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Herb & Brown Sugar Dry-Brined Turkey

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Dry-brining makes a juicy and flavorful turkey with golden-crisp skin.

This fantastic dry-brined turkey recipe, adapted from Rachel Ray Magazine, was passed on to me by the talented food stylist Rebecca Jurkevich, who styled my second cookbook. It is made by rubbing salt and seasonings directly onto the skin of the bird and then letting it sit in the refrigerator overnight before cooking. This technique is much easier and less fussy than a wet brine and accomplishes the same thing. The salt in the brine not only deeply seasons the meat but also draws out the natural juices to make a brine that then soaks back into the meat, ensuring a flavorful and juicy turkey. The rest in the fridge also dries out the exterior of the bird, resulting in perfectly crispy, golden-brown skin.

What You’ll Need To Make Herb & Brown Sugar Dry-Brined Turkey

dry brined turkey ingredients

When brining a turkey, you want to avoid kosher and self-basting/injected turkeys, which are already salted and contain a lot of sodium. Note that many commercial turkey brands, like Butterball, sell turkeys that are injected with a solution of water, salt and spices to retain moisture. For turkeys that are already salted, I recommend following my easy high-heat roasted turkey recipe.

Step-by-Step Instructions

In a small bowl, mix the sugar, salt, thyme, sage, and pepper for the dry brine.

dry brine mixture

Place the turkey on the rack of a baking sheet. Rub and pat the dry brine all over the turkey, including inside the cavity. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours.

Using damp paper towels, brush the dry brine off the turkey.

Scatter the onion, carrots, and celery in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Place a roasting rack inside the pan and place the turkey on the rack. Tuck the wings underneath the bird.

dry brine turkey ready in roasting pan

Using your hands, smear the butter all over the turkey.

butter rubbed all over turkey

Roast the turkey until the skin is deep golden and an instant-read thermometer registers 165°F when inserted into the thickest part of the breast and the thigh, 1-3/4 to 2-1/2 hours. Check the turkey after 1-1/2 hours. If it’s getting too dark, cover it loosely with foil.

Note: The cooking time will depend on the size of your turkey. For best results, I recommend using a digital thermometer with a leave-in probe and remote monitor, like the one shown below. That way, you can monitor the temperature of the turkey without ever opening your oven.

roasted turkey

Using clean oven mitts (that you don’t mind getting dirty), carefully tilt the turkey so any juices from the cavity pour into the roasting pan. Transfer the turkey to a platter or cutting board. Tent with foil and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the pan and discard (or if they aren’t too soft/brown, save them and arrange on the serving platter with the turkey). Reserve the drippings in the pan for the gravy. While the turkey rests, make the gravy.

Carve the turkey and serve with the gravy on the side.

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Herb & Brown Sugar Dry-Brined Turkey

Dry-brining makes a juicy and flavorful turkey with golden-crisp skin.

Servings: 8
Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes
Total Time: 3 Hours, plus at least 24 hours to dry-brine the turkey

Ingredients

  • 1 (12 to 14-pound) turkey (not kosher or self-basting/injected), patted dry
  • ¼ cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Morton kosher salt (or ¼ cup Diamond kosher salt)
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons dried sage leaves or ground sage
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut into wedges
  • 2 carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into 2-inch pieces

Instructions

  1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean up, and set an oven rack on top.
  2. Remove and discard the truss that holds turkey legs together (if the legs are held together with turkey skin, cut the skin to release them). Trim off and discard any excess fat in the neck or body cavity. Remove giblets and neck; discard or save for stock. Rinse the turkey inside and out with warm water. Pat dry with paper towels.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the sugar, salt, thyme, sage, and pepper for the dry brine. Place the turkey on the rack of the prepared baking sheet. Rub and pat the dry brine all over the turkey, including inside the cavity. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375°F and set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Using damp paper towels, brush the dry brine off the turkey.
  5. Scatter the onion, carrots, and celery in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Place a roasting rack inside the pan and place the turkey on the rack. Tuck the wings underneath the bird. Using your hands, smear the butter all over the turkey. If using a leave-in thermometer, insert it near the center of the breast through the thickest part until the tip touches the bone.
  6. Roast the turkey until the skin is deep golden and a leave-in or instant-read thermometer registers 165°F when inserted into the thickest part of the breast and the thigh, 1¾ to 2½ hours (see note). Check the turkey after 1½ hours. If the skin is getting too browned, cover it loosely with foil.
  7. Using clean oven mitts (that you don't mind getting dirty), carefully tilt the turkey so any juices from the cavity pour into the roasting pan. Transfer the turkey to a platter or cutting board. Tent with foil and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the pan and discard (or if they aren't too soft/brown, save them and arrange on the serving platter with the turkey). Reserve the drippings in the pan for the gravy.
  8. While the turkey rests, make the gravy.
  9. Carve the turkey and serve with the gravy on the side.
  10. Make-Ahead Instructions: If you don't mind losing the crispy skin, the turkey can be roasted and carved ahead of time. Pour a thin layer of the gravy into an ovenproof serving dish. Arrange the carved turkey nicely on top of the gravy; cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to two days. Refrigerate the remaining gravy in a separate container. To reheat: remove the plastic wrap and cover the platter with aluminum foil. Place in a 325°F-oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the turkey is hot. Reheat the gravy in the microwave or on the stovetop.
  11. Note: I've given a range for the cooking time, which will depend on the size of your turkey. For best results, I recommend using a digital thermometer with a leave-in probe and remote monitor (like this one). That way, you can monitor the temperature of the turkey without ever opening your oven.

Pair with

Gluten-Free Adaptable Note

To the best of my knowledge, all of the ingredients used in this recipe are gluten-free or widely available in gluten-free versions. There is hidden gluten in many foods; if you're following a gluten-free diet or cooking for someone with gluten allergies, always read the labels of your ingredients to verify that they are gluten-free.

See more recipes:

Comments

  • This was perfect. So easy and great results. Really took the stress out of the Thanksgiving meal. Made with the gravy recipe from the high-heat turkey method.

    • — Kathryn on November 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • I have always wet brined my turkey for Thanksgiving. I was so nervous to step out of my comfort zone, but this recipe had gotten so many positive reviews, I figured let’s go for it! SOO HAPPY that I did!! Dry brining was so much easier. The flavor was spot-on and skin was oh so crispy! Thank you for another great recipe!!

    • — Laura D. on November 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • I used this recipe three times already and this year also. Perfect roast, so simple and delicious.

    • — Maya on November 24, 2022
    • Reply
  • Best Turkey recipe ever! We had to hold our cooked Turkey for a bit and it it was still super moist! Thank you so much Jenn for all your great recipes!😊

    • — Stephanie on November 24, 2022
    • Reply
  • I’ll admit, I had my doubts. I feared the dreaded dried out turkey. So when I put it in the oven, I covered first and then uncovered when the bird temp hit 100 degrees. It looked pale for a while, and I got nervous thinking that I had made a fatal error is reversing the directions. This is why these recipes are foolproof bc it still crisped perfectly and turned out FANTASTIC in the end. Thank you again Jenn for every recipe you perfect for all of us!

    • — Jean G on November 24, 2022
    • Reply
  • I has to post on actual Thanksgiving as this was AMAZING! The dry brine was incredibly easy.
    I prepped it 48 hours in advance. I followed directions exactly and used an instant read corded thermometer to make sure meat was at the right temp. The turkey was hands down the best I’ve ever made, juicy and flavorful. Thank you Jenn and happy holidays.

    • — Elizabeth on November 24, 2022
    • Reply
  • For a turkey a little over 13 lbs should I bake it at 375 degrees? Should be done in about 2.5 hours correct? Also should I stuff with onions, garlic, etc.. for more flavor?

    Thank you

    • — Amy on November 24, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Amy, I think I may be weighing in too late to help but for future reference, I’d check it at 1 & 3/4 hours so you can be certain not to overcook it. And a leave-in thermometer is a great tool to remove any guesswork. And you don’t need to stuff the cavity for more flavor, but it’s certainly fine if you’d like to.

      • — Jenn on November 25, 2022
      • Reply
  • Just had to update my last comment!!
    My husband just declared this is the best turkey we’ve made in 40 years!!!!
    I concur!!!!
    Thanks so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • — Wendy Schoenburg on November 23, 2022
    • Reply
  • I just tried your recipe!!!!!!!!!!! So easy & delicious!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I’ve never tried a dry brine before……..love it…….will never return to a wet one!! What a mess!!
    Turkey is very moist and so easy to carve!!
    Just had to share….now back to the kitchen!!!! LOL

    • — Wendy Schoenburg on November 23, 2022
    • Reply
  • I placed the brine all over the turkey. Was I just supposed to put it on top? Seems like it isn’t as thick as in the picture?

    Thank you

    • — Amy Daugherty on November 23, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Amy, it should go all over the turkey. Assuming you used the amounts called for in the recipe, I wouldn’t worry about it.

      • — Jenn on November 23, 2022
      • Reply
      • Hi Jenn, thank you so much again for answering my 20 questions. Can you tell I’m in panic mode?? So I don’t need to make more brine and add it to the turkey? I’m just afraid with all that moisture on the turkey it could have washed off a bit?

        Thank you,
        Amy Daugherty

        • — Amy Daugherty on November 23, 2022
        • Reply
        • LOL — happy to help! No, I really don’t think you need to add more (and the turkey skin will dry out a bit when it’s sitting in the fridge). Good luck! 🙂

          • — Jenn on November 24, 2022
          • Reply
  • I just put the brine all over my turkey after drying it. But as I was putting it on my turkey it began to get very moist because I had just rinsed it and it is thawing. Is it ok if it’s wet with the brine on it?

    Thank you

    • — Amy Daugherty on November 23, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Amy, it should be fine. 🙂

      • — Jenn on November 23, 2022
      • Reply
      • So I shouldn’t add to it in case some of it washed off with all the moisture?

        Thank you

        • — Amy Daugherty on November 24, 2022
        • Reply
        • Hi Amy, I think it’s fine as is, but it won’t hurt if you want to add a bit more to the top as insurance.

          • — Jenn on November 24, 2022
          • Reply
          • Ok I have about 8 hours before I cook it. Do you think it will make a difference? Also will it make it more salty?
            Thank you!

            • — Amy on November 24, 2022
          • Hi Amy, I think the difference will be minimal but it will make it more salty.

            • — Jenn on November 24, 2022
  • I just have a regular digital thermometer. Do I just keep opening the oven to check the temperature? We have 13lb. turkey.

    • — Amy on November 23, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Amy, I would just pull the turkey out at 1-3/4 hours and check the temp. If it needs more time, I’d give it an extra 10 to 15 minutes and check again. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on November 23, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, I love your recipes. Could I do a dry brine and then spatchcock the bird or deconstruct? We are trying to cook two 12 pound turkeys at the same time but we only have one oven. Thanks!

    • — Briana Gerou on November 22, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, that will work.

      • — Jenn on November 22, 2022
      • Reply
  • It’s just my wife and I for Thanksgiving this year. Keeping that in mind, we’ve decided to roast a chicken for just the two of us. Any tips on scaling back the brine ingredients for a chicken?
    Thanks!

    • — Mike McCaleb on November 21, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Mike, You could definitely use the brine on chicken; just adjust the quantities according to the weight of the bird. Happy Thanksgiving!

      • — Jenn on November 21, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hello I’ve never had any luck baking a turkey. Always dry! ): I’m thinking about using this recipe. However I don’t know if my turkey will be thawed out enough to brine in time

    • — Amy on November 21, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Amy, You can actually start the dry-brining process while your turkey thaws.

      • — Jenn on November 21, 2022
      • Reply
      • So if its still partially frozen I can put the brine on?
        Thank you

        • — Amy Daugherty on November 22, 2022
        • Reply
        • Yep 👍

          • — Jenn on November 22, 2022
          • Reply
          • Thank you so much for responding so quickly. A few last questions, when you wipe the brine off the outside do you try to get it out of the inside also? Will 24 hours be enough time to brine? Is the brining method better than the turkey in the bag technique?

            Thank you very much!

            • — Amy on November 23, 2022
          • Hi Amy, No need to wipe the inside of the bird and, yes, 24 hrs is long enough to brine. I do think the method is better than the turkey in the bag. 🙂

            • — Jenn on November 23, 2022
  • I am cooking an 8 lb. bone in turkey breast. I think I would use half the amount of the rub, but am curious as to how long to roast it, and at 375 or 350?

    • — Ellen Young on November 21, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Ellen, That sounds correct re. the rub. I’m guessing it would take 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hrs at 375, but definitely check with a thermometer.

      • — Jenn on November 21, 2022
      • Reply
      • Thanks for your quick reply!

        • — Ellen Young on November 22, 2022
        • Reply
  • Add us to the list of those who bought the Big Easy this year because of you 😉

    Maybe a silly question but…can I use this dry brine in the Big Easy? I assume I skip the butter and the vegetables but can I follow the directions otherwise, including the brown sugar?

    Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving!

    • — Rebecca on November 21, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Rebecca! I hope you enjoy the Big Easy. 🙂 You can use the brine (minus the butter and veggies) but omit the brown sugar – it may burn in the fryer. I would brush the turkey with some oil before cooking. Happy Thanksgiving!

      • — Jenn on November 21, 2022
      • Reply
      • That Big Easy is the best! Been doing our turkey that way for quite a few years now. 🙂 Thanks for the info regarding how to brine the turkey for use with that. Very helpful.
        Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

        • — Sue S on November 22, 2022
        • Reply
  • This rub was so delicious on our turkey! I cooked the turkey in our convection oven which browned up the skin and locked in the juices. I used 2 temperature probes, one on each side of the turkey, and rotated the turkey when I noticed the temperature was getting too uneven. Everyone kept going on about the amazing flavor and so tender and juicy. Thank you for sharing this recipe.

    • — Allen Nichols on November 20, 2022
    • Reply
  • For a 28 pound turkey do I double the brine and bake 325? Thank you

    • — Marie on November 19, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Marie, Yes that’s what I would do; the cook time will be much longer.

      • — Jenn on November 20, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,

    I would like to try this recipe for the dry-brined turkey instead of the high-heat method, but my turkey is a frozen injected one. Would I need to eliminate the salt?

    • — Leigh on November 19, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Leigh, If you eliminate the salt, the turkey won’t technically “brine.” I think you could get away with using it if you reduce the salt by half.

      • — Jenn on November 20, 2022
      • Reply

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