entertaining · in the kitchen · recipes

Dry Brining a Turkey for Thanksgiving

Dry brining a turkey for Thanksgiving

Because we’re always trying to simplify our Thanksgiving celebration, this recipe for dry brining a turkey for Thanksgiving falls under the category of “super duper simple.” It requires only a few minutes of actual effort and then it’s a matter of waiting. Plus, I recommend getting your husband to do it and then it’s even less work!

I did not come up with this method of preparing a turkey and there are plenty of recipes available for dry brining but this is what we use. You can also choose to use spices that you like and not the ones I have listed. I try and avoid spices or seasonings that contain MSG and also look for ones that don’t contain too much sodium, since salt is the main ingredient here anyway.

Turkey on the charcoal grill

None of my little foodies (kids or husband) could detect a difference when we compared dry brining a turkey for Thanksgiving versus when we soaked a turkey in a saltwater and spice bath solution (in a cooler) to brine it. To be honest with you, the mess involved in cleaning up after soaking a turkey in a bath of saltwater and spices and having to keep it cold was enough to make me just say no to wet brining. Bring on the dry brine instead!

Here’s why I like dry brining a turkey for Thanksgiving:

  • It’s easy
  • It works
  • It tastes great

Could there be any simpler reasons?

Turkey for Thanksgiving

Dry brining a turkey is basically rubbing salt and spices into the skin of a turkey and letting it sit for a few days. That’s it. Plan to dry brine your turkey for 3-4 days before cooking it. We always barbeque our turkey on a charcoal grill and I really like it because our kitchen is small and cooking the bird outside frees up the oven. (This also gets my husband out of the kitchen and gives him something to do instead of freelancing on my recipes!! He claims he’s just “changing it a little” – hah!)

Dry Brining a Turkey for Thanksgiving
Recipe Type: Main
Cuisine: American
Author: Sara Tetreault
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 1
If you want flavor without the mess, dry brining is the way to go. Rubbing the outside of the Thanksgiving turkey gives it lots of flavor but without the mess of a wet salt brine.
  • 3 Tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon smokey Cajun seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon smoked spice mix
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Tony’s lite seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons Old Bay
  • 1 large lemon, zest
  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor or mortar and pestle and pulse or mix until well combined.
  2. Prepare turkey by rinsing it with cold water and drying with paper towels until skin is dry.
  3. Sprinkle salt and spice mixture onto all sides of turkey and rub into skin with fingers. I usually put some inside the cavity too, just for good measure.
  4. Once turkey is covered in spices, place inside a plastic bag and refrigerate. (I put it on a large tray, too, so that nothing leaks out of the bag.)
  5. About once a day, take turkey out of refrigerator and flip it and massage spices into skin of bird.
  6. Cook turkey as usual and enjoy. I suggest grilling it on a charcoal barbeque for best results.
This recipe makes enough for a 12 to 15 lb bird. Add whatever spices you have on hand – and what you like – to the spice mixture.

While this recipe says cook time is ’24hours’ leaving in the refrigerator longer is better.

Thanksgiving Turkey


  • I use a new (clean) kitchen garbage bag to store my turkey in while it’s dry brining. Because I try to avoid purchasing zip lock top type bags, using my kitchen draw-string type bag for this job works out just fine.
  • I honestly don’t think you need to take your turkey out of the refrigerator and rub it down or massage it once it’s in the bag but my husband does this and he claims it’s essential to the bird’s goodness. Since I’m lazy in the kitchen and try to eliminate all sorts of extra steps, if it were up to me, I would not do this. I do think my husband is crazy when it comes to grilled meats and is merely creating ways to get his hands on meat. He could never become a vegetarian.

How do you like to cook your turkey? Have a tried brining your turkey?

Go Gingham related links:

Celebrate Thanksgiving more simply and enjoy the holidays more
Turkey grilling tips from the “Grill Masters” in my life!
Thanksgiving wishes from one year ago and digging for clams
Grilled Thanksgiving turkey from two years ago
Cloth napkins for Thanksgiving that are made from an old skirt
A Thanksgiving tablecloth made with quilting techniques
Pumpkin spice cake would also make a nice dessert at Thanksgiving
Homemade cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving – make it the day before!

 More related links:

4 thoughts on “Dry Brining a Turkey for Thanksgiving

  1. I’ve been wet brining and using the 2-hour Turkey (hot oven) method with great results for a couple of years. So, maybe its time to change it up with a dry rub! I have also been intrigued with the advice that you should have the bird sit uncovered in the fridge for a day or two to get the best effect, which is do-able with a dry rub. Thanks, Sara!


    1. Michelle,
      I do think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the ease of dry brining. The clean up can’t compare! Please let me know how it turns out. Happy Thannksgiving to you and your family!


  2. Sara,

    Thank you so much for this post and the previous one about a simple Thanksgiving dinner. For the first time, I am hosting my in-laws from out-of-state. That means seven kids and six adults. I’m very nervous, but your posts have saved me! Thank you!!!


    1. Rayna, you’re so welcome! I’m sure your dinner will be lovely and tasty. I just know for me, keeping things simpler helps me to enjoy them more. Happy Thanksgiving, Rayna.


Comments are closed.