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

By • November 15, 2011 • 212 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 (212)

Comments (212) Questions (27)

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9 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

9 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!!!

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10 months ago Rogan

I only got my brine in for 30 hours and it was still perfect - moist and delicious. We had a 25 pound bird and it was done in 3 hours - thank god I checked it often or I would have overcooked it. This was the first time in years we sat down to Thanksgiving dinner before 7pm…everyone raved.

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10 months ago deanna1001

It's everything promised and more. I stuffed the bird and roasted according to a 1980 Bon Appetit cover article with Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey...been using their jalapeno cornbread stuffing and cooking procedures for 30 years with never a complaint. But this bird really tasted superior. Made great gravy too - didn't need any additional seasoning. Just perfect. Will never wet brine again. Thank you cooking gods (and food 52) for this!

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10 months ago Ln

A great, simple method of dry brining. Not messy or time consuming at all. Turkey turned out moist and great flavor. I used lemon rinds and rosemary with the salt. We'd had a 10 lb bird and cooked within 2 hours with no stuffing. However, I did put in an apple, onion, and half a lemon. This is a keeper!

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10 months ago joanne

I had said that if this did not work for me that I was never making another turkey. Myself and family said that it was the best turkey they have ever tasted. It was very easy to do really and I did not put it breast side down to start it off I just roasted it at 325. It took about 3 1/2 hours and then we let it set for 45 minutes really awsome recipe. Another thing is I did not stuff my turkey (this was also a first) I cooked my home made dressing in a crock pot worked great and freed up my oven.

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10 months ago dipity

This is a keeper. I will be preparing my turkey this way from here on in. Here are some notes on my experiences:
- My turkey was a 13 lbs. Diestel Natural Turkey from Whole Foods
- I too had a hard time finding a 2 1/2 gallon sealable plastic bag. If someone has a brand and source please share. I was otherwise very lucky because the butcher at Whole Foods gave me a bag that totally worked. My husband suggested using a garbage bag, but I could not get past the word garbage.
- Since the instruction said "roast" not "bake". I used the Thermador Convection Roast setting. I was also using the oven's temperature probe to control the timing. The temperature probe in the thigh reached 165 degrees in just 1 hour. Since this was far shorter than the 2 3/4 hours stated in the instruction, I took out the probe and continued roasting without the probe (because I thought I must not have inserted the probe properly). Fortunately I decided to check the thigh temperature using an instant read thermometer after 15 minutes. At that time the thigh temperature was way over 165 (I don't remember the exact number). So my total roasting time was 30 minutes at 425 degrees and 1 hours 15 minutes at 325 degrees.
- since the turkey was done too early, I decided to tent the turkey while on the counter. I think this is a mistake as the skin lost its crispiness.
- in spite of the high thigh temperature, the breast was VERY moist. I'm a white meat person, so I forgot to taste the dark meat. :-)
THANK YOU FOOD52 for this recipe. Although the instructions seems lengthy and complicated at first glance, I actually think that it is easier than what I was doing before. My previous method requires that I separate the skin from the meat and brine that way. AND it requires that the salt be washed off. The washing and drying after brining is VERY challenging for me. As was brining between the skin and meat without tearing the skin.
Again, MANY THANKS for this!

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10 months ago Wasel Choi

Thank you food52, thank you everyone for helping me to make my first turkey! You can read my experience at medium.com/p/623ee848d62a

Happy Thanksgiving

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10 months ago Alyssa

5 stars!! I made this for Thanksgiving dinner, 17.7 pound bird and followed the 15 pound recipe in terms of how much salt to use. I was fearful of the meat tasting too salty, but it was perfect! It was moist, but without a strange brined texture. The only thing was that the kitchen filled with a bit of smoke during the roasting time. I would definitely make this every year, way better than wet brining. Also, I used two garbage bags to wrap the bird because we didn't have ziplocs or roasting bags big enough.

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10 months ago Susan Perlow

Excellent recipe! I've probably roasted 60+ turkeys in my life; always used the wet-brine method. I've never made a "bad" turkey, so I was hesitant to switch it up. So glad I ventured away from tradition; this is by far the best turkey I've ever made! I used the "tablespoon of salt per pound of turkey", plus about a tablespoon each of fresh rosemary, time, sage, and crushed garlic and paprika. Followed the recipe as outlined; then let it rest for half an hour after roasting. My only advice would be that if you use pan drippings for gravy, it's already very salty and as in my brine, heavily seasoned, so don't add salt!!!! I added more milk and water to the drippings than usual and used only fresh pepper. Drippings made a lot of really great gravy! Best turkey, best gravy I've ever made. Juicy, moist and flavorful, and so much easier than traditional wet brining! Thank you for this amazing recipe!

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10 months ago Susan Perlow

Edit above to tablespoon of salt per five lbs turkey; my bird weighed 22 lbs, I used a little more than 5 (heaping) tablespoons salt plus fresh seasonings....

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10 months ago Chan

Did not work out for me. My turkey was so dry. I started the brine on Sunday and cooked on Thanksgivings morning. What did I do wrong?

Stringio

10 months ago Garrett Browning

Some thoughts: Did you pat it dry before salting? Did you bag it airtight during brining? Did you adhere to the recommended temp? Did you start the roast at 425 with breast down and then turn bird over and lower temp to 325?

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10 months ago Chan

Yes I followed the recipe exactly. The look though was beautiful. I have tried few different recipes and different methods from wet brine to cook under ground (Hawaiian style). The only one time that my bird came out moist was deep fry. I try this again for Christmas

Miglore

10 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Chan, sorry this didn't work out well -- hope you had good gravy to make up for it. Did you check the internal temperature in the thigh when you took it out? Dry brining makes the recipe pretty forgiving, but if it goes way above 165 F in the thigh it will dry out (and it will get there more quickly than other non-dry brined turkey recipes).

Stringio

10 months ago Garrett Browning

Followed the recipe -- works to a tee and everyone thought it was the best turkey they ever had. Lotta work but tastsy and moist.

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10 months ago QbanLuli

I'll be cooking 2 turkeys this year side by side. One is 14.5lbs the other is 17lbs. About how much cooking time do you think it should take after I flip them and put them on their backs again?

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10 months ago Clayton

The dry brine will work out great for your grilling.

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10 months ago martacamer

hmmm....I just dry-brined my organic non-frozen Diestel turkey, no hormones or additives, but here I am 10pm on the eve of TDAy and wondering if I made a mistake? I am planning on cooking my turkey on the webber. I usually season shortly before cooking, and my cooking time on the webber is usually about 2 hours. Any advice?? Will the dry-brine have a positive or negative effect and can I remedy if so?? Help!! :)

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10 months ago Noor

Someone posted that they Dry-brined their turkey 24 hrs before cooking and it worked, but I am not sure if results would be the same with grilling.

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10 months ago Noor

This is what a someone posted on here re bring a day before:
I did this again this year, this time with a frozen bird. After the bird had been in my fridge for 24 hours, I took it out, patted it dry as best I could, dug out the neck (the giblets were too frozen still), and salted it all over, then packed into a brining bag that I picked up at the grocery store. It continued defrosting, I flipped it once when I remembered. The night before, I took it out of the fridge and out of the bag, dried it again, put it on a tray and put it back in the fridge uncovered until the following day. Took it out about an hour before hand and then followed the instructions as above, though I put a cup of water in the roasting pan to help make sure the drippings didn't burn up. Had plenty of drippings for gravy, and got lots of compliments on the turkey (in the line of, I usually don't even like turkey but this is really good). This technique works even if you don't get around to doing it until the day before.

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10 months ago Craig May

help....in an hour my turkey is scheduled to go into the oven. I marionated with paprika and orange zest, bay leaf and thyme, and lemon zest,....do I wash this off and then baste with butter?

Miglore

10 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Hi Craig -- you don't need to rinse it if you're following this salt ratio, but if you've used a lot of herbs, you can always brush some off. Adding water now will get in the way of a nice crispy skin.

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10 months ago Jolie Hunt

You should be fine to also add butter. The brine is just seasoning.

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10 months ago Craig May

help....in an hour my turkey is scheduled to go into the oven. I marionated with paprika and orange zest, bay leaf and thyme, and lemon zest,....do I wash this off and then baste with butter?

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10 months ago Janice

Scott, thanks for your response! I've been wet brining fresh turkeys for a long time, but they are really fresh turkeys and not a processed fresh one.
I am very interested in how this is going to work, and I will probably look at doing another some time this winter.
Thanks again for your response!

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10 months ago scott

Janice and Michele - Oh my goodness. First, Michele, just trust the recipe. Please brace yourself and lose the bag, providing you followed the recipe so far (such as having salted Sunday or Monday, and unwrap the turkey this evening. And Janice, Butterball or otherwise, it's okay. In a few months or maybe this summer, roast another turkey, not a butterball, following this recipe and I think you will be well on your way to being the best turkey roaster around your neck of the woods.

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10 months ago Janice

So, I was just reading through these comments and one caught my eye...I normally don't buy a butterball, but I did, a fresh butterball. I normally do a wet brine but found this article and decided to give it a try.
Now I see where someone is questioning this method because butterball DOES inject their fresh turkeys too.
Please tell me I haven't ruined the turkey.....or if I have, is there any remediation I can do at this late time?

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10 months ago Nancy

I'm using a fresh butterball also. I rinsed it off really well before dry-brining. I won't use any salt in the stuffing or the gravy and hope it will be ok - it's a bit late to do anything about it now. Good luck to us! Happy Thanksgiving!

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10 months ago EmilyC

I've dry brined a fresh Butterball before and it turned out fine and wasn't too salty, at least to my taste. You should be fine!

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10 months ago Nancy

Thanks, Emily! I appreciate it!