas turkey.

    • Elise Bauer

      Thanks Atanak! Fair point. We’ve adjusted the intro, thank you for the reminder!

    • Summer

      Hi, Atanak! I love Canada, and Canadians! I do know about the differences in our Thanksgiving customs (dates included), it was just an honest mistake. You know how crazy things get around the holidays! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

      • Atanak18

        Thanks so much for correcting that. I noticed right away when i went back to check something in the recipe notes. Also the link to the Alton Brown video didn’t work. I’m going to try it again

  • Ravenna

    Any thoughts/concerns about combining this dry brine method with Mom’s Roast Turkey principle of roasting breast down? Thanks for the great ideas!

  • Julie

    How do you dry brine and cook a turkey breast?

    • Summer

      Hi, Julie! You can follow the same technique. Only I would cover the breast in plastic wrap rather than let it air dry uncovered in the fridge. Rub the salt and spices on the breast. Wrap in plastic. Let it sit in the fridge for 24 to 72 hours. I would reduce the spice and salt blend by at least half.

      • Julie

        How long would you cook it and at what temp for a 5-8 LB turkey breast?

  • Bebe

    I have never tried this, but do know about rubbed (dry) sage. Learned it by example from my wonderful late Mother, a great cook, as I watched her make her bread dressing each Thanksgiving.

    Could brining like this be used on a roast chicken? It sounds so good…

    • Summer

      Hi, Bebe — Great question! Yes, you can use this method for roasting chicken.