The Accidental Cajun on Dry-Brining Turkey


By James Cullen

Dry-Brining is a salt rub method, a bit of a misnomer really, since true brining employs the use of a liquid salt solution.  


I prefer the term dry-rub, but the semantics are really not important.  What is important is that dry-brining produces a turkey that is incredibly moist and flavorful without the hassle of a five gallon bucket taking up half the refrigerator, as in a traditional brine.

I should say that the dry-brine technique works best for a bird in the 12-18 pound range.  Anything bigger takes too long and is better done in a liquid brine.  The method is easy:  you rub a flavorful salt mixture over the Turkey, let it sit for a minimum of one day, but optimally two to three, then rinse the mixture off, pat dry, and roast.  I also augment this method by putting a thyme compound butter underneath the skin just before roasting, ensuring a moist and flavorful bird.

The ratio of salt to turkey mass is one tablespoon for every five pounds.  To offset the harshness of the salt, I also add about a teaspoon of brown sugar for every tablespoon of salt.  The most important thing about this method is to make sure the turkey is completely covered in the salt cure.  Furthermore, no additional seasoning is needed before roasting.  Just rinse the bird and pat it dry, and roast.  As I said above, I like to use a compound butter under the skin for additional moisture and flavor, added right before putting the turkey in the oven.  I make mine simply of unsalted butter and fresh thyme.  I also find that it is helpful to run the skin with olive oil or butter for even color.

I made a dry-brined test turkey last night, and it was fantastic.  
Here is the recipe I used for the dry-brine for a 15 lb. turkey:


  • 3 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. white pepper
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • Zest of one lemon


Mix ingredients together well.  Coat turkey thoroughly, especially breasts.  Put turkey in a large plastic bag or in a dish large enough to hold and cover with plastic.  Let cure for 2-3 days depending on the size of the bird.  The day of, rinse the bird and pat dry, and let dry uncovered in fridge.  Take it out an hour before ready to roast.  If using, add compound butter at this point.  For roasting instructions see Talking Turkey: 



Our friend James Cullen was classically trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York and for years cooked at some of New York’s most popular restaurants, including the renowned Pearl Oyster Bar. During this time he met his future wife, a New Orleans native, and the first time she took him home to New Orleans, he says, “it was all over.” He ditched his NYC gig and now happily raises his son, cooks Louisiana-style food, and travels often to and writes about the state he fell in love with at first sight.  Through his popular blog,  “The Accidental Cajun,” he brings a refreshing “outsider’s” perspective on and appreciation for Louisiana’s unique culinary culture and cuisine.