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

November 15, 2011

Test Kitchen-Approved

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

Ingredients

  • 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)
In This Recipe

Directions

  1. Wash the turkey inside and out, pat it dry, and weigh it. Measure 1 tablespoon of salt—we used Diamond Crystal kosher— 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 a pinch of 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 skin of 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, or wrap the bird in a few layers of plastic wrap.) 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. Liquid might collect in the bag as you go—this is normal!
  5. For the crispiest skin, the night before, 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 (do not rinse—it's not needed, and rinsing will make the skin less crispy). Heat 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.

More Great Recipes:
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Reviews (633) Questions (42)

633 Reviews

mk November 25, 2018
i've made this version of turkey for thanksgiving three years in a row. used to use a wet brine but the meat always felt soggy. this is perfect everytime. used a cheesecloth and it was the best turkey ever.
 
Leith D. November 25, 2018
I agree it's the best way to roast a turkey out there. I use the cheesecloth method too...soak it in butter and white wine!
 
Patt November 22, 2018
21 lb turkey. followed directions. After the 405 for 30 minutes and the hour warm up, this bird cooked in under TWO hours. My thermometers, tested all over were 165 or more. The pop up wasn't up so we stuck it in for a bit more anyway, white meat wonderful but the dark meat was salty. Any idea why?
 
Leith D. November 23, 2018
Did you use convection maybe? It cooks really fast. Mine was done early too (on purpose to free up an oven), we wrapped it in foil and 2 towels. 2 hours later it was still hot and juicy.
 
Sauertea November 22, 2018
My turkey was amazing! Judy Bird from here on! Thanks for all the help!
 
Leith D. November 23, 2018
Mine was great too, just like every year. The Judy bird never fails me! Happy Thanksgiving!
 
Austin B. November 22, 2018
Absolute perfection.
 
Leith D. November 23, 2018
YAY!
 
Linda November 21, 2018
I am following this recipe for this year’s turkey, although with a slightly shorter brining time since I didn’t get the bird until yesterday and started the brine last night. I have two questions related to the roasting part of the recipe: (1) with past turkeys I have usually put some aromatics like onions, apples, and fresh herbs inside the cavity before roasting- is there any reason why I shouldn’t do that with this recipe? The only one I can think of is the risk that the aromatics may fall out while flipping the bird over. Any thoughts? (2) I notice the recipe doesn’t mention trussing the turkey- do you recommend trussing?
 
Leith D. November 22, 2018
I use the aromatics, usually lemons, herbs, celery, and onion halves myself, then truss the legs up. I don't remember anything falling out but if it did I'm sure I just stuffed it back in there. Happy Thanksgiving!
 
Linda November 25, 2018
Thank you so much for your reply and for all the great info. Our turkey was amazing, so juicy and tender that my guests commented they didn't need to use their knives! The drippings also contributed to a delicious gravy. I was only able to do the dry brine for 36 hours, and our 20 lb. turkey was done in about 4 1/4 hours. Brushed the skin with duck fat (I can't do dairy) before putting it in the oven and it turned the most beautiful brown- gorgeous as well as delicious! I will be sticking with this method/recipe from now on. :)
 
Leith D. November 25, 2018
Duck fat is such a great idea! Glad it went so well!
 
Ally November 21, 2018
Alright I've made this recipe for the past 4 years but this year I'm not hosting. My MIL is and we just got to her house today and I see the turkey still in the bag. The horror, 😂! So I've got it dry brining. She's planning an early dinner at 1pm so not a lot of time. My question, what's more important. Keep it brining in the bag until cooking tomorrow morning and skip drying it out or take it out of the bag and put in the fridge to dry out overnight? It'll have been salted for about 8 hours if I really it out to dry tonight.
 
Leith D. November 21, 2018
Oh no, the horror, what to do! I think keeping it in the bag is more important, I'd pat it really dry and air dry it in the morning. Remember that it's going to take longer to cook because it won't have brined for very long. Good luck and Happy Thanksgiving!
 
MiChal November 21, 2018
I have a new convection oven. Should I cook the turkey at 425 degrees in a normal oven and switch to convection when I decrease the temperature to 325?
 
Leith D. November 21, 2018
It doesn't really matter, you could do the whole thing on convection. Remember convection cooks about 30% faster than regular ovens so use your thermometer!
 
sgshrchef November 21, 2018
Unfortunately just got the bird. Would you still put it in the bag for a while or just put the salt and spices on and put it in the fridge uncovered. It’s noon.
 
Leith D. November 21, 2018
Put it in the bag for as long as you can then take it out either right before you go to bed or first thing in the morning, depending on when your dinner is. If you're eating late on Thanksgiving I'd take it out of the bag first thing in the morning. Good luck!
 
sgshrchef November 21, 2018
Thanks. My thoughts as we’ll bin the bag. We’re not eating till around 6:30 tomorrow so I’ll take it out around 7:30 in the morning. Thank you for the response. Always live confirmation!! Have a great holiday.
 
Leith D. November 21, 2018
You actually caught me as I was sitting down having coffee, I live in CA so it was earlier here. Happy Thanksgiving!
 
Dana November 20, 2018
Hi, I am planning on using this method for a 7lb Turkey. Any guidelines on how long to roast after the first 30 min at 425? would the skin crisp as much since it will be cooked for a shorter time than a bigger turkey? Thank you!
 
Leith D. November 20, 2018
I think about 1 1/2 hours but trust your thermometer. The skin should be fine.
 
s D. November 20, 2018
I just want to say thank you for responding to questions! So many blogs have tons of questions and hardly any answers. I came here to learn about dry brine and every single question I had has already been answered. Very helpful! Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving ;)
 
Leith D. November 20, 2018
Happy Thanksgiving to you too! BTW I'm just a regular Food52 member who happened to start answering the questions for this recipe a few years ago, and now I'm the turkey whisperer:)!
 
Sauertea November 19, 2018
Hi, I am also doing a bone in breast of about 8 pounds. Should I truss it or leave it spatchcocked? How should I adjust cooking time in convection oven
 
Leith D. November 19, 2018
If it's already spatchcocked then leave it that way. A convection oven will cook about 30% faster than a regular oven.
 
Susanna November 19, 2018
My husband made this last year and it was the best turkey we've ever had. We will be making it again this year. We put the brined turkey in the refrigerator on Monday and then took it out of the bag on Wednesday night. He likes to tinker with recipes, but followed this one to the letter and it was amazing!
 
Leith D. November 19, 2018
It's the best, isn't it! Happy Thanksgiving!
 
Debby November 19, 2018
First time making my own bird and won’t be able to start the dry brine until Monday afternoon. Thoughts/suggestions?
 
Leith D. November 19, 2018
That's fine, it will be plenty of time.
 
Burchie November 18, 2018
I love this recipe and make it every year. I typically pick up my frozen bird on sat and start the bribe on Sunday. Yesterday, when I got my 20lb bird- it wasn’t frozen. I’m feeling nervous about waiting until Thursday. Would you get a new one and just start a day late?
 
Leith D. November 19, 2018
I'm not sure I understand. A fresh bird works just as well or better. Start it now or on Monday and it will be perfect on Thursday.
 
Shannon T. November 18, 2018
Won't the spice grinder make the Kosher salt too fine for this purpose - and too salty?
 
Leith D. November 19, 2018
It seems to work just fine every year! It doesn't come out too salty, I promise.
 
TJL November 18, 2018
I am planning on using a sous-vide for one of out two birds this year and that recipe calls for sugar along with the salt-- does anyone use sugar in their dry brine?
 
Leith D. November 18, 2018
There are dry brine recipes out there with brown sugar in them but I've never added to this recipe. I'd be worried the skin might burn but who knows? My wet brine recipe had sugar in it and the turkey was fine. Love my sous-vide machine, that sounds delicious. Good luck!
 
TJL November 19, 2018
Thank you!
 
808 S. November 18, 2018
I'm a big fan of dry brining and found that cutting the backbone out (spatchcocking) and splaying the uncovered, flattened bird on a parchment lined pan in the fridge works really well for the curing period. Easily transfers to a grill with indirect heat at, say, 325. Cooks more evenly and quicker than a round bird with no turning. Super moist and flavorful. Looking forward to trying citrus zest in the mix this year.
 
Leith D. November 18, 2018
Go for it, it sounds delicious!
 
Sauertea November 18, 2018
Hi, I have a small turkey. 9ish pounds. Am going to be using convection oven. Judy Bird instructions have include 30 minutes at 425. I plan on a adjusting to 400 with my oven. Given small size of my turkey and quicker cooking time for a brined Bird, should I adjust the time for this first phase
 
Leith D. November 18, 2018
No, I've done a small bird before and followed the same directions and it came out fine. A smaller turkey is, of course, going to be done much faster than 2 3/4 hours. Use instant-read thermometer and check the temperature frequently so it doesn't get overdone. Happy Thanksgiving!
 
Brittany A. November 18, 2018
When do I remove the giblets if I start brining when frozen?
 
Leith D. November 18, 2018
Good question! I'd get them out of there as soon as the turkey is defrosted enough to remove them, and maybe take the opportunity to salt the inside of the bird at that time.
 
Patt November 16, 2018
your recipe is for a 12 lb bird. I have a 21 pounder. Your cooking time at 325 is 2 3/4 hours. How much longer do you think the 21 lb will take?
 
Leith D. November 16, 2018
Doing the math, a 21 lb bird would take a little over 4 3/4 hours. Use a thermometer and start testing it around 4 and 1/2 hours.