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

By • November 15, 2011 • 289 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° F.
  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° F, 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° F, about 2 3/4 hours total roasting. Note that because a dry-brined turkey cooks more quickly than one that hasn't been brined, it's best to check the temperature early with this recipe -- it may be done faster than you think!
  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 (289)

Comments (289) Questions (28)

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about 2 hours ago Lisa

Is it ok if the water in the bag is a little pink? My turkey was sir chilled which meant more frozen than I thought it would be. I let it sit in a cold water bath for a couple of hours yesterday before I salted it. When I did this last year I don't remember the water being pink...

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about 10 hours ago dipity

My turkey has been brining since Sunday night. Though I patted it dry I noticed there is liquid in the bag, probably from continued defrosting. Should I drain this liquid off?

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about 10 hours ago Leith Devine

No, you don't need to. Massage the salt in every day, and on Wednesday night, remove it from the bag and put in the refrigerator overnight for really crispy skin.
Good luck!

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about 7 hours ago dipity

Thanks! Hope you don't mind another really dumb question... I don't quite understand the concept of massaging the salt in... At this point the salt is all melted and not visible... So I just massage right?

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about 7 hours ago Leith Devine

No dumb questions! Keep massaging it because the salt will keep being absorbed deeper into the turkey.

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1 day ago NotEnoughMomentsOfBrilliance

After the initial salting, how much salt should you do if you remember to do it for the next few days? The same amount? 1tbl per 5lb?

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about 24 hours ago olygirl

Hi there, if I understand your question correctly, you don't add any more salt than during the initial set up. I just take it out everyday and give it a little massage and redistribute the salt into any nooks and crannies you might've missed.

Stringio

1 day ago Stephanie Mhoon Lendecky

I have a roaster that sits on my counter. Would the temperature be the same on that as the oven for this?

Miglore

about 19 hours ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Stephanie, I'm sorry to say I'm not sure about this -- if you typically set the roaster to match oven temperatures, it should be fine, but I'd keep a close eye on the internal temperature: cover the turkey with foil if it's getting dark too quickly, or turn up the heat if it's not browning enough before cooking through, etc.

Stringio

about 1 hour ago Stephanie Mhoon Lendecky

Thank you!

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1 day ago Rob Reisley

thanks!

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1 day ago Rob Reisley

Is it worthwhile using this recipe if you only have 24 hours for brining?

Miglore

1 day ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Yes, it will still be great, just a little less protected from overcooking, so you'll want to keep a good eye on the internal temperature as you're roasting.

Stringio

1 day ago Burchie

I just brought home my 17 lb turkey and have decided to use thyme, bay leaves and orange zest with my drine brine. Does anyone have feedback about using fresh herbs as opposed to dry ones?

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about 24 hours ago olygirl

Hi, you've probably already started, but I've used both in past years with minimal difference in taste. I'll still always throw in some sage or rosemary and lemon or orange zest, but I've not noticed a major difference in taste in past years. I think this recipe is all about the way the turkey sort of cures in the salt for a few days that makes it so great with it's moist meat and crispy skin. Hope you enjoy as much as we do!

Stringio

2 days ago TexanMaom

Yes, I did put it in a giant ziploc bag and sealed it tight as i could. It's not skin tight bc the bag turned out to be too large for a 21 lb. turkey but i did press out as much air as possible. I can go put a big twist tie on it if it needs to be really tight. Ok. I thought I would need to redo it, which, I will be glad to do if it needs it bc I am REALLY looking forward to this and I do not want to mess it up. :)

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about 24 hours ago olygirl

You should be fine. I've left mine with a fair amount of room around the bird in the past, mainly because it's hard to maneuver a 20 pound bird in a bag by myself! It's worked fine every time. This recipe really is fairly fool proof...and I should know! :) Enjoy!

Stringio

2 days ago TexanMaom

Thank yo for answering! So, just to be clear- should I wipe off all the salt and herbs and do it again in 24 hours after it has defrosted a tiny bit?

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2 days ago Leith Devine

Just guessing here, but I'd leave them on, because as the turkey defrosts it should absorb the salt. As the skin gets more defrosted, you can add the salt to any places where it wouldn't stick before. I'd make sure the turkey is in a pan because you'll get more water/juices as it defrosts. Did you put it in a bag? If so, keep massaging the salt in so it can absorb.

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about 24 hours ago olygirl

Yes, just leave on what you put on initially and rub it around every day. No need to add more seasoning if you added the correct amount initially. Enjoy!

Stringio

2 days ago TexanMaom

I don't know if I just created a problem or not... I brought my turkey home (21.10 lbs.) and it is frozen solid. I kept thinking to myself that I could still do this dry brining even though it is frozen BUT then I could not get inside to sprinkle it with the salt/ herb mix. All I could do was sprinkle a little bit of plain salt through the frozen back end which had been trussed with a plastic "truss tie". Ugh. Did I just ruin this bird because i did not partially defrost it first... I am SO worried!

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2 days ago Leith Devine

I'd put it in the refrigerator overnight and the rest of tomorrow and try again. It takes some time for a frozen bird to defrost, but if the outside is partially defrosted you should be OK. The rest of the bird will defrost during the week. You can stuff the inside with lemon, herbs etc. when you get ready to cook it. I looked it up and should take 4 days to defrost. Remove the giblets when you can. Don't run it under warm water! Good luck.

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2 days ago Beth Cote

Can I do this with a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey?

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2 days ago Leith Devine

To add to where are the big plastic bags? I just found Cook's brand at Safeway. They're called brining bags, and they're quite large and reasonably priced.

Stringio

2 days ago TexanMaom

I forgot to add this on my other post sorry. XL ((24 x20) ziplocs hold 10 gal. and Jumbo (24 x32) ziploc bags hold 20 gal. and they are very heavy duty so no leaks. Also, Plenty large enough for 20++ bird. Going to do my bird now bc it is frozen. First time in years I have been this excited to get a turkey done. Onward and upward! ;)

Stringio

2 days ago TexanMaom

FYI everyone- I did Just find XXL Ziploc bags at Target and they carry the whole line of huge bags from ziploc - plus the seal is really nice on them. It appears they will be more than large enough. Yea! No traffic to go to WFoods! They are bombed with people - no thanks.

Stringio

2 days ago TexanMaom

Oh my, thank you all for your help! If I cut my turkey up I would never hear the end of it. Lol. Next year I would REALLY like to grill this dry brined bird but this year it's going to be too cold so in the oven it will go. You know, I do shop at Whole Foods for the things that count like meat and produce and I didn't see any. I will call right now to see if they have some here in NJ. Thanks again! Food 52 ROCKS. I never sign up for forums bc I am so busy but I was so over the moon with this recipe and everyone is SO nice here I couldn't resist! Happy Thanksgivng everyone! :)

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2 days ago martacamer

They have HUGE turkey brining bags at Whole Foods and Williams-Sonoma , but I think there is a super large size of Ziploc that may work.....

Stringio

3 days ago TexanMaom

I have a 20 lb. Turkey frozen that I am going to do this FAB recipe with. Holy smokes I am so excited to try this I can't wait!! I am totally convinced after reading this that there will be NO MORE wet brining for me! I always dread it bc it is SUCH a mess AND hassle! I have one dilemma and that is what size ziploc bag should I use for a 20lb bird or how many gallons should I need in order to place the 20lb. bird into the bag and seal it.? (Cant find a brining bag anywhere) Is a 3 gallon size large enough bc it doesn't look like it.... Anyone have experience with this? Oh, I hope someone sees this...as I am starting tomorrow. Thank you so much I really appreciate your help!

Stringio

3 days ago Gigi Petery

I used a 20 lb bird last year with this recipe. What I did was to cut the turkey at the joints, so I had the legs, thighs, wings, and the breast, which I kept whole. I could not find the large ziplock bags either, so I used roasting bags. I divided the seasoned pieces between the bags and put them in the produce drawers in the fridge (obviously emptying the drawers of produce first). I was only able to brine for 2 days, but it was fine. I followed the cooking instructions from Epicurious' Deconstructed Turkey recipe. It cooked super fast (around 1.5 hrs) and was easy to carve. Amazingly moist and flavorful!

Stringio

3 days ago Gigi Petery

Also, I use the back of the turkey, supplemented with chicken carcasses, to make stock for the gravy.

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2 days ago Leith Devine

I found giant ziplock bags that can be used for food or storage. I think I got them at Target. For the past few years, I roast two small turkeys instead of one large one. You can use two bags at either end or wrap it in plastic wrap. Make sure to put the turkey in a dish to catch any drips.

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2 days ago anne7hall

I have made this recipe the last 3 years and it is amazing! I just found big ziploc bags at Target...look for the L or the XL size bags. The XLs are big, but they fold over nicely.

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3 days ago Suzanne Kay

What roasting temperature and cooking time should be used with a convection oven?

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2 days ago Gerard

Until the internal temp of the dark meat reaches 165º.

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3 days ago Sara Brackenbury

2 Questions:
What would be the best proportions of rosemary and lemon zest per 5lbs?
Any thoughts about stuffing or not-stuffing the dry-brined bird with onions, etc?

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2 days ago Leith Devine

I use about a tsp of herbs etc. per TB of salt.

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2 days ago Leith Devine

And I stuff the cavity with herbs, celery, onions and cut lemons.

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3 days ago Melanie

Has anyone cooked a turkey on a Big Green Egg with this recipe?

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3 days ago Leith Devine

No, but my husband has done it on a Traeger smoker and it turns out great. We do two turkeys....one in the oven, one bacon wrapped on the smoker. I dry them both first.

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3 days ago Leith Devine

dry brine!