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

By • November 15, 2011 • 329 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 (329)

Comments (329) Questions (29)

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19 days ago caroline0ne

I am brining a 12 lb turkey this way and wanted to roast it like a chicken with onions, carrots and celery. Will this make the veggies too salty?

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25 days ago Wasel Choi

Hi everyone! How was your brine & roasted turkey this year? Let us share, here is mine: https://medium.com/culinary... Happy Holidays!!

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25 days ago dipity

Thank you very much to everyone that generously gave of their time to respond to questions posted. This is my second turkey using this recipe and there will be a third and fourth... My biggest challenge with this recipe is determining the cooking time. I have an oven temperature probe but I am not skilled in putting in the right place :-) But with this year's experience I will try this formula next year. At 6 minutes per pound cook time check the turkey. Total cook time is usually between 6 to 7 minutes per pound.

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25 days ago Leith Devine

I'm glad your turkey turned out so well!

Stringio

27 days ago Judy,Goldberg

This was AMAZING! Mine 19 pounder was done in 2/5 hours start to finish. I checked it with three different thermometers because it seemed so improbable. It was totally, perfectly cooked. Moist. Flavorful. And looked gorgeous!

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27 days ago mk

absolutely the best turkey i have ever made. my only comment is WATCH the bird. it cooks much quicker than you think it should or would. so much better than a wet brine. turkey was flavorful, not dry and not mushy(like the wet brine can make it)

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27 days ago Deb

This came out as best turkey ever. I probably had 24 hours less than the recipe (started on Monday rather than Sunday). Used an 18.5 pound bird. Took out after the 2.5 hours at 325, and it probably should have been checked at 2 hours, it cooked that fast. But it still was moist and delicious and the turkey skin was great. Will use this method from now on

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28 days ago Agnes

my turkey came out amazing! it was moist and flavorful. my turkey was slighly frozen when i started the brine, but it worked out great!

Stringio

28 days ago Burchie

do you suggest covering the turkey with tinfoil once it's breast side-up?

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28 days ago Wasel Choi

Only when you are done cooking with your turkey, as in last step before serving, cover it with foil and let it stand for at least 30 minutes. This will allow the juices to redistribute so it stays in the bird and not leak out - Happy Thanksgiving.

Open-uri20141126-6137-140ugaf

28 days ago Chani Becker

Should I add stock/water to the bottom of the roasting pan to prevent the fat from burning during roasting? Will need good drippings for gravy.

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28 days ago Aimee

Any ideas on the cook time for a 25 pound turkey?

Miglore

28 days ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Hi Aimee, I know this thread is long, but check out my response to Rogan below.

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28 days ago Aimee

Thanks for such a quick reply! Happy thanksgiving!

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28 days ago Linda

I forgot to flip the bird back over so that it is breast side up again, and also to uncover it for a day. Now I'm about to roast it. What might happen?

Miglore

28 days ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

It will be fine! Just pat the skin dry well with paper towels.

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29 days ago Melissa clements

I only have 2 days before cooking. Can I still use this recipe?
I also want to use stuffing. Is that possible with this one?

Miglore

29 days ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Yes, you can do both, but the stuffing needs to reach 165 degrees F, which will mean the turkey's temperature will be higher (but it will be somewhat protected from overcooking by the brining). I would undersalt the stuffing a little.

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29 days ago creamtea

When I take it out of the bag tonight to dry the skin, do I cover it with anything? Damp towel, paper towels? Or just open air?

Miglore

29 days ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

I'm sorry I missed this! Just open air is best, to dry the skin out and help it crisp.

Stringio

29 days ago Kim Wahl

Can you rotisserie instead of baking

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29 days ago Leith Devine

Yes! It works out fine, just need to watch the temp.

Open-uri20141126-6137-140ugaf

29 days ago Chani Becker

Is butter really the best bet before roasting or would oil be better?

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29 days ago Leith Devine

Up to you...I use some herb butter under the skin and then put cheesecloth soaked in broth and butter over it, like a basting blanket. Take it off 1/2 hour before the turkey is done and the skin is amazing.

Stringio

29 days ago Judy,Goldberg

Can anyone tell me how long I should cook my 19 pound turkey for?

Miglore

29 days ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Hi Judy, just responded on the Hotline, but I'll share my answer here too: it's best with this recipe to check the internal temperature early (I'd start checking at 2 hours), because it does cook 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.

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29 days ago Robin Strecker

Ugh I wet bribed my turkey this am before I read this article. .:( ...oh well I'll have to try this next year. Happy turkey day to all!

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29 days ago Ryan

Running behind... can I still do this recipe (salt etc) with the bird currently defrosted? It's 3pm on Wednesday.

Miglore

29 days ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Yes, it will still be helpful to salt it now -- check out my answer to Rob Reisley below.

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29 days ago Leith Devine

Yes, you can...I'd put it on a rack overnight. You can mix the salt with 2 TB of baking powder to help give the turkey a crisp skin. You can also add herbs, zest etc. Good luck!

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29 days ago frank

Bought my turkey popsicle Sunday. Brined it last night. Ground up sea salt, thyme, sage, and lemon zest. What an aroma! Still pretty frozen. Could not even get the giblets out. Noticed my fridge was on 5 so I moved it to 4. I do not recommend slider bags unless you can't find anything else. Was tricky getting a 12 pounder in a 2.5 gal. And could not get all the air out. But I think it'll be all right...

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29 days ago Jamiko Rose

I made this turkey for friends last night and it was the most succulent, delicious turkey I have ever had. Thanks so much!