[Step-By-Step] How To Dry Brine A Turkey for Smoking [October 2021]

Wants to know the secret to juicy, tender meat and poultry? 

It is all about learning how to dry brine a turkey!

My aunt taught me this method at Thanksgiving and I was blown away.

Because let’s face it, whether cooking for the family or getting ready for the holidays, the last thing I want is to serve dry, tasteless meat! 

So now I will teach you my method for delicious dry brine smoked turkey!

how to dry brine a turkey

How To Dry Brine A Turkey at Home

First, you will learn what brine is, then we will show how to dry brine a turkey.

I even have how much salt you need to use. I have also included some of my secret tips to a perfect turkey!

Need the brine recipe now? Jump straight to my dry brine for a smoked turkey here.

What is Brining? (Don’t Worry I Asked The Same Question)

Brining is a technique that was used to preserve food before refrigerators were created.

It involved placing the meat in a mixture of salt and water so that it could maintain its moisture and extend its shelf life. 

Brining evolved and became used in cooking to help meat and poultry become tender, retain their juices and add lots of flavor.

You have two options when brining your meat;
Option 1: Wet Brine
Option 2: Dry Brine

One of my favorite natural gas smokers to cook on is my Weber 340. Although you can’t smoke a whole turkey with this grill you can finish off turkey legs, beautifully! 

How To Dry Brine The Turkey

A dry brine is a method that seasons the turkey like a more traditional wet brine, but it does not use any water.

Instead, a dry brine involves rubbing the salt, seasonings, and/or sugar directly onto the meat and skin. Then let the meat rest in the refrigerator for a period of time before cooking.

There are several very interesting things that happen over this rest period before cooking:

  • First, the salt draws out the meat juices through osmosis.

  • Next, the salt dissolves into the juices, essentially turning into a “natural” brine even though there isn’t any added liquid.

  • And finally, this brine is reabsorbed into the meat and starts breaking down tough muscle proteins, resulting in juicy, tender, seasoned meat.

Why Should You Dry Brine?

Now that we know what dry-brining is, let’s see our advantages are.

  • There’s no water required: When you dry brine you only have to mix the spices and salt together and rub it on and throw it in the fridge. Having water sit idle can lead to bacteria growth

  • No special equipment needed: You can dry-brine on anything big enough to hold a turkey, such as a roasting pan or sheet pan.

  • You get the crispy skin: The turkey will sit uncovered in the fridge while in its dry brine. This might seems a bit strange but it really does help dry out the skin to ensure you get the most crispy golden skin! If you are worried about the turkey touching other food, you can loosely cover it with foil or plastic wrap and just uncovered it the night before.
  • The turkey is prepped and ready to cook:  a whole turkey needs one to three days of brining time.

If you after some more tips from the professionals we follow head over to our top 10 BBQ blogs. These guys are top of their game and pull out some recipes that absolute blow us away.

How To Wet Brine A Turkey

Wet brining was the traditional method, where the meat is submerged in a mixture of liquid and salt (some people use water, others use cider) so the meat can retain its juices. 

The problem with wet brining is that it takes a lot of space (you do have to keep your meat or poultry submerged in a bucket for days at a time) not also that it’s also time-consuming.

And that’s why dry brining is an easier and equally effective option.

I don’t often use this method but I thought I would include it just in case you were wondering. 

How Much Salt Should You Use to Brine The Turkey?

You should use ½ teaspoon of kosher salt or ¼ teaspoon of regular table salt per pound of meat. The first thing to note when dry brining is picking the right salt.

  • Firstly: we recommend using kosher salt as it coarser than table salt. We have found that sea salt doesn’t work as well.

  • Second: to keep in mind is the amount of salt that you will be using. As a general rule you should use ½ teaspoon of kosher salt or ¼ teaspoon of kosher salt a per pound of meat. If there is excess salt, don’t worry, the meat will absorb it.

  • Finally: after doing this keep your meat refrigerated for a few hours and let chemistry do its magic.

The reason why brining works is that salt loosens up the natural proteins in the muscles of the meat, making them unable to contract when cooking.

If the meat is unable to contract, more moisture stays on the inside.

Ready to smoke to smoke your turkey now?
I’ve done our family’s Thanksgiving turkey in all my units! Electric, gas grill, gas smoker, and even my pellet grill.

It doesn’t matter which one you have, I have a tried and tested method for each!

My guide to;
Smoking a turkey in my pellet grill
Smoking a turkey in my gas grill

Charlies Tasty Turkey Tips

Dry brining your first turkey is a bit of an adventure, here a few things you should know:

  • Pick the Right Turkey:
     Since you’ll be adding all of your own seasoning with spice and salt you need to start with a turkey that has no seasonings. 

    Go for a heritage or natural turkey. If you’re not sure if it has been seasoned, just check the label to make sure it has no added salt.

  • Pre-Thawed is Best: 
    It is possible to dry brine a frozen turkey however it will get better results if with a thawed bird as you separate the meat from the skin and put some of the mixture straight onto the meat.

    If your turkey was frozen rock solid, it will needs approximately 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey to thaw completely.

    For quicker thawing, place the turkey in a cold water bath and change the water every 30 minutes until it’s thawed.

  • Whole or Cut-up Turkeys can be Brined:
    You can brine turkey no matter how it is cut, it could be whole, bone-in breast or spatchcocked. The process will be the same. 

    If you plan on using turkey breast we recommend you slice and tenderize it, to ensure you get a perfectly even cook.

    If you are cutting your turkey make sure have one of the a good knife for carving turkey! They will save you time, your pride and fingers!

  • Plan Out the Brining Time.
     Brining needs enough time in order to be effective. Depending on the thickness of the meat depends on the time you need to give it. As the salt needs time to work it way down from the surface.

    You can cook a dry-brined bird after only one day, giving it three days produces a much more tasty bird.

  • You Can Use Any Cooking Method. 
    Once your turkey is brined for at least 24 hours, you can choose whatever cooking method you like; oven roasting, deep-frying, grilling or even smoking your turkey.

  • Turkey is poultry, so you do have an increased risk of bacteria.
    To keep your family and friends safe make sure you pick up a thermometer! Using a thermometers means you know exactly when it is cooked. No risking your families health or your reputation.

  • If You Decide to Smoke your Turkey. 
    We recommend using a gas smoker, we have tested out the lot and found this produces the crispiest skin. We are not sure of the science behind this, however, the family and friend have unanimously voted for this option.

Got some leftovers? Of course you do!  My favourite sandwich combo is this pesto, mozzarella, tomato (& turkey) flavor bomb.

Quick and Easy Dry Brine For A Smoked Turkey

Dry Brine Turkey

Behind every good turkey there is a good brine. It is important to get your brine recipe down before trying to cook a centerpiece turkey. This is a basic brine that I have been using for years. Feel free to add or take away ingredients depending on your specific tastes. 
Prep Time20 mins
Brining Time3 d
Total Time20 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Barbecue
Servings: 8
Calories: 80kcal
Author: Charlie

Ingredients

  • tablespoons  kosher salt
  • 2   teaspoons  dried herbs such as thyme, sage, and rosemary
  • teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 14-to-16 pound thawed whole turkey (not kosher or pre-salted)
  • Equipment
  • Bowl
  • Cutting board
  • Large rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan

Instructions

  • Mix the dry brine together: Mix the salt, pepper, and herbs together in a small bowl.
  • Take the turkey out of the packaging and place on a cutting board. Remove the giblets and neck from inside the cavity and discard or save for another use. Remove or discard any plastic or metal cages or pop-up thermometers.
  • Pat the turkey dry: Pat the outside of the turkey dry with paper towels. (If you are planning to spatchcock your turkey, do it now before you proceed with the next step.)
  • Loosen the skin: Using your hands, loosen the skin over the breast and separate it from the meat, making sure to break through the thin membrane between the skin and breast while leaving the skin itself intact. Loosen the skin over the meaty part of the legs.
  • Season the cavity: Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of the salt mixture into the cavity of the turkey.
  • Season the meat: Rub another 2 teaspoons of the salt mixture into the meat of the legs (under the skin). Rub 4 teaspoons of the salt mixture into the meat of the breasts (under the skin).
  • Season the skin: Sprinkle the remaining salt mixture over all the skin of both the breasts and legs.
  • Tuck the wings back: Bend the wings back and tuck under the breast.
  • Refrigerate: Place the turkey breast-side up in a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan and refrigerate uncovered for at least 1 day but ideally 3 days

Notes

Brine proportions for a smaller turkey: Turkey sizes vary, so if you have a larger or smaller bird, go by these proportions instead: For every 5 pounds of turkey, you will need 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon dried herbs, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Fresh herbs substitution: Instead of dried herbs, you can substitute 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs (or 1 teaspoon per 5 pounds of turkey).

Final Thoughts

What I love about a dry brine turkey is that it doesn’t take much effort and you don’t need a lot of equipment.

After you have mastered the dry brining technique, why not find out how to smoke a turkey in an electric smoker?

Brining ensures that my meals food will be a success!

I have found this to be a certified method to keep the meat moist and the family happy!

Happy Smoking!

Charlie

Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking and getting out in nature with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork)

You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!

You can read more on our About Us page.

Still Hungry For More?

4 thoughts on “[Step-By-Step] How To Dry Brine A Turkey for Smoking [October 2021]”

  1. I purchased frozen turkey boned in breast but could only get pre brined. What should I do before smoking. Thank you

    1. Hiya Gail!

      All you need to do is pick and soak your wood chips! I would recommned a combo hickory and cheery for smoking turkey. I find this smoke flavour isnt too but still with a delcious sweet note. Make sure you soak the wood chips in water for about 20 minutes. Let me know how you go!

      Charlie

  2. I’m a Texas rancher and I have an endless supply of mesquite in all stages of dryness. Do you think I still need to soak the wood in water, or use a mixture of dry and green mesquite?

    1. Hiya JW,

      No need to soak unless you turning it into wood chips. The legend Meathead had an awesome picture of when he soaked some wood in blue dye, you can actually see that the water barely perates the surface https://amazingribs.com/more-technique-and-science/more-cooking-science/myth-soak-your-wood-first.

      There are lots of things about cooking with mesquite. It burns really hot and fast, produces lots of smoke, and has an intense, earthy flavor. I find it delicious but some find it a bit strong, you can offset the flavor by mixing it with other wood. In regards to the heat and smoke, I think this wood is best for quick cooks like a steak or if you plan on burning it down to coal, ohh also I wouldn’t attempt a long cook on mesquite! Let me know how you go with it!

      Cheers,

      Charlie

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating