Using a dry brine for smoking a turkey is an easy and effective way to elevate your holiday bird to a new level of juiciness and flavor. By simply patting salt evenly over the turkey and allowing it to sit for a few days, you can achieve the moistest and most flavorful turkey you’ve ever had.
Planning ahead is key when dry brining a turkey, as it requires a few days of preparation before cooking. However, the results are well worth the wait. Dry brining with salt is a simple yet impactful way to infuse your turkey with delicious flavor, making it a perfect addition to your Thanksgiving tradition.
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- Dry brining is an easy and effective way to elevate the juiciness and flavor of your turkey.
- Planning ahead is crucial when dry brining, as it requires a few days of preparation before cooking.
- Dry brining with salt is a simple yet impactful way to infuse your turkey with delicious flavor, making it a perfect addition to your Thanksgiving tradition.
What is Dry Brining?
A dry brine is a method of seasoning meat, particularly poultry, with salt and other seasonings without using any water or liquid. It is also known as “pre-salting” and involves rubbing the meat with a mixture of salt and other seasonings, allowing it to sit for a few days, and then roasting or smoking it.
This process allows the salt to penetrate the meat through osmosis, resulting in a moist, flavorful, and tender meat. Plus it gives it a nice crispy skin.
One of the reasons we like dry brining our turkey is that it’s simpler and cleaner compared to wet brining. Since turkeys tend to be rather large – to feed the crowd at Thanksgiving – you need a ton of space in the refrigerator to fit it and it’s water bath.
To dry brine a turkey, all you need is the turkey and salt. As long as you can fit the turkey in the fridge, that’s all you need to worry about.
Why Dry Brine a Turkey?
You might be thinking, “Why is this necessary?” It’s perfectly acceptable to cook a turkey that hasn’t been brined at all. The reason we do it is because it helps keep the turkey moist and gives it extra flavor.
The two things I hate about turkey are that they’re often dry and flavorless. No one wants that! So if all that’s needed is a little extra effort and some time in the fridge, I’ll do it.
All you have to do is rub the turkey with salt (or a mixture of seasonings, as you like). This draws out the juices from the bird. As the salt dissolves into the juices, it creates a natural brine that is reabsorbed into the meat, resulting in the most amazing tender meat.
The dry brine also begins breaking down the muscle proteins, making them succulent instead of tough. Additionally, dry brining helps to create the crispiest skin possible when roasted.
Salt to Turkey Ratio
When dry brining a turkey, the amount of salt you use is crucial to achieving the desired flavor and texture. Typically, the rule of thumb is to use 1 tablespoon of kosher salt for every 4 pounds of turkey. You can round up since there is no such thing as “over-salting” a turkey.
Here’s a quick guide in case you hate math as much as I do.
|Weight of Turkey||Amount of Salt|
|0-4 lbs||1 tablespoon|
|5-8 lbs||2 tablespoons|
|9-12 lbs||3 tablespoons|
|13-16 lbs||4 tablespoons|
|17-20 lbs||5 tablespoons|
|21-24 lbs||6 tablespoons|
How Many Days to Dry Brine a Turkey?
To achieve the best results for your Thanksgiving turkey, you’ll want to dry brine the turkey for at least 24 hours before cooking. However, 3 days is generally considered ideal for the turkey to absorb the flavors of the brine.
Start the process on Sunday evening if you plan to cook the turkey on Thursday. It is important to keep the turkey in a container in the refrigerator during the brining process to prevent any bacterial growth. Avoid leaving the turkey at room temperature during the brining process.
- Whole turkey – I have a 10-pound turkey (pictured above). You can cook any size turkey you want.
- Salt – Use Kosher or sea salt, not iodized salt. You can also mix in any other spices you like, such as pepper, garlic, rosemary, thyme, etc. I often use a combination of sea salt and dried orange salt that I make at home. I like the citrusy kick it gives the turkey.
- Additional seasoning – When you go on to smoke your turkey, you might also want to season it with a dry rub for additional flavor. Entirely up to you. I use our chicken dry rub.
- Baking sheet or tray – This is all you need for dry brining. The sheet or tray must fit inside your refrigerator and have a lip on it to catch any juices.
- Smoker or grill – If you intend to smoke or grill your turkey.
How to Dry Brine a Turkey
- Remove the turkey from its packaging and take out the turkey parts that are packaged within the turkey carcass, such as the neck bone, heart, liver, etc. You can discard or save these parts for other uses later.
- Pat the skin dry as much as possible to prevent moisture from dissolving the salt immediately.
- Measure out the salt and start with the breast side up. Use about ⅔ of the salt on this side and sprinkle it all over the skin facing up. Concentrate on the breasts and thighs the most as these areas are not only meaty but can also be the first part to dry out when cooking. Therefore, the more dry brine in that area, the better. For the underside, concentrate the salt on the wings and bottom of the thighs.
- Once the entire bird is coated and the salt is patted on evenly to stick, it is ready for the refrigerator. Put it on a baking sheet or tray in the refrigerator. You can lightly tent it with plastic wrap or foil, if desired.
- When it is time to cook your bird, remove it from the refrigerator, rub off any excess salt and pat it dry. There is no need to rinse it as the bird will not be “salty”. Dress it, roast it, smoke it, fry it, or take whatever next steps you want. I like to add a dry rub, as you can see in the image below.
How Long to Smoke a Turkey
When it comes to smoking a turkey, the cook time depends on two main factors: the size of the bird and the smoking temperature.
When smoking a turkey at a temperature between 225°F and 250°F, the general rule of thumb is to cook it for about 30 minutes per pound. This applies to an unstuffed bird that has been brined and is being cooked on a smoker where the temperature is holding steady.
Any fluctuation in temperature can cause the bird to be done either earlier or later, so it’s important to use a good-quality instant-read meat thermometer to ensure that the turkey is cooked to the right internal temperature.
Here is a chart that shows the estimated cook time for a smoked turkey based on its weight:
|Turkey Weight||Cook Time|
|8-10 pounds||4-5 hours|
|12 pounds||6 hours|
|15 pounds||7-7.5 hours|
|18 pounds||8.5-9 hours|
|20 pounds||10-11 hours|
To ensure your smoked turkey is fully cooked, make sure it has reached an internal temperature of 165°F in the breast and 175°F in the thighs. Check the temperature in the middle of the breast or the innermost part of the thigh. Once it’s done, move the bird to a rimmed baking pan and tent it with foil.
Do not cut into the turkey right away. It’s important to let it rest first. Let the bird rest for about 30-60 minutes (depending on its size) before carving it. This will help the turkey meat stay moist and prevent all the juices from running out when you cut into it.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long should you dry brine a turkey before smoking it?
The duration of dry brining a turkey before smoking it depends on the size of the bird and your own preference. It’s fine to brine it for just 12-24 hours, but will be even better with 24-36 hours. The maximum time for dry brining is 3 days.
Is it necessary to rinse off the dry brine from a turkey before smoking it?
No, it not necessary to rinse off the dry brine from the turkey before smoking it. Instead, you can pat it dry with paper towels, which will remove excess salt and prevent the turkey from being too salty.
How does dry brining differ from wet brining?
Dry brining involves rubbing salt, and often a mixture of herbs and spices, directly onto the turkey and letting it rest for a period of time before cooking. Unlike wet brining, there’s no water involved. This method helps the turkey retain its natural juices, leading to a moist, flavorful bird with a crispier skin, as the salt draws out moisture which then gets reabsorbed, seasoning the meat throughout.
Before You Go
Since you made it to the end of this article, you might be interested in more turkey recipes and information. Here are a few more articles we think you might enjoy.
- Delicious Compound Butter for Turkey
- How Long to Rest Turkey Before You Carve It
- Beer-Brined Turkey: Thanksgiving with a Malty Kick
- Best Smoked Turkey Brine Recipe for Thanksgiving
- How to Choose the Best Wood for Smoking Turkey
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Dry Brine for Smoking a Turkey
- Baking Sheet or tray
- 1 tablespoon salt per 4 pounds of turkey
- 1 whole turkey 6-20 pounds
- 2 tablespoons dry rub if desired
- Remove the turkey from the packaging and discard any giblets inside. Pat dry the turkey with a paper towel.
- With the breast-side up, sprinkle the salt all over the surface of the turkey, then flip over and coat the underside.
- Place the turkey on a large baking sheet or tray with a lip and cover with plastic wrap. Place it in the fridge.
- Dry brine it for 24 hours to 2 days before cooking. Rub off any excess salt with a paper towel and place the turkey in a roasting tray.
- Preheat your smoker to 225-250°F (107-121°C). Place the turkey in the roasting tray in the smoker and close the lid. Aim for an internal temperature of 165°F (75°C). It will take approximately 30 minutes per pound.
Other Ways to Cook the Turkey
- In the oven: Preheat your oven to 325°F (165°C). Place the turkey breast-side up in a roasting pan. Tuck the wings under and loosely tie the legs together. Roast based on the weight, approximately 13 minutes per pound. Use a meat thermometer to check for an internal temperature of 165°F (75°C).
- On the grill: Preheat your grill to medium-high (about 350°F or 175°C). Turn on only one side of the grill to create indirect heat. Place the turkey breast-side up on the grill away from direct heat. Cover and grill, maintaining the temperature. Grill time is similar to oven roasting. Check for an internal temperature of 165°F (75°C).
- Dry brine from 12 hours to 2 days before cooking.
- You can use a mixture of salt and seasonings that you like. Or just use plain salt.
- When done brining, wipe off excess salt with a paper towel. It’s not necessary to remove it all.
- Place the turkey in a roasting tray on the smoker to catch all the juices, with which you can make gravy.
- Be careful not to transfer any juices from the turkey to your refrigerator.
Laura is a passionate home cook and grill enthusiast who has spent years perfecting her culinary skills, with a particular focus on grilling techniques and flavor combinations. Her fascination with the grill, smoke, and the mouthwatering results they produce has led her on an exciting journey to discover the best methods for grilling delicious and unforgettable meals.