Simple & Easy Lower-sodium Dry Brine Thanksgiving Turkey


Andrew Buck


  1. I did my homework and checked out options for prepping a turkey for this Thanksgiving. A wet brine was out of the question. There was no way a 5-gallon plastic pail was going to fit in our refrigerator easily.  So dry rub, or dry brine as it is called, seemed to make a lot of sense, and there were plenty of on-line tutorials available.    But wait!  Most on-line recipes recommended using 2-3 teaspoons of salt per pound of turkey. Another suggested using 1 ½ teaspoons of salt per pound if using Morton Kosher Salt.  

Hold on for a minute. Is this a strategy for elevating your relative’s blood pressure till they drop???   Come on, let’s do the math. There are 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon and 16 Tablespoons in a cup.  

What would happen if I had a 22-pound turkey?  Following the guide above, 22 lbs. of turkey x 1.5 teaspoons of salt per pound = 33 teaspoons or 11 Tablespoons of salt. This is equivalent to approximately 2/3 Cups of salt.  I don’t know about you, but 2/3 cup of salt seems like a lot of SODIUM……

I believe if you use just half of that (5-6 Tablespoons in this case or ¾ teaspoon of Morton Kosher Salt per pound of turkey in general), and boost the garlic and pepper a bit, you are still in for a delicious dinner that won’t trigger a spike in your guests’ blood pressure.  Other chefs or cooks may disagree about lowering the amount of salt for a dry brine, but you will discover what works best for you.

Very early in November, given some question marks about supply chain and availability of turkey during the holiday season, I grabbed a frozen turkey from ShopRite early. My wife thought this was quite ridiculous. Where were we going to store it? The answer to that was simple – in the fridge. I removed one complete shelf from the refrigerator and let it sit in the fridge for 5 days as it thawed out. On the 5th day, I hefted it out and placed it into a recently scoured and disinfected sink. From there I removed the plastic covering, gave it a good wash and removed the gizzards. It was large turkey – weighing in at a little over 22 pounds.  All directions for dry brine suggest patting the bird dry before rubbing on the seasoning mixture. Sounds easy but the legs were tied up with some very strong nylon binding. I did the best I could and then seasoned it inside and out. I then placed the turkey in an aluminum roasting pan – where it barely fit – and placed it back in the fridge for three days.  Yes, raw exposed turkey sat in the fridge for a long weekend.  That made me a little anxious, so I adjusted the fridge temperature setting so it hovered between 33-36 degrees. 

The day of reckoning finally came when I had to bake it in the oven. It’s a lot easier than it seems; and my childhood recollections of a turkey taking 7-8 hours to roast in the oven didn’t match any of the on-line turkey cooking charts or calculators I could find. I did follow one important piece of advice which worked in this instance, put it in the oven and forget about it. 

Before cooking in the oven began, I lifted the heavy bird out of the roasting pan and placed it on a large cookie sheet. Then I filled the bed of the roasting pan with coarsely cut potatoes, carrots and onions. You may have seen pictures of a “turkey rack” that the fowl can sit on, but that is not part of our kitchen arsenal.  The bed of vegetable functions the same way: to lift the turkey out of the excess gravy. However, with the vegies you have the advantage of having a ready-to-go wonderfully flavored side dish!

Then I snipped a handful of fresh thyme from the front garden (Yes, even city dwellers can grow a sprig here or there) and I stuffed it into the hollow cavity – squeezing it past the tied-up legs. I also read that cutting an apple in half and placing it in the neck helps to keep that area moist, so I did that too. Finally, as a last grand gesture to honor this dearly departed turkey and to celebrate this first-time effort, I patted softened sage-infused butter all over the outside. I returned the turkey to aluminum roasting pan and let it sit in the bed of vegetables.  I let it cook for 5 hours at 350 degrees and it was done. The skin started to get a little dark in some areas, so I turned the oven down to 325 degrees for the last hour and a half. I tried to tent it with foil in the oven, but that didn’t work out at all. My recommendation is just cook it at 335 degrees. The apartment smelled fantastic all day. The turkey turned out tender and delicious. There was plenty of gravy in the pan and the vegetables were just oh so tender and flavorful.

So, there you have it, the story of my first holiday turkey.  I hope this story gives you some ideas and inspiration to guide you on your way! Stay healthy: eat well, exercise lightly, and rest as needed!

Lower-Sodium Dry Brine Turkey Seasoning Mix:

  • Salt (Cut traditional salt recommendations in half)
  • Black Pepper
  • Thyme – Dried
  • Rosemary – Dried
  • Garlic Powder – be generous

I tend to season to taste heavier on Black Pepper and Garlic Powder, lighter on Thyme and Rosemary.

Additional treatments (Optional): 

  • Apply Sage-butter on the outside of the bird before placing it in the oven
  • Stuff a cut apple in the neck area

Notes: This was an unstuffed bird. I have heard that adding walnuts and apples to stuffing (cooked separately) can be delicious but check with guests or families about nut allergies first!