Russ Parsons' Dry-Brined Turkey (a.k.a. The Judy Bird)

By • November 15, 2011 • 244 Comments

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Author Notes: This recipe won a turkey taste test with staff of the L.A. Times Food Section in 2006 and Russ Parsons, the Food Editor at the paper, has been writing about it every Thanksgiving since. The technique is inspired by chef Judy Rodgers, who dry brines the famous roast chicken (and just about everything else) at Zuni Café in San Francisco, but never a turkey. Parsons decided to try it and found, not only does it work -- it comes out perfectly juicy and crisp, with none of the sponginess that you sometimes get with wet-brined birds. He tests a new variation each year, and slashes steps he decides aren't important. He's grilled the brined turkey, and added herbs and spices to the salt -- but his most genius discovery is that you can brine a frozen bird as it's defrosting. And why wouldn't you? Genius Recipes

Serves 11-15

  • One 12- to 16-pound turkey (frozen is fine)
  • Kosher salt
  • Herbs and/or spices to flavor the salt (optional -- see suggestions in step 1)
  • Melted butter for basting (optional)
  1. Wash the turkey inside and out, pat it dry and weigh it. Measure 1 tablespoon of salt -- we used Diamond Crystal -- into a bowl for every 5 pounds the turkey weighs (for a 15-pound turkey, you'd have 3 tablespoons). You can flavor the salt with herbs and spices if you like -- try smoked paprika and orange zest, bay leaf and thyme, or rosemary and lemon zest. Grind together with the salt in a spice grinder, small food processor, or mortar and pestle.
  2. Sprinkle the inside of the turkey lightly with salt. Place the turkey on its back and salt the breasts, concentrating the salt in the center, where the meat is thickest. You'll probably use a little more than a tablespoon.
  3. Turn the turkey on one side and sprinkle the entire side with salt, concentrating on the thigh. You should use a little less than a tablespoon. Flip the turkey over and do the same with the opposite side.
  4. Place the turkey in a 2 1/2-gallon sealable plastic bag, press out the air and seal tightly. (If you can't find a resealable bag this big, you can use a turkey oven bag, but be prepared for it to leak.) Place the turkey breast-side up in the refrigerator. Chill for 3 days, turning it onto its breast for the last day. Rub the salt around once a day if you remember.
  5. Remove the turkey from the bag. There should be no salt visible on the surface and the skin should be moist but not wet. Place the turkey breast-side up on a plate and refrigerate uncovered for at least 8 hours.
  6. On the day it is to be cooked, remove the turkey from the refrigerator and leave it at room temperature at least 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  7. Pat it dry one last time and baste with melted butter, if using. Place the turkey breast-side down on a roasting rack in a roasting pan; put it in the oven. After 30 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and carefully turn the turkey over so the breast is facing up (it's easiest to do this by hand, using kitchen towels or oven mitts).
  8. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees, return the turkey to the oven and roast until a thermometer inserted in the deepest part of the thigh, but not touching the bone, reads 165 degrees, about 2 3/4 hours total roasting.
  9. Remove the turkey from the oven, transfer it to a warm platter or carving board; tent loosely with foil. Let stand at least 30 minutes to let the juices redistribute through the meat. Carve and serve.
Jump to Comments (244)

Comments (244) Questions (28)

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Stringio

about 4 hours ago Richard Johnson

How early can I start the brining process? Step 5 says, "at least 8 hours". Is there a no more than " " hours? and the while in the bag for 3 days is that min or max? Thanks for your help!

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about 4 hours ago Wasel Choi

I would say min. 3 days! Marination is crucial, so less days of marinating means less marination in your meat! So it depends on your test. There is always a way to tweak and figure out things by your own. Same goes to "at least 8 hours."
When you are cooking, when you are preparing your meal, you are into it, you are into art and art has no a limited number or time. Happy Thanksgiving.

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about 13 hours ago Lea Steinberger

I was going to do my turkey with a bacon and herb paste that goes under the skin. Could I do the dry brine and still do the paste or would it be too salty?

Open-uri.649

1 day ago Das_Muller

I'm thinking about trying the smoked paprika and orange zest combo. Can anyone recommend how much I should use per tbsp of salt?

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2 days ago Parisxtina

I'm planning on cooking a 20+ lb turkey. If I can't find a ziploc bag big enough to fit my bird, would it work to wrap it in plastic wrap instead for the brining?

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2 days ago olygirl

I wouldn't recommend it. During the process, a surprising amount of liquid is expelled then reabsorbed back into the meat, that's part of what makes it so tasty. I'd be afraid that wrapping it in plastic wrap would be messy and you'd risk losing the brine. This time of year especially, most markets should have either brining bags or baking bags available. I know Bed Bath and Beyond carries brining bags and last year I used a Reynolds Baking Bag, which I found at my local supermarket. Hope that helps!

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2 days ago olygirl

I should've added that I've used both types of bags the past two years for 20+ pound birds and both were plenty big enough.

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1 day ago fuck-you

Use an oven bag like this: http://www.pickyourownchristmastree...

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3 days ago Leith Devine

Yes, the drippings can be salty. I make gravy beforehand. Roast turkey wings and legs with herbs and onions, and use those drippings to make gravy that's finished before Thanksgiving gets crazy! I don't know about the shorter cooking time...my turkeys seem to take the regular (unstuffed) time, but I've been using this recipe since it first came out in the LA Times.

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4 days ago Pammorgan

I had a pre Thanksgiving meal last night since my family is out of town for the real day. I made this turkey for the 2nd year in a row. It was so moist and flavorful. Just to let everyone know though, that the turkey takes half the time to cook than a regular bird. I had a 19 pound bird and it
took only 3 hours!!! Also, my drippings were very salty; so make sure to make adjustments if you're using your drippings for gravy. I had to add abt 2 cups of low sodium chicken broth to the drippings to reduce the saltiness. Plus I whisked in some butter as well.

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4 days ago willfith

Are you supposed to baste with this recipe?

Miglore

4 days ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

See step 7 -- it's optional, and it will be juicy and crisp even if you don't baste at all.

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4 days ago JDart

Do you think you can brine it for longer? I.E. if i get it at the farmers market on Saturday or Sunday, I can brine it for 4-5 days? Or will it be too long? Thoughts? Suggestions?

Miglore

4 days ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

If you're getting it at the farmer's market, presumably it will be very fresh, and the salt helps act as a preservative too. I'd go for Sunday just to be extra safe, if you can.

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5 days ago Leith Devine

Yes, it will. Kosher refers to how the bird was treated as it was brought to market. The only turkey it wouldn't be great on is Butterball, which injected with a salt water solution already.

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5 days ago Deb

This may defeat the brining purpose but would this work on a kosher turkey?

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5 days ago drbabs

Barbara is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Kosher turkeys are already salted, so it would probably make the turkey way too salty.

Miglore

5 days ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

I've actually tested this on kosher turkeys before and didn't find the results too salty -- neither process is very heavy-handed with the salt.

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6 days ago Leith Devine

The drying out process makes the skin crispy and incredible! The pre-salt keeps the breasts moist and juicy.

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6 days ago susan

Jana, I had this same issue last year and just dry brined bird and left uncovered in fridge overnight. (Basically steps 5 and 6.) It was moist and delicious!

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7 days ago Beth

I only make turkey breasts since no one in my family likes the dark meat. How should I adjust this recipe?

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7 days ago Leith Devine

Just follow the directions for the amount of salt per pound of turkey you're using so you don't oversalt, then proceed as written. It will be the same and taste great!

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9 days ago Wasel Choi

Folks, I truly recommend The Judy Bird. Judy left and left us with a true invention of new Turkey that you won't forget ever! I contacted Russ Parsons last year and I would not have made my first turkey without his talent, check it out: https://medium.com/culinary...
Happy Thanksgiving

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9 days ago Jana Everett

I ordered my turkey for an early-Thanksgiving celebration this weekend and it won't arrive until the day before. Can I change something in this recipe to have it work over a shorter timeline?

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9 days ago Wasel Choi

I believe it would be best to receive it three days earlier. If you can adjust the arrival time that would be awesome!

Stringio

13 days ago Gigi Petery

Yes, this would work as spatchcocked. I used the dry brine last year on a cut up turkey - brined the pieces for 2-3 days, the roasted the pieces for a little more than an hour . Turned out amazing! Moist and full of flavor. I can't wait to make it again this year!

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14 days ago Leith Devine

Sure, why not? The point of the dry brine is to keep the meat moist and I'm sure it would work if you spatchcock the bird. I love this recipe and have been using it since it was first published. I add fresh herbs and lemon zest to the salt.

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14 days ago zoemetro uk

Thanks Leith! I completely agree. I love the idea of lemon and herbs in the salt. We have been using Zuni chicken recipe for every roast since I tried it a couple of years ago. And you just gave me an idea--I am going to try the chicken recipe--but spatchcocked--this Sunday and see what happens. Thank you again.

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14 days ago Leith Devine

BTW, I stuff the cavity with lemons, celery and onions, and sometimes fennel. For cooking spatchcocking the bird, I'd layer the bottom of the pan with celery, lemons etc to make a natural "rack". The pan juices will be amazing! Throw some chicken broth in the bottom so it doesn't burn. :)

Miglore

14 days ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Food52er AntoniaJames actually wrote a great recipe combining the two techniques! https://food52.com/recipes...

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14 days ago zoemetro uk

Is this recipe spatchcock-able? It seems to be the new thing this season.

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7 days ago Wasel Choi

It is not new for this season but new in the sense of Judy' recipe of her dry-brining turkey in 1980s. It became nationally popular since she started it from her restaurant, Zuni Café, in San Francisco.

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11 months ago juicyrebound1

In agreement with Deanna, easiest and best bird ever and the gravy was the tastiest I have ever had. It was a bit of an arm-wrestling match to get people to pass it at table.

Stringio

11 months ago Kristen Dandar

AHHH-MAZING!!! This was the best turkey I've ever eaten!! I cannot believe I cooked it myself! I dried some fresh orange peel in my dehydrator and mixed it with my sea salt and Earth's Pride Organics all purpose seasoning from BJ's and it was great!

For those of you who couldn't find a bag big enough, I used a medium size SPACE BAG (https://www.spacebag.com) and vacuumed all of the air out!

I was even more aggressive with my high heat. I had a bird just under 16 pounds. I started it out at 500 degrees for 30 minutes and only turned it down to 375 degrees (we were baking brownies at the same time). I was a little worried the higher temp. might be too much, but it still came out perfect and the whole thing was roasted in about 2 hours and 20 minutes!!!

Even the leftovers where moist and delicious! My husband who doesn't usually eat leftover turkey because he doesn't like the dry texture gobbled up the leftovers. Best turkey recipe ever!!!!

I put the carcass and bones in my slow cooker overnight and I also have AHHH-MAZING turkey bone broth! SCORE!!!