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This lemon pepper dry brine is my recipe for foolproof, super juicy, mega crispy-skinned, amazing turkey. Dry, bland, boring turkey? Not at your house, honey! Dry brining is the best way to guarantee a perfect turkey on Thanksgiving day.
I will be the first to tell you that most people cannot cook a Thanksgiving turkey to save their life. Like dry turkey is what they think turkey 'should' taste like. When I was recipe testing turkey for the first time, we had a 'control' turkey. No dry brine or wet brining, just roasting the turkey as I would a chicken with seasoning, some butter, some herbs.
You ever had a food make you mad? That was that one turkey. It made us SO mad, we couldn't salvage it. The meat was dry and flavorless, tough even. So I decided to brine.
I used to only wet brine with a buttermilk brine, but it was messy, fussy, I needed a giant bag and a bucket and to remove a shelf in my fridge...I mean, it was a lot.
When I found that the dry brining process was less involved and we could eat a super juicy turkey with great flavor using a few simple ingredients and I didn't have to reseason, rinse, or need a freaking bucket...I was hooked.
This is the base of all my dry brines, the lemon pepper dry brine. You can add more to it, or keep it the way it is, but I can guarantee you that if you use it and follow the instructions, you will have the juiciest, most flavorful turkey you've ever eaten. It will change the way you think about turkey forever. It's the best turkey, the bestest. I'm Trumping it with this one. It's hyuuuuge.
Oh, and let me not forget: you can absolutely use this dry brine recipe for chicken, fish, beef, and pork!
What is a dry brine?
Brining is a seasoning technique that creates juicy foods that get a great maillard reaction so they're deeply brown and delicious. It's mostly used on larger cuts of meat like roasts, whole turkey, chicken, certain veggies like eggplant, and so on. A mixture of salt and other spices, dried herbs, fresh herbs, etc, give the turkey extra moisture and flavor.
Dry brining is a process of seasoning your protein beforehand and letting the meat absorb all the flavors and seasoning before cooking. It achieves the results of classic wet brining: juicy and flavorful food, but it also gives us golden-brown skin that is really crispy, which wet brining can hinder because its...well, wet.
Why You Should Dry Brine Your Turkey
So instead of using gallons of water, dry brining uses the natural moisture of the food to get osmosis started. Basically, given enough time, the salt draws out the moisture from the food, dissolves into the liquid, then the liquid is reabsorbed by the food by diffusion.
In other words, the meat basically brines itself and gives your turkey (or other foods) well-flavored meat that retains its well-seasoned natural moisture while cooking.
I say it every time, so here it is: Yeah! Science!
How to Dry Brine a Turkey (or any food)
To dry brine is really simple: Using paper towels, pat the turkey. I mean really dry. Next, mix the brine ingredients in a small bowl and cover the food completely in that dry rub. Every nook and cranny; I'm talking turkey armpits, inside the cavity of the turkey, under the skin of the breast, if you want. You know, just go crazy. Cover the entire piece of food generously with the salt mixture.
You can actually just use salt to brine, but we use more ingredients for a succulent turkey with more flavor and better color!
Kosher Salt. Kosher salt is a must for dry brining because science. Table salt would make everything way too salty and clumps up, so change your culinary life by using kosher salt. The amount of salt does vary per size of your bird, but the rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon of kosher salt per 3 pounds of bird. For a 15 pound turkey I use ⅓ cup, or a little over 5 tablespoons of kosher salt.
Lemon Zest. The citrus oils add flavor! This is my basic dry brine, which is 'lemon pepper' flavor, so I like adding a ton of different citrus zest to the brine: orange, lime, grapefruit, etc. If you plan on making the dry brine mixture to keep for long periods, use dried lemon peel instead of fresh lemon zest.
Black Pepper. Freshly cracked black pepper has oils as well that help flavor the food. Remember, you really don't need to add extra seasoning to your turkey after dry brining, so adding more pepper, herbs, and spices is up to you. I would definitely not add more salt though, you will 100% regret it.
Brown Sugar. Brown sugar aids in great caramelization, color, and just a hint of sweetness.
Suggested Additional Ingredients
These I would say make great additions to the dry rub, even if they don't have a great shelf life. Add them either in the brine mixture to sit on the turkey and add intense flavor, or add to the fat you will brush all over the turkey before putting it in the oven.
Fresh Herbs. It just isn't Thanksgiving in my house unless I have the scent of rosemary, sage, and thyme wafting from a roasting turkey. Slide them under the skin of the breasts or chop them up finely in a food processor before adding to the brine mixture. Even better make a delicious herb butter to spread all over the turkey skin before roasting.
Garlic. I would recommend smashing the garlic into paste and putting it into the cavity and under the skin, since it burns easily if unprotected. Roasted garlic is also a fantastic addition with its creamy texture and mellow flavor, I'd make a double impact by spreading it under the skin of the bird and mixing it into the clarified butter/fats to roast low and slow until done.
How to Make a Dry Brined Turkey
If you are looking for a super flavorful traditional bird or a fast-cooking turkey (both are dry brined and the recipe and step by step instructions on how-to is included) go look at my Classic Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey or Foolproof Spatchcock Turkey recipes, you won't be disappointed!
Consider this a guide to a simple, unfussy, delicious bird.
The thing I love about this simple dry brine turkey recipe is that you can simply rub butter or vegetable or olive oil onto the skin and roast to beautiful, golden brown crispy skin perfection.
But to do that, you'll need to start days before.
If you bought a frozen turkey, you'll need to thaw it. You'll need 24 hours per 4 pounds of turkey, and I will always tell you to not use a turkey bigger than 16 pounds. They're less reliable when it comes to cooking time and they'll take forever to thaw and cook. No thanks.
If you need more turkey, simply buy another one! In November turkeys are on sale like crazy, going down to even 16 cents a pound in some grocery stores, and having another smaller bird won't be a lot of work because this method is just. so. simple.
Okay, take your fresh turkey (or thawed turkey if it was frozen) about 3 days to 24 hours before you want to cook it and dry it completely. I mean inside and out. The secret to this recipe making the crispiest skin is keeping it DRY.
Next, mix together all of the spice mixture for your turkey brine and then rub the turkey down from top to bottom. Don't forget the cavity and under the breast skin! Then leave on top of a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet or in a roasting pan with a rack breast side up, and then set it in the fridge. Do not cover it. No plastic wrap, no aluminum, nothing. You want the skin to dry out while it's brining.
Leave the turkey to dry out for at least overnight, but I've done it for up to 48 hours before with some of the best results. That skin should look totally dry when you pull out the turkey, which is why we use the rack, so there's no skin that doesn't get airflow.
At this point you can keep it real simple by rubbing that baby down in vegetable oil and roasting at 325 degrees F on the wire rack over the baking sheet or in the roasting rack for about 3 hours for a 15 pound turkey if doing it traditionally, or for about an hour and a half for , or until an instant-read thermometer stuck into the thickest part of the thigh reads. Let rest for about 30-45 minutes before digging in!
If you follow me on Instagram you probably saw my 'for parts' turkey last week, which was done with this exact method. The videos were the proof, y'all. Juicy breast meat. Super crispy skin. Nice and flavorful and so easy, so simple, I was in love.
This dry brine recipe makes enough to cover a 15 pound bird inside and out and is the easiest way to have a flawless turkey for thanksgiving.
Should I Rinse the Brine off?
Absolutely not! Do not rinse anything off! The salt dissolved into the turkey skin and meat, there will be nothing really to rinse off other than the sugar, pepper, and lemon zest.
I will come to your front door and fight the air (hypothetically...in spirit, if you will) if you undo all that time you spent crisping up and drying out that skin just to rinse the now-nonexistent salt off the turkey and wet it all up and now you got soggy wiggly jiggly turkey skin.
More Thanksgiving Recipes
- Instant Pot Turkey Stock
- Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread
- Deep Dish Apple Pie
- Southern Slow-Cooked Green Beans
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- ⅓ cup kosher salt (see note)
- ¼ cup light brown sugar, packed
- Zest of 3 lemons
- 2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- In a small bowl, whisk together the kosher salt, brown sugar, lemon zest, and black pepper.
- Use dry brine for whole turkey, chicken, roasts, and more!
*rule of thumb for dry brining is 1 tablespoon of salt per 3 pounds of turkey/food.
Look in the post for more information on additional ingredients and how to cook a simple dry-brined turkey.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 70Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 4993mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 3gSugar: 13gProtein: 1g
All nutrition facts are estimations. Please see a physician for any health-related inquiries.
Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.