The Turkey Whisperer

Our Most Popular Thanksgiving Turkey + 3 Tips You Need to Know

Your guests will gobble it all up.

October 31, 2018
Photo by Rocky Luten

Whether it's your very first time cooking a Thanksgiving turkey or you're ready to roast your best bird yet, The Turkey Whisperer is here to help. We’ve gathered our all-time-favorite tips, tricks, and recipes to get the juices flowing—so listen closely...

This Thanksgiving, I'm hosting the family get-together for the first time, ever. And between buying Broadway tickets and booking hotels, I've also got bird on the brain. Should I buy and freeze now? Is it time to give spatchcocking a try? Do I want something classic and smothered with gravy? But rather than let my imagination fly away, I'm taking a deep breath and starting with something simple: the Judy Bird. Because if I've learned anything at Food52, it's to always trust the Judy Bird.

Back in 2011, Genius mastermind Kristen Miglore unearthed the most succulent, forgiving turkey technique that we’re still in love with seven years later:

"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."

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“It has been a crowd pleaser every time. ”
— Monica A.

Yes, that’s right, you can brine the bird while it’s defrosting. Stick that in your back pocket, because we all need as many Thanksgiving shortcuts as we can get. (Psst—want another tip? Our Test Kitchen Chef Josh Cohen has the dish on stress-free gravy over here.)

Not to overstate things, but the Judy Bird is what Thanksgiving turkey is supposed to taste like. It’s juicy and tender, salted all the way through without the squishy ham-like texture. In short, it’s what you want on your Thanksgiving table.

We have lots of ideas about what to put on your menu (seriously, go check out our Automagic Menu Maker). But no matter what bird you choose, here are three turkey tips we swear by:

Decide on your bird now.

Technically, if your heart is set on a local or heritage-breed turkey, it's best to reserve that turkey one month before Thanksgiving. Yes, we know it's three weeks before Thanksgiving now—all is not lost! Just start calling local farmers or sellers as soon as you can. Grabbing a turkey at the supermarket is also a great option—many stores these days offer organic and free-range turkeys, if that's important to you.

Get the right size.

While you know your crowd best, it's smart to plan for about 1 ½ pounds of turkey per person. That leaves enough for the extra-hungry as well as anyone banking on leftovers (so, everyone?).

Find a place for the turkey to chill.

Fresh, raw turkey should be stored for no more than two days in the refrigerator. Either arrange for your delivery accordingly or, if your bird lands in the kitchen a little early, store it in the freezer. Frozen turkey will keep for up to one year. Our golden rule for defrosting: Allow one day for every 4 pounds.

Curious to learn more turkey tidbits? Head over to The Turkey Whisperer, where we'll be sharing our best tips, tricks, and recipes every week until Thanksgiving.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Gary
  • Monica Arnold
    Monica Arnold
  • Judy
  • Leith Devine
    Leith Devine
Katie is a food writer and editor who loves cheesy puns and cheesy cheese.


Gary November 2, 2018
A "Turkey Whisperer" is not a "Turkey Killer"!!! Shame on you.... Use a better title... What about Vegan recipes for Thanksgiving?
Monica A. November 1, 2018
I've made this recipe three years in a row and it's delicious. I add more herbs then suggested and have included orange rinds that were on their way out. So so so yummy. It has been a crowd pleaser every time.
Judy November 1, 2018
If my turkey is patch-cocked, will the dry brine still work?
Judy November 1, 2018
It is spatch-cocked. Sometimes, auto spell is not so good.
Leith D. November 2, 2018
Yes, it works! Go to the actual Judy bird recipe and there are comments from people who have tried this and loved it.