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

By • November 15, 2011 • 264 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 (264)

Comments (264) Questions (28)

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Stringio

about 1 hour 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

about 2 hours 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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about 4 hours 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

about 12 hours 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

about 9 hours 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

about 9 hours 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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about 6 hours 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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about 1 hour 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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1 day ago Suzanne Kay

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

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about 6 hours ago Gerard

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

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1 day 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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about 6 hours ago Leith Devine

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

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about 2 hours ago Leith Devine

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

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1 day ago Melanie

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

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1 day 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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1 day ago Leith Devine

dry brine!

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2 days ago Arby

I have a 24 lb turkey this year. I've always done wet brining, which seems to accelerate the cooking process. If I do the dry brining process how long should I expect the cooking time to be...approximately.

Miglore

2 days ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Arby, it looks like Rogan, who commented below, had a 25-pound bird that finished in about 3 hours -- it's best with this recipe to check early, because it does cook so much faster than non-brined birds. It's well-protected from the brining if you do overcook it, but still better to err on the side of caution.

Stringio

3 days 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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3 days 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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3 days 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?

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2 days ago Leith Devine

Sounds yummy....I still use an herb butter under the skin, but bacon is saltier. Maybe cut down on the bacon?

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4 days 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 Leith Devine

I usually eyeball the amount of the extras I add in, but I'd guess it's about 1 tsp per TB. of salt. It depends on how strong you want the flavor to be. Personally, I'd add more zest than paprika, because a little smoked paprika goes a long way. I use herbs, lemon zest, paprika etc.

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5 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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5 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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5 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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4 days ago fuck-you

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

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6 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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6 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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6 days ago willfith

Are you supposed to baste with this recipe?

Miglore

6 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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7 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

6 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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7 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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7 days ago Deb

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

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7 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

7 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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8 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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8 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!