Citrus Dry Brine Turkey

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  • When it comes to turkey, there are a million ways to prepare it. Don’t get caught up in the hype of “the best turkey” and “the only way”.

    Lemon dry brine for turkey, turkey is sliced with a lemon slice

    Use this Citrus Dry Brine for Turkey for perfect, moist and flavorful turkey every time!

    I’m going to be 100% honest with you (and this might make me a poor salesperson) but there are many ways to make the perfect turkey.

    The perfect turkey is going to be different for everyone. I think there is only one thing we can all agree on and that is that no one wants a dry bird.

    You know, the type that looks like dried out shoe leather and needs a vat of gravy to force it down.

    Juicy and moist, two adjectives I generally don’t like, are the only ways to describe a good turkey.

    Some folks will insist that you use a Cajun injection or the best dry rub, or even the wine and butter cheesecloth method. When it comes down to it, it is all personal preference and I think they all have their benefits. See recipes for all of these below.

    presalted turkey with lemon zest

    After the fad of injecting, brining came on the scene. Long used by chefs, it was now a technique the home cook also used.

    The most traditional way to brine a turkey is using a wet brine. Meaning to soak it in a salty water solution for about 24 hours.

    Let me introduce you to another chef secret: the dry brine. It is just as effective with less mess for a succulent and juicy turkey!

    Logically speaking, soaking a bird in water and letting osmosis do its job, one would think that this would be the best way to get a juicy bird, but dry brining has proved to be just as effective for moisture levels and even more better for crispy skin.

    Let’s get to the important stuff….

    What is a dry brine?

    Pre-salting, also known as a dry brine or salt brine, is a salt rub applied directly to the turkey without water. The salt mixture can be seasoned with fresh herbs, spices, sugar to balance the acidity and in this case, citrus.

    The process to dry brine takes a little longer than wet, but is less messy and requires less space than a giant cooler or brining bag. You can dry brine for 1 day, but 3-4 is the sweet spot for the juiciest turkey, but this will also depend on the size of your bird.

    whole turkey after brining

    The turkey will sit in your fridge uncovered for one whole day (at the end of the process), resulting in seasoned meat, but also super crispy skin.

    It seems scary to let is sit, all exposed, but as long as you handled it properly from thawing and cooking to the correct temperature, it will be fine.

    How does salting a turkey make it more juicy?

    It sounds like pre-salting should actually make the turkey more dry, doesn’t it? But this is science and things are happening that aren’t apparent to the naked eye.

    Dry brining draws out the turkey’s natural moisture. The salt mixes with the juices and is reabsorbed into the meat which makes a super concentrated brine solution that breaks down the muscle proteins and prevents them from squeezing liquid out during the cooking process.

    carved turkey after a citrus dry brine

    The last part is also what happens when a turkey is wet brined, just that salt has two different vehicles to get to the muscles.

    Is a dry rub the same as a dry brine?

    No, a dry brine is on the turkey for days, allowing a chemical reaction to happen. It will season the bird and produce it’s own concentrated brine.

    A dry rub is good for throwing on right before you put the bird in the oven and will give you tasty skin, but won’t do anything to impact juiciest or flavor the rest of the meat.

    What is the difference between a dry brine and a wet brine?

    Wet brining involves boiling water with salt to dissolve it, but also using aromatics, spices, herbs. After the water cools, the turkey is submerged in seasoned water for about 24 hours and then cooked. The infused water floods the whole turkey with moisture and flavor.

    close up of a sliced turkey breast using a salt brine

    A dry brine uses salt, but no water. It can be seasoned with the same seasonings, like citrus, but omits the process of heating and cooling water.

    PRO TIP: Use an aluminum roasting pan and just throw it away after using.

    The benefits of a dry brine are that it is easier, requires less prep time, less messy, takes up less space and naturally creates crispy skin.

    Where do I apply the dry brine?

    Dry brine is best applied evenly below the skin and over the skin with some being inside the cavity. Turkeys are big and have a lot of meat. Some areas are thicker and others thinner.

    Putting some mixture under the skin takes less time to penetrate and putting it on the inside allows for it to sink in from both sides to reach all the way through.

    dry rubbed turkey on a platter

    How much turkey do I need person?

    We recommend estimating 1 -1 1/2 pounds per person. This might sound like a lot, but remember much of the turkey is bones and other inedible parts. After you subtract out all of that you’ll have about ¾ pound per person and a little for leftovers.

    These are our favorites ways to use up turkey leftovers.

    Is it best to use a fresh turkey or a frozen turkey?

    Fresh Turkey – The benefits of having a fresh turkey are that you know it hasn’t been sitting in a freezer for a ridiculous period of time and there is no need to thaw. Some people claim they are more flavorful, but I’ve never noticed a difference, especially after brining and roasting.

    On the other hand, you’ll need to find a farm to purchase it from, which usually requires a hefty lead time, and will need to pick it up 1-4 days before cooking.

    close up of roast turkey breast after a dry brine

    If you plan to dry brine, you’ll need to start working on the brine the day you pick it up.

    Frozen Turkey – The benefits of a frozen turkey are being able to purchase it months before cooking it, they are typically a lot less expensive and you’ll have a wider range of sizes.

    The downfall is that you’ll need to plan for thawing, which can take several days if you have a big bird.

    How do I defrost a turkey fast?

    Thawing a turkey is one thing I don’t usually recommend doing fast. Using the defrost function on the microwave will most certainly result in uneven thawing/cooking and rubbery texture.

    To ensure proper handling and the least risk of food bourne illness, it shouldn’t sit at room temperature for long amounts of time either.

    Thanksgiving turkey dry brine for pinterest

    These are the two most acceptable and safe ways to thaw a turkey:

    Fridge – If you have the time (and the foresight) thaw in the fridge in original packaging for 24 hours for every 5 pounds of bird. Yes, a 15 pound bird will take about 3 days to thaw.

    Water Bath – If you forgot to take the turkey out or it isn’t defrosting as fast as you like, you can give it a cold water bath in the sink. Change the water every 30 minutes to around room temperature (NOT HOT). Plan for 30 minutes for every pound of bird.

    A 15 pound bird will take 7 ½ hours. changing the water every 30 minutes. Allow 30 minutes of thawing time per pound of bird.

    The benefit of brining, either dry or wet, is that you can apply the brine while the turkey is still partially frozen. It will just continue to defrost. If you are using a dry brine, you’ll need to change the platter or pan it is sitting in daily to prevent it from pooling at the bottom or even overflowing if a shallow dish.

    juicy citrus dry brine for turkey

    What type of salt should I use for dry brining?

    We recommend using a coarse sea salt. Diamond Crystal tends to be a chef’s choice as it has the right amount of sodium without being too salty.

    Morton’s has a little more sodium, so we recommend using about ¾ the amount.

    Do not use a fine sea salt or iodized salt. It will be WAY too salty and if iodized, taste metallic.

    You’ll be using a scant 1 tablespoon for every 5 pounds of turkey. Avoid a heaping spoonful, it will be too much.

    Do I need to rinse a dry brined turkey?

    You do not need to rinse a dry brined turkey. There isn’t a huge amount of salt, like you would have in a wet brine, and rinsing it will defeat the purpose of letting it sit uncovered for a day and prevent crispy turkey skin.

    It will also wash away the flavors, like orange, lemon and lime. This serves as both the brine and the rub.

    dry brine for whole turkey

    Can you dry brine turkey breast?

    Listen, you can brine any piece of piece including a turkey breast. Just adjust the amount of seasoning based on the weight.

    You can also use this dry brine on pork or chicken.

    Use approximately 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon dried herbs, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper for every 5 pounds. This measurement does not need to be exact.

    Only brine smaller pieces of meat for about 1 day or else it will be overly saturated and could start to go in the other direction of being rubbery.

    What type of pan should I use for roasting a turkey?

    Much like making anything in a skillet, do not overcrowd the pan. Use a roasting pan larger than your bird and make sure the sides aren’t too tall. I suggest 2-3 inches tall.

    If it is any taller, you’ll risk steaming the turkey, which will make the skin soggy (and ruin the crisp!) Also, try to use a raised roasting pan. Keeping it up and out of the liquids will help keep the skin crispy.

    Can I smoke or fry a dry brined turkey?

    You sure can! In fact, a dry brined turkey is perfect for frying because it is so dry and perfectly seasoned.

    You can also smoke or grill it.

    Tips for Dry Brining a Turkey:

    • Salt is the sat ingredient for any brine. DO NOT USE A FINE SALT. Use coarse salt, either Diamond Crystal or Kosher. Read above about my notes on picking salt.
    • Use a plain free-roaming or heritage turkey. Do not use a Kosher, pre-seasoned or self-basting turkey, they have added salt and will be too salty.
    • Make sure your turkey is defrosted or at least 75% thawed. If it isn’t fully thawed, remove pooling water from the pan or tray daily. Plan ahead so you have enough time to thaw AND brine (about 7 days for an average turkey).
    • Plan for at least 3 days, if not 4, for dry brining. You can cook a turkey after 1 or 2 days, but it won’t reach it’s fully juicy and flavorful potential.

    Here are our other whole turkey recipes:

    Deep Fried Turkey Recipe
    Have you ever wondered how to fry a turkey? Here are easy step-by-step instructions that can be used with any fried turkey recipe. #howtofryaturkey #friedturkeyrecipe
    Have you ever wondered how to fry a turkey? Here are easy step-by-step instructions that can be used with any deep fried turkey recipe. 
    Juicy Roast Turkey
    Juicy Roasted Turkey is easier than you think with my buttery recipe, a bottle of bubbles and fresh herbs. The best juicy turkey recipe ever! #juicyroastedturkey #bestturkeyrecipe #thanksgivingturkey
    Juicy Roast Turkey is easier than you think with my buttery recipe, a bottle of bubbles and fresh herbs. 

    Here are some turkey breast recipes, which can also be applied to whole birds:

    Orange Sage Turkey Breast with Creamy Sherry Sauce
    close up of roast turkey breast with orange gravy
    Orange Sage Turkey Breast with Creamy Sherry Sauce is a flavorful and easy meal made with sherry cooking wine, fresh oranges and a sweet cream sauce.
    Stuffed Turkey Breast
    stuffed turkey breast on a cutting board
    Oven roasted turkey breast doesn't get any better than this Stuffed Turkey Breast! Perfect for any weeknight, not just Thanksgiving!Oven roasted turkey breast doesn't get any better than this Stuffed Turkey Breast! Perfect for any weeknight, not just Thanksgiving!

    And to round out your menu, you need Thanksgiving Sides and Thanksgiving Desserts!

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    whole turkey after brining
    Print Recipe
    5 from 3 votes

    Citrus Dry Brine Turkey

    Use this Citrus Dry Brine for Turkey for perfect, moist and flavorful turkey every time!
    Prep Time20 mins
    Cook Time4 hrs
    Brining Time (Hands-Off):4 d
    Total Time4 d 4 hrs 20 mins
    Course: Main Course, Main Dish
    Cuisine: American
    Keyword: citrus turkey brine, dry brine turkey, how to dry brine a turkey
    Servings: 8
    Calories: 913kcal
    Author: Jessica Formicola




    • 2 lemons cut into quarters
    • 1 white onion cut into quarters
    • 1 orange cut into quarters
    • 1 cup chicken broth or other liquid
    • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter melted



    • In a small bowl, mix together ingredients for the dry brine.
    • Remove the turkey from the packaging. Remove the giblets and neck from inside the cavity and discard or save for another use. Remove or discard any plastic or metal cages or pop-up thermometers.
    • Rinse turkey under cold water. Pat the turkey dry, inside and out with paper towels.
    • Using your fingers, gently loosen the skin from the meat around the breast and legs. Try to keep the skin intact without holes. If you do make a hole, don’t sweat it, it just looks prettier after roasting, it won’t impact the taste.
    • Season the inside cavity with 2 teaspoons of dry brine.
    • Rub the reminder of the dry brine between the skin and meat and over the top of the skin evenly.
    • Bend the wings back and tuck under the breast to secure.
    • Place the turkey breast-side up in a roasting pan and refrigerate covered for 2-4 days. Check daily for pooling liquid, discarding as needed. On the last day, remove cover and allow to air dry.
    • Do not rinse before cooking. From here follow any recipe you like or use the instructions for roasting below.


    • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
    • In the bottom of a clean roasting pan add lemons, onion and orange and 1 cup of liquid- either chicken stock, water or white wine.
    • Place the turkey upside down (breast side down) on a rack in a roasting pan. Juices will run down preventing the turkey breast from getting dry, so you don’t have to baste and potentially hydrate the skin and prevent it from being crispy.
    • Brush the bottom of the turkey with half of the melted unsalted butter.
    • Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Roast for 1 hour.
    • Remove turkey and carefully turn over, breast side up. Baste with remaining unsalted butter.
    • Return to the oven and roast for an additional 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees in the meaty part of the thigh and not near a bone. This will vary greatly depending on the size and shape of your turkey. Check often using a digital thermometer.
    • Remove turkey and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. Carving too soon will release all of the juices. Turkey will hold heat fairly well, but you can tent with aluminum foil or return to the oven on the servin tray for 3-4 minutes to reheat.
    • If you do make turkey gravy, test drippings for saltiness before adding any additional salt to the gravy.
    • We hope you enjoyed this recipe, come back and let us know how it was!


    For salt, we recommend Diamond Crystal.
    You can dry-brine a partially frozen turkey, just make sure it is about 75% thawed and you can seperate the skin from meat. You will have more water pooling in the roasting pan, so check regularly and remove excess liquid.
    If your turkey varies in size, use approximately 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt, 1 teaspoon citrus zest, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper for every 5 pounds. This measurement does not need to be exact.


    Calories: 913kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 131g | Fat: 40g | Saturated Fat: 12g | Cholesterol: 450mg | Sodium: 3343mg | Potassium: 1358mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 513IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 73mg | Iron: 5mg
    image of jessica formicola

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