once upon a chef

Herb & Brown Sugar Dry-Brined Turkey

 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.


– 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

Step #1

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

Step #2

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.

Step #3

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

Step #4

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.

Step #5

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

Step #6

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.

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. 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.

Step #7

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.