Dry-Buttermilk-Brined Turkey

September 20, 2021
16 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Megan Hedgpeth. Food Stylist: Lauren Lapenna.
  • Prep time 8 hours 15 minutes
  • Cook time 3 hours
  • Serves 8 to 10
Author Notes

Buttermilk-brined meat is food science in action. The technique, which likely hails from the Southern tradition of soaking chicken in buttermilk overnight to tenderize it before dredging and frying the bird, was recently repopularized for turkeys by Samin Nosrat. In 2020, Nosrat adapted her buttermilk-marinated roast chicken recipe from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat into a Thanksgiving main for The New York Times. “The buttermilk and salt work like a brine, tenderizing the meat on multiple levels: the water it contains increases moisture, and the salt and acid it contains disables proteins, preventing them from squeezing liquid from the meat as the bird cooks,” Nosrat writes in the book. While the result is indeed a gorgeously golden-brown-skinned, super-tender turkey, submerging that huge bird in buttermilk is an ordeal, to say the least.

Personally, I never wet-brine turkeys. Buckets of liquid and raw poultry just feels like a disaster waiting to happen, so I always dry-brine my Thanksgiving birds in a blend of salt and pepper, sometimes spices or dry herbs. When contemplating how to achieve the tender meat and stunning color of a buttermilk-brined turkey with the simplicity of dry brines, it hit me: buttermilk powder. Also known as dry buttermilk, this incredibly convenient shelf-stable product is a baker’s dream. Instead of buying a new quart of buttermilk every time I need a cup for a recipe, I keep the dehydrated stuff—available online and at many supermarkets—in my pantry at all times. Wouldn’t you know that when mixed with salt and pepper, rubbed on a turkey (or chicken, for that matter) and left to cure overnight, the result is the same tender-fleshed bird, with none of the liquidy mess! Blessedly, dry buttermilk also contains all the sugars of regular buttermilk, meaning that you’ll achieve the same deeply caramelized skin. In fact, it gets so golden so fast, you may think the turkey is done after its first 30 minutes in the oven (it’s not).

I don’t think this turkey needs gravy, but if your Thanksgiving table isn’t complete without it, check out a number of gravy recipes here.

Believe me when I say this is the most tender, most low-stress roasted turkey I’ve ever made.

*Technically, a brine is a salt and water mixture; a “dry brine” is really just salting in advance. So a buttermilk mixture into which one submerges a piece of meat is in fact more of a marinade than a brine. What should you call a dry brine consisting of powdered buttermilk and salt? I don’t know, so let’s not get hung up on terminology and just enjoy the ride.

Note: I tested this recipe with Diamond Crystal kosher salt, which is about half as salty by volume as Morton’s kosher salt, so if using the latter, use ¾ teaspoon of salt per pound of meat. —Rebecca Firkser

What You'll Need
  • ¾ to 1 cups dry buttermilk powder (about 1 tablespoon per pound of meat)
  • 6 to 7 tablespoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt (about ½ tablespoon per pound of meat; see headnote)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper (about ½ teaspoon per pound of meat)
  • 1 (12- to 14-pound) turkey, defrosted completely if previously frozen, giblets and neck removed
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme, oregano, or half of each (plus more for serving, optional)
  • 1 head garlic, halved crosswise
  1. In a small bowl, combine the dry buttermilk, kosher salt, and black pepper.
  2. Place the turkey on a sheet pan lined with a wire rack. Pat the turkey dry all over, including the cavities (turkeys have two, both of which should be empty!) with paper towels.
  3. Sprinkle the dry buttermilk mixture evenly all over the turkey and pat it on to ensure it adheres to the skin.
  4. Transfer the turkey, uncovered, to the refrigerator for at least 8 and up to 24 hours.
  5. When you’re ready to roast the turkey, heat the oven to 400°F.
  6. Transfer the turkey, breast side up, to a clean sheet pan, discarding any liquid or excess powdered buttermilk that’s accumulated in the first pan. (If you remember, do this 1 hour before you plan to roast; if not, it’ll be totally fine.) Stuff the cavity with thyme and/or oregano and the halved head of garlic. If you’d like, you can tie the legs together with kitchen twine, but this is only for a neater look, and won’t affect the cooking at all.
  7. Roast the turkey for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325°F. Remove the turkey from the oven and baste with any juices accumulated in the pan (but there may not be any, and this is okay). Rotate the pan, then return to the oven. Continue roasting, removing the pan to baste and rotate every 40 to 50 minutes, until the turkey registers 165°F in the thigh, about 2½ to 3 hours. The skin and wings are going to get very dark as a result of the buttermilk—if at any point an area looks like it’s starting to singe (this can happen early in the roasting process, so don’t be alarmed!), tent with a piece of foil.
  8. Let the turkey rest on the sheet pan for 20 minutes, then tilt the bird to spill out any juices in the cavity onto the sheet pan (you can leave the herbs and garlic in the bird). Transfer the turkey to a large cutting board to continue resting until cool enough to slice into and carve. (This could take up to 1 hour; if not serving immediately, transfer to the refrigerator after 2 hours.) Reserve the carcass for stock, and if you’d like, make gravy from the sheet pan drippings. If using, place the carved turkey on more fresh thyme and/or oregano.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Joanne Karohl
    Joanne Karohl
  • aargersi
  • bethshax
  • Rachel Robey
    Rachel Robey
  • Rebecca Firkser
    Rebecca Firkser

12 Reviews

Joanne K. November 7, 2023
Most dry brined poultry recipes I have seen loosen the skin and put the dry ingredients underneath; anyone take that approach with this dry rub?
Jerry November 7, 2023
Joanne, did you get any feedback from the author concerning your question?
Joanne K. November 7, 2023
Not so far
Rachel R. November 7, 2023
Rebecca, the author (and a former editor at Food52), shared on Instagram Stories (@rebeccafirkser) that she was locked out of her account and is unable to respond directly here, BUT she recommends following the recipe as written and that she promises it will turn out very, very good. In case you don't see her post in time, here's what she posted:

"I am locked out of my @food52 account and unable to post a reply comment! I don't want Joanne to potentially mess up her turkey! Someone please tell Joanne to follow the recipe as it's written!"

She says it's one of her best recipes but definitely unorthodox, so she gets a lot of questions on it. Hope that helps—and I recommend following her on Instagram for lots of other really great recipes.
Rebecca F. December 5, 2023
Hi Joanne! I (finally) got my food52 account unlocked/can reply to comments now. I don't put the brine under the skin, it's a relatively fine powder and it would be a bit tricky to do neatly, but there's really no need! If you follow the recipe as written, you'll have a lovely bird. I posted a tutorial here: Sorry it's after thanksgiving, but i hope you try it sometime!
ang December 26, 2022
SUCCESS!!! I can't tell. you how many failures i have had with dry brining. This absolutely worked as described. I did 2 bone in turkey breasts, the helpful information regarding ingredients per pound was exactly correct. The turkey was succulent. I have never had my name and the words "succulent turkey" in the same sentence. what a keeper
aargersi November 25, 2022
Hands down the best turkey I have made or eaten! And I have made a LOT of turkeys in my day. I added garlic powder to the dry mix ….
bethshax November 27, 2021
this was the best turkey I've ever made - better than the smoked, the slow roasted, the spatchcock, the honey glazed... it was perfectly flavored and moist. I had to add some chicken broth to it around the 1st hour to get drippings to baste, and after that, it was in great shape. I used cornbread and sausage stuffing instead of the garlic.
eturiano November 25, 2021
My fiancée made this today and it was the best turkey I’ve had in many years! Crispy skin, super juicy, and flavorful throughout!
casummers November 4, 2021
I've never done this with buttermilk power but I've done the same with buttermilk and you absolutely, positively want to make gravy. It will be some of the best gravy you have ever tasted in your life.
virginia224 October 18, 2021
I don’t know what happened to mine. Maybe we covered it too much with the buttermilk powder? The skin was incredibly tough. I wish there was a picture of what it should look like after covering it in the buttermilk powder and the day of before roasting. That being said the meat was fantastic and juicy but we couldn’t eat the skin.
Jerry November 7, 2023
Why doesn’t the author reply to the reader’s question? It would be helpful.