5 Ingredients or Fewer

Russ Parsons' Dry-Brined Turkey (aka The Judy Bird)

November 23, 2021
4.4
54 Ratings
Photo by JULIA GARTLAND. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG. PROP STYLIST: AMANDA WIDIS.
  • Prep time 72 hours
  • Cook time 3 hours 15 minutes
  • Serves 11 to 15
Author Notes

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

Watch This Recipe
Russ Parsons' Dry-Brined Turkey (aka The Judy Bird)
Ingredients
  • 1 (12- to 16-pound) turkey (frozen is fine)
  • Kosher salt
  • Herbs and/or spices, for flavoring the salt (optional—see suggestions above)
  • Melted unsalted 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). Grind the salt with whatever herbs and spices you choose in a spice grinder, small food processor, or mortar and pestle.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  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. Arrange the turkey breast side up on a plate or rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for at least 8 hours.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
  8. 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!
  9. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Elena Dehart
    Elena Dehart
  • Sauertea
    Sauertea
  • Leith Devine
    Leith Devine
  • Thuy Doan
    Thuy Doan
  • Hannah Mullenix
    Hannah Mullenix
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

876 Reviews

dini18 November 25, 2022
After years of watching these comments, I finally was able to lay my hands on a high-quality, very large, fresh, local-ish turkey breast. (At the expense of other food luxuries, and with pleasure.)

Over and over I've read "... and will never do it another way again," and you can add my voice to the chorus.

I also, for the first time, used the convection feature on my little oven, which only had space--and barely--for the breast.

I'm so glad I bought a huge one. There are just three of us, but we will be using our leftovers, very happily, and eventually out of the freezer, for some time to come. Best bird to come out of my kitchen, ever, and I've been at it for 40+ years.

Thanks to the developers, and to commenters over the years. It's a keeper, and so much simpler than I imagined!
 
Leith D. November 25, 2022
I’m so glad you were able to get it done this year! Happy Holidays!
 
dini18 November 25, 2022
And thank YOU for being here every year!
 
Rosier817 November 26, 2022
How does the cooking temperature/time/flipping change with a breast?
 
dini18 November 26, 2022
I used the same cooking time and did not flip the breast. It looks, from follow-ups from Leith, that flipping isn't necessary after all.

The only thing I would caution is that, once it gets within 30 degrees or so of done, check frequently, maybe every ten minutes. This sounds counterintuitive because you don't want to cool down the oven, but mine went from "not quite" to "take it out now!" pretty fast.

On the other hand, I was using convection, so this may be less true with a conventional oven.
 
Leith D. November 26, 2022
You’re very welcome!
 
Leith D. November 26, 2022
It always finishes faster than I think. Here’s what we do: take the turkey out and wrap it in foil. Wrap it in a large beach towel and put it in a cooler. The turkey comes out juicy and still hot. I know it sounds crazy but it really works. It stayed in the cooler for 2 hours this year! Everyone was late etc.
 
Leith D. November 26, 2022
Time doesn’t change. I stopped flipping after my husband dropped it one year, thankfully he managed to catch it! But what a mess!
 
big D. November 24, 2022
We’ve used this recipe every year since 2009. Everyone who tastes this turkey can’t believe how moist and flavorful it is. We’ve even had people who’ve said that they don’t like turkey ask for the recipe after tasting our turkey. If you’ve never tried a dry brine turkey you have to try this recipe. It NEVER fails!
 
Leith D. November 25, 2022
It’s the best, it works on a chicken too!
 
TJL November 23, 2022
I have been making this turkey for years and it is truly the best! I have a question though: this year, I started brining while the turkey was still somewhat frozen on Monday. Should I go back in today ( Wednesday) and brine in the places I could not get to such as the underside of the legs or inside the cavity? Would it be worth the hassle? Would the salt evaporate by tonight when I unwrap it?
Thanks-
 
Leith D. November 23, 2022
I don’t think it’s worth it tbh, because the salt will take more than one day to get into those areas. Good luck and Happy Thanksgiving!
 
TJL November 23, 2022
Thank you!
 
Max S. November 22, 2022
I’ve been doing this for a number of years, and it’s great … until this year. I made our turkey for an early thanksgiving bc some ppl are working on that day. I followed the same method I’ve always done, but when it was time to taste, I was disappointed. I almost went and got a whole new turkey, it felt that dry to me. But hubby went and made gravy, and by the time it was all served, it was amazing! Absolutely tried & true!
 
bbrophy November 22, 2022
This will be my third year cooking my turkey this way. I just follow the recipie and am amazed how good this really is! I've turned into the go to person in the family for a Thanksgiving turkey. Now I just have to find a great stuffing recipe! Happy Thanksgiving all!
 
Leith D. November 22, 2022
I’ve been doing it for years, never fails.
 
paulak November 18, 2022
Can I use sea salt instead of kosher?
 
Leith D. November 22, 2022
Yes, the salinity is different so you’d need a different amount.
 
Debbie November 3, 2022
If you are using fresh butter with herbs, do you put it under the skin on Day 1 or on roasting day? Is salting a separate operation? Thanks
 
Leith D. November 3, 2022
Butter goes on right before cooking. I’m not sure what you mean by is salting separate. Follow the recipe.
 
S C. November 2, 2022
Question about using the soaked cheesecloth method instead of basting. Do you take the cheesecloth off near the end of cooking or does it brown with it on? Double thickness cheesecloth or single? I’m going to try this method this year. I have not found a tried and true turkey recipe yet. It sounds like this may be a winner. Thanks!
 
Leith D. November 3, 2022
Leave it on until the turkey is done, it gets brown. It’s a single layer but might double as you wrap the turkey. It doesn’t matter in my experience.
This turkey is definitely a winner, scroll down for comments from other people who have made it! Good luck!
 
Elena D. November 2, 2022
It was way easier than slopping around a bunch of liquid when the fridge is already stuffed, and the turkey, as well as subsequent chickens, were incredibly delicious, juicy, tender.
 
erin November 23, 2021
I first followed this recipe because it was easier than liquid brine and because of the shorter cooking time. I keep making it because I'm suddenly, after more years than I will acknowledge, the genius of the perfectly roasted turkey.
 
Leith D. November 23, 2021
I knew, this recipe definitely makes the cook a turkey expert!
 
Sauertea November 23, 2021
Quick question,I was planning on putting a bunch of herbs and either and orange or lemon in the cavity. Do I need to make any adjustments to cook time?
 
Leith D. November 23, 2021
No, you’re not stuffing it full so it doesn’t matter. I do the same thing! It makes the juices taste better
 
Sauertea November 23, 2021
Thanks! I know I can count on you for good advice. I seem to have a new question every year about some nuance of this recipe! You always deliver. Happy Thanksgiving.
 
Leith D. November 23, 2021
Thank you!
 
CAndreaW November 21, 2021
None of this new, nor a revelation. I’ve been dry brining for years. Except now, I mix the salt, spices and herbs with a ton of high quality unsalted butter and olive oil and put that mixture under the skin, on the inside, all over the outside, PLUS I use a spatchcocked bird (because my family just wants to eat, and couldn’t give a toss about ceremony and aesthetics). Result is a perfect, stress free turkey (and gravy)!
 
Leith D. November 21, 2021
That sounds great! I dry brine as described then butter under the skin etc. Cover with cheesecloth soaked in broth and melted butter.
 
Christi M. October 14, 2022
Leith, May I ask you to complete your description of your process following, "Cover with cheeseclth soaked in broth..."? Or maybe I should readbthe recipe more completely?
Thank you.
 
Leith D. October 19, 2022
I soak cheesecloth in melted butter, 1 cup white wine, and chicken broth. Then drape the turkey with the cheesecloth so I don’t have to baste as often.
 
MYGg October 7, 2021
Grateful if someone could answer a couple of questions: do you remove turkey from the oven for step 8/lowering temp, or just leave turkey in and lower (instructions a bit unclear)? Also, what purpose does the bag serve? Why not leave it air dry the whole time?

Thanks in advance.
 
Anne October 7, 2021
Hi-I re-read instructions. If you decide not to flip the turkey, start out with the breast up and continue to the end that way. The only reason to take it out in Step 8 would be if you were going to flip it. To go further, if you are going to flip the turkey, then you start the turkey in the oven with the breast down, and after 30 minutes, flip it (Step 8.). I hope this helps. I did not have a good experience with the recipe, sadly. I may have incorrectly timed it, but mine wasn’t done.
 
Leith D. October 8, 2021
Hi there! Leave the turkey in the oven when you lower the heat. The bag is necessary so the turkey stays moist and absorbs the salt, that’s how dry brining works. Believe me, it only takes 1 night to dry out the skin, and by then the turkey is brined. I’ve been making this turkey for years, it always comes out great.
 
Patt October 8, 2021
Please keep it in the bag. I read a different article and have dry brined for two years. The recipe recommended unwrapping and letting it sit in fridge for 48 hours. My fridge smelled awful for months. I scrubbed with pine sol and put in a basket of coffee beans, no luck. Finally, in September the odor seems to have gone.
 
Muirmcgrath January 10, 2021
Great to try a new method to cook the turkey and it worked a treat, delicious. Going to try it with beef next👌
 
Lisa December 21, 2020
I will be cooking an 7-8 lb. fresh Whole Food's conventional turkey. I don't want to overcook it. I am having a hard time figuring out from the below the following:
1) How long to cook it per lb.? Happy to start high and flip. But i just don't get how long for what.
One reader wrote: Figure 12 minutes per pound (unstuffed) after the first 30 minutes of high heat cook. I get about 125 minutes in total for 8 lbs.
PLEASE confirm that is correct.
2) Can I put unsalted butter under the skin?
3) How long should it rest?
Thanks a lot.
 
Messi'sMom December 21, 2020
I have always done a really big bird and find checking the internal temp with a thermometer is the best. Don’t put butter under the skin or it will mess with the crispy ness of the skin. You could flip since you are cooking a smaller bird but I am always suspect of this method because it’s too easy to rip the skin on the breast. I would say around 90 minutes (judging by the chickens I’ve cooked of that size) or at least start checking it then. 120 minutes should be tops. Enjoy!
 
Lisa December 21, 2020
Thank you, Messi's Mom.
Got it. Temperature check at 90 mins. I recently bought a Thermo pop. Both breast and thigh, right?
 
Leith D. December 21, 2020
12 minutes per pound is correct. You can put butter under the skin, I use herb butter. I’d rest it for 15 to 20 minutes. Good luck, Merry Christmas!
 
Leith D. December 21, 2020
Yes, check both but it’s the thigh that takes longer to cook. You can take it out at 160, it will continue to cook as it rests.
 
Lisa December 21, 2020
Thank you LD.
8 lbs. bird
First - 30 mins at 425
FLIP
THEN 12 minutes per 8 lbs. at 325?
 
Leith D. December 21, 2020
That’s correct!
 
Lisa December 22, 2020
Thigh at 160. The video doesn't show the temp check. Is this in the drumstick? Not sure where to stick in the thermometer.
So NO need to check the breast?
Thanks.
 
Leith D. December 22, 2020
It’s easier to watch a video than explain it, google it and you’ll find a bunch of explanations and videos. It’s not the drumstick. You can check the breast but the thighs take the longest to cook.
 
dini18 November 27, 2020
All right, you've all convinced me. I also was only cooking for the three of us who live together and decided to just do it up because, well, you know why. Only I could not lay hands on a fresh turkey breast this year! I'd be embarrassed to mention what I ended up with. This recipe has come back to me year after year, and I'm now on the hunt for the Christmas turkey. We love food science anyway (katyaluke just mentioned this), so right up our alley. Thanks everyone for your contributions over the years. I feel confident enough to give it a try.
 
Leith D. November 27, 2020
Glad you're convinced! It's a game changing technique, try it on a chicken if you have time. Happy Holidays~
 
dini18 November 27, 2020
You know, I will! Thanks, and happy holidays to you as well.
 
Kathleen D. December 21, 2020
Hi there,

This recipe was recommended to me.

If i were to use it on a chicken, do you still dry brine it for the 3 days?

Thanks!
 
Leith D. December 21, 2020
Yes, make sure to measure the amount of salt based on the weight of the chicken. I’ve done chickens for 1 or 2 days when I ran out of time, and they were still delicious!
 
Shini W. November 27, 2020
I never leave reviews but if I can convince someone to try this, I felt I needed to try. I was incredibly skeptical. Usually cook for a big group but since it was just my immediate family this year, figured I could experiment on them and I am so glad I did.

I used to make myself so crazy - wet brining and then putting all this composed herb butter under the skin and stressing about how long it would take. This was science. Will never do it any other way ever again. It was so juicy and tasted amazing. Follow exactly as written. My only note:
Keep adding stock to the bottom of the roasting pan, so you don't burn off the drippings as they were amazing and the gravy was so good. Not salty at all. Was shocked.
 
Leith D. November 27, 2020
Glad to hear it worked out so well! I started using this recipe the first year it came out in the LA Times (2006!) and it has never failed me. Great point about stock in the pan, I pour some in and add to it if the pan dries out.
 
katyaluke November 26, 2020
Ok- first time trying dry brining was this year. I only got in 2 days. It was the best turkey I have ever made- and that is saying something since I am 65!!!! So juicy and tender! Everyone loved it!
I will not go back to any other way.
Btw- I cooked it in convection oven and a 20# turkey was done quite quickly.
 
Leith D. November 26, 2020
Happy to hear it! Happy holidays!
 
[email protected] November 26, 2020
I've made this before, but always only with a bone in breast. This year I'm actually doing an 8 lb bird. It mentions the dry brining makes it cook faster...but what are the actual min per lb once you reduce the heat?
 
Leith D. November 26, 2020
Figure 12 minutes per pound (unstuffed) after the first 30 minutes of high heat cooking. Happy Thanksgiving!
 
[email protected] November 26, 2020
Thank you!!!!
 
Amy November 26, 2020
I made a 12 pounder, and it was done (almost overdone) in 1 hour 35 minutes total time! Great flavor, but will cook it less next year, maybe less than 30 min at 425.....
Hope yours was tasty!
 
Leith D. November 26, 2020
Mine was delicious but it also cooked very fast!
 
Thuy D. November 30, 2020
I tried this recipe for the first time on a 12 lb turkey in a fairly new oven (less than 5 years old). I cooked it breast down for 30 min and then flipped it, and checked on it after 1 hour 20 minutes...thigh temp was already 175! It was fine, but one breast was a bit dry. So next time I would check on it even earlier...maybe at 1 hour. It cooks much faster than expected! I bought a V rack which did help. I had problems with the turkey cooking evenly in the past.
 
Natalia November 25, 2020
What do you do with the liquid that's released into the bag? Do you just get rid of it when you take the turkey out of the bag the night before cooking it? Thank you!!
 
Leith D. November 25, 2020
Yes, just throw it out.
 
Natalia November 25, 2020
thank you!!!
 
Hannah M. November 25, 2020
I make gravy out of mine! Would be a waste to toss in my opinion!
 
Leith D. November 25, 2020
Great idea!!