This post includes a tutorial on how to dry brine a turkey for Thanksgiving as well as extra steps (injecting and rubbing with butter/ghee) to make THE BEST Thanksgiving turkey this world has to offer.
This method is goof-proof, requires hardly any effort, zero basting, stuffing, or hovering and results in the most tender, juicy turkey.
When I was a kid, I couldn’t possibly care less about turkey. I found it dry, flavorless, unappealing. I couldn’t understand the buzz.
This was the case until my mid-twenties when I was finally served incredibly tender, juicy, flavorful turkey. Suddenly, my eyes were open! learned there are three main keys to making the best Thanksgiving turkey.
- Start with a quality turkey
- Do a little advance prep. Dry brining is GREAT!
- Don’t stuff the bird with stuffing.
Sourcing Your Turkey:
As is the case with most (I’d argue all) animal proteins, starting with a great quality product is your best bet to having the best turkey. I always buy organic, pasture-raised birds (my favorite is Diestel Family Turkey Ranch, which I buy from Whole Foods).
This REALLY does make a difference! The way an animal is raised directly impacts its flavor and your ability to digest it properly! It is more expensive. In my opinion, it is worth the added expense.
You have multiple options for sprucing up your bird. You can do a traditional brine using water and sea salt, a dry brine, you can inject the bird with seasonings, liquids, and/or some form of fat, and you can rub it in butter or avocado oil.
We’re going to discuss all options: dry brining, injecting, and rubbing the bird in ghee in this post.
I also cover the turkey with foil for the majority of the baking process, and remove it for the last 45 minutes to an hour to ensure the skin gets nice and crispy, but does not burn.
If you dry brine the turkey, you don’t really need to do anything else for an amazing turkey. You can pop it in the oven and the end result will be incredible. You’d never guess such a simple process could yield such amazing results.
Benefits of Dry Brining a Turkey:
- The turkey comes out SUPER moist and tender with TONS of flavor!
- You don’t have to figure out how to refrigerate a huge bucket (or bin) that’s housing your turkey for a wet brine.
- Dry brining yields the same result as a wet brine, but is much, much easier.
- It takes hardly any effort. You simply rub the bird with sea salt (and seasonings if desired), wrap it in plastic wrap, and allow it to sit for 24 to 48 hours.
- The turkey skin turns out delectably crispy.
How Long Does it Take To Dry Brine Turkey?:
For the best results, go with 24 to 46 hours.
If you didn’t think about dry brining until right now, a couple of hours before you put the turkey in the oven, you can still do it! The effect won’t be as dramatic, but you will still notice a difference! Even if you have one hour to spare for the turkey to sit on a dry brine, go for it!
How Much Sea Salt to Use for a Dry Brine:
The only ingredient you need to dry brine a turkey is coarse sea salt. I use Morton’s Kosher Coarse Sea Salt, which you can buy from any grocery store.
You need about 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt per 5 lbs of turkey. So if you’re using a 15-lb turkey, use 3 tablespoons of coarse sea salt.
In addition to coarse sea salt, I use paprika and Italian Seasoning. I find this combination yields that traditional “Thanksgiving flavor,” and is such an easy ingredient list. I use about 2 teaspoons of paprika and 2 teaspoons of Italian Seasoning for a 15-lb turkey.
How to Dry Brine Turkey:
Thaw the turkey completely in your refrigerator. Depending on the size of your turkey, this usually takes 2 to 3 days (24 hours for every 5 lbs of frozen turkey).
Lay two long sheets of plastic wrap over a large baking sheet and place the thawed turkey on top.
In a small bowl, stir together 3 Tbsp coarse kosher sea salt, 2 tsp paprika, and 2 tsp Italian Seasoning (plus any other seasonings you like. Consider garlic powder, onion powder, and/or ground cumin).
Rub the dry brine mixture over the entire turkey (including the underside).
Note: If you’re experienced at separating the skin from the muscle, feel free to rub the brine underneath the skin.
Fold the plastic wrap over the turkey, securing it in a tightly-wrapped package. If necessary, use more plastic wrap to ensure the whole bird is covered.
Place the turkey (with the baking sheet) back into your refrigerator and wait for 24 to 48 hours before roasting.
How to Inject a Turkey:
If you have a meat injector, now is a fabulous time to use it!
Pull the turkey out of the refrigerator 1 hour before you want to roast it. Make the injection liquid, inject the turkey, then cover it back up with plastic wrap and keep it at room temperature for 1 hour before preheating the oven to roast it.
Simply make a sort of marinade and inject the bird with it. Any combination of seasonings, garlic, oil (or butter), and liquid will work to make the turkey tender and flavorful through and through.
Here’s the recipe I use to inject a turkey:
Meat Injection Liquid:
- ½ cup unfiltered apple cider
- ¼ cup avocado oil
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
Blend this mixture in a blender, then suck it up using your meat injector.
Inject all of the mixture into the bird, and try to inject it all over the entire bird liberally so that much of the muscle tissue gets some extra love.
Trick for Incredibly Crispy Turkey Skin:
Rub it in butter or ghee!
Once you have dry brined and injected the turkey, do one last step! Take softened butter or ghee and rub it all over the bird. The exact amount you use doesn’t really matter. A 15-pound turkey only needs about 3 tablespoons, but the heavier you go, the better it will be.
Cover the turkey with foil for the majority of the roasting process, then remove the foil when it has about 45 minutes to 1 hour left. This will result in the crispiest, most amazing golden-brown skin.
How Long to Roast a Thanksgiving Turkey:
Roast turkey at 350 degrees F for 13 to 15 minutes per pound. So a 15 pound turkey need about 3 ¼ hours in the oven.
To check for doneness, use a meat thermometer and stick it in the breast of the bird. The FDA says it should read 165 degrees before pulling it out of the oven.
Do note that the bird continues to cook once it is out of the oven, so many people will pull it out around 160 degrees F.
Allow the turkey to rest 15 to 20 minutes before slicing and serving. This allows the juices to distribute throughout the meat. If you cut into it too early, the muscle fibers will break apart and the result won’t be quite as amazing.
As mentioned above, you can avoid burning the skin by covering the turkey with foil for the first 2-2.5 hours, then removing the foil for the last 45 minutes to 1 hour. This ensures the bird stays plenty moist and the skin does not burn, but becomes perfectly golden-brown.
To recap, here are my steps on…
How to Make the PERFECT Thanksgiving Turkey:
- Dry Brine – combine coarse sea salt, paprika, and Italian seasoning for a dry brine. Rub this mixture over the entire turkey. If you can only do one step, do this step!
- Inject the Turkey – if you have a meat injector, inject the turkey with a mixture of apple cider, avocado oil, garlic powder, onion powder and Italian seasoning (or any mixture you’d like that includes some form of liquid, some form of fat, and seasonings). Allow the turkey to sit for 1 hour at room temperature after injecting it, and before roasting it.
- To stuff or not to stuff? Don’t stuff the bird with stuffing. In fact, you don’t need to stuff it with anything. You can stuff chunks of onion inside of the turkey cavity. This step is entirely optional. Do you have an extra onion? Chop it up, and stuff ‘er in.
- Butter it Up!: Rub the whole turkey in softened butter or ghee – Take half a stick of softened butter (or 4 tablespoons of ghee) and rub it all over the bird. If desired, you can sprinkle more seasonings on top, like Italian seasoning or garlic powder. I don’t find this step necessary, especially if you have injected it with seasonings.
- Roast the turkey – Transfer the turkey to a roasting pan. Cover with foil so that the skin doesn’t burn during the roasting process. Roast for 13 to 15 minutes per 1-lb of turkey. Remove the foil for the last 45 minutes to 1 hour of roasting so that the skin crisps up nicely to a perfect golden-brown.
- Rest! Allow the bird to rest before slicing. Give it a solid 15 to 20 minutes!
- Serve with some bangarang side dishes.
Should I Baste or Stuff a Turkey?:
No. As long as you dry brine a turkey and/or inject it, and/or rub it with butter/oil, you will not need to baste it. Basting detracts from the baking process, because you have to open the oven a lot, which lets out the hot air.
In order for stuffing to be safe to eat (since it has been sitting in the cavity of a raw animal), you must overcook the turkey. It’s best to make the stuffing entirely separate from the turkey. If you’d like, you can stuff the turkey with chunks of onion, which is what I do.
Serve your turkey with some tasty, fresh and healthy sides! Here are a lot of options for ya!
Amazing Thanksgiving Side Dishes:
- Maple Bourbon Cranberry Sauce
- Healthy Green Bean Casserole
- Creamy Cauliflower Casserole
- Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole
- Almond Flour Dinner Rolls
- Creamy Brussel Sprout Casserole
And of course, Paleo Pumpkin Cheesecake for dessert!
Enjoy a fabulous holiday season!