This dry-brined turkey recipe won a taste test with staff of the L.A. Times Food Section in 2006 and Russ Parsons, the then food editor at the paper, wrote about it many Thanksgivings 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 that, not only does it work—it also 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. For instance, 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?
This is Food52's best dry-brined turkey recipe, adapted slightly from the L.A. Times—and we can't wait for you to try it this Thanksgiving. Head to the comments section of this recipe for more detailed tips and testimonials from our dedicated community. —Genius Recipes
Test Kitchen Notes
This is the definitive method to dry-brine a turkey. To flavor the salt, which is an optional step but highly recommended, you can use whatever herbs and spices you like—try a pinch of smoked paprika and orange zest, bay leaf and thyme, or rosemary and lemon zest. And we don't recommend stuffing the bird as the meat will likely overcook before the stuffing reaches a safe temperature of 165°F, but if you're determined, please see the comments below for workarounds and advice.
If you decide to stuff the turkey, be sure to transfer it to a pan and let it roast in the oven in order to reach the recommended internal temperature. Just be sure to be careful with the salt (probably best not to add any more salt at all). Some juices will accumulate as the bird roasts as well. Again, be aware of the saltiness if you're going to use the drippings for making gravy. You can always dilute by adding stock or broth. And if you're concerned about the dark meat's internal temperature versus the white meat's (dark meat takes longer to cook than white meat and usually needs more time to come to room temperature), you can always break down the turkey and roast the parts separately to ensure that they both are done to your liking.
Whatever you decide to choose, use this recipe as your guide, and you'll walk away with a perfectly cooked turkey every time. Happy Thanksgiving and let us know how your turkey turned out in the comments! —The Editors
- Prep time 72 hours
- Cook time 3 hours 15 minutes
- Serves 11 to 15
(12- to 16-pound) turkey (frozen is fine)
Herbs and/or spices, for flavoring the salt (optional—see suggestions above)
Melted unsalted butter, for basting (optional)
- 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). Grind the salt with whatever herbs and spices you choose in a spice grinder, small food processor, or mortar and pestle.
- Sprinkle the inside of the turkey lightly with the salt mixture. Place the turkey on its back and season the skin of the breasts, concentrating in the center, where the meat is thickest. You'll probably use a little more than a tablespoon.
- Turn the turkey on one side and season the entire side with salt, concentrating on the thigh. You should use a little less than a tablespoon. Flip the turkey over and repeat with the opposite side.
- Place the turkey in a 2½–gallon sealable plastic bag, press out the air, and seal tightly. (If you can't find a resealable bag this big, 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!
- 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. Arrange the turkey breast side up on a plate or rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for at least 8 hours.
- On the day of cooking, remove the turkey from the refrigerator and let rest at room temperature for 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.
- Pat it dry one last time and baste with the butter, if using. Feel free to tie the legs as shown in the photo if they're askew. Now you have two options: Flipping the bird midway through roasting (which will only help brown the bird more evenly) or not flipping—Russ Parsons himself realized after a few years that the meat will be juicy either way. If you're not flipping, place the turkey breast-side up on a roasting rack in a roasting pan; put it in the oven. If you are flipping, place it in the roasting rack breast side down, put it in the oven, and, 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).
- Whether you're flipping the bird or not, after 30 minutes total in the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 325°F, return the turkey to the oven, and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the deepest part of the thigh, but not touching the bone, registers 165°F, about 2¾ 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!
- Remove the turkey from the oven and transfer to a warm platter or carving board; tent loosely with foil. Let rest at least 30 minutes to let the juices redistribute through the meat. Carve and serve.