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

By Genius Recipes
November 15, 2011
561 Comments


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)

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:
Chicken|5 Ingredients or Fewer|Serves a Crowd|Fall|Winter|Christmas|Thanksgiving|Gluten-Free|Entree

Reviews (561) Questions (33)

561 Comments

Shoda S. December 20, 2017
Hello, can you advise if I can use this recipe for a frozen turkey that has been basted up to 8% with Turkey Broth, Soduim Phosphate, Sugar, Natural Flavoring?
 
Leith D. December 20, 2017
That's a pre-brined turkey. However, if you look down in the comments there are several people who have used this recipe with a Butterball turkey(which uses a similar solution to the one you've listed) with success. I've never done it so I don't know personally. Good luck and Happy Holidays!
 
Martin December 17, 2017
I've found turkey heaven! Thighs were not burned, turkey succulent and delicious. What did save me, though, is that I bought a meat thermometer. I had a 10.5 pound turkey and was expecting it to be done in 2 hours (12 mins per lb). It was done in 1 hour and 30 mins. I actually thought something was wrong as the thigh was measuring 185F and the breast 150, so I left it a bit longer (the thermometer didn't touch the bone). But I checked it again, like in 5 different places, and it showed 185F on the thigh and 165 on the breast. I figured I'd trust the thermometer and I'm glad I'm did. This, coupled with Food52's gravy, is a killer. Thank you for sharing what will surely now be a Christmas tradition.
 
Leith D. December 17, 2017
It's amazing, isn't it? Having a meat thermometer is key, not just for this recipe! Merry Christmas!
 
Martin December 10, 2017
Oh, and won't the tips of the turkey thigh be burned when the breast is facing up?
 
Martin December 10, 2017
I have never tasted juicy turkey, but have always wanted to be able to make. Have tried making Jamie Oliver's turkey once, but it was too dry. I will try this recipe this year, but have to ask: Is it ok that it's in the refrigerator uncovered? Just thinking about bacteria.
 
Max S. November 29, 2017
I have roasted approximately 60 turkeys in my life (twice a year, skipping the years I actually got to be a guest), and was very intrigued with this “recipe” bc it’s very similar to how I roast whole<br />chicken. Here’s what I did:<br /><br />I combined fresh ground Himalayan salt with fresh ground black pepper, dried parsley flakes, dried marjoram, rubbed sage, garlic powder, onion powder, dried thyme, smoked paprika, and some dried ground orange peel. I didn’t measure (tbh, I don’t think 4 tablespoons of rub would’ve been enough for a 20-lb. turkey), nor did I want to deal with finding or grinding fresh herbs; I just mixed it all in a small container. Removed the giblets and neck and cooked them separately. Because we’d hosted approx 30 people in our home for a different event the weekend before Thanksgiving, we didn’t even have refrigerator space for the (20-lb.) raw turkey until Tuesday evening. <br /><br />Rubbed this mix all over the inside and outside of the bird, also getting it under the breast skin and down onto the thighs. I then covered it all w plastic wrap. <br /><br />Wednesday night, I removed the plastic wrap and returned it to the fridge. <br /><br />Thursday morning after the pies were done, I rinsed this all off and out of the turkey. (I didn’t remember to not rinse.) After realizing I wasn’t supposed to rinse, I made MORE of the rub and reapplied it. <br /><br />Roasted in preheated oven, beginning with a 30-minute roast with the oven set at 425°F breast-down. Then turned the bird over and turned the oven down to 325°F. After an hour, the skin was well-browned, so I tented it with foil. After another hour, we began checking the temperature. It was done so much faster than I expected!<br /><br />We typically serve our Thanksgiving meal around 6 pm, so there was PLENTY of time for it to rest, to reheat the already-made sides and rolls, as WELL as to collect the pan drippings and make fresh gravy!<br /><br />The turkey was a hit! White meat was succulent and juicy! The only issue I had was that the skin wasn’t as crispy as expected, most likely bc I rinsed it. Now I know better! What bothers me is that I never thought to try this with turkey! Here’s to the next one!
 
Leith D. November 29, 2017
Best turkey ever, isn't it? I've been making it since the recipe came out in the LA Times in 2006. Make herb butter and rub it under the skin on Wednesday night before the skin dries out...even better. If you use a butter-basted cheesecloth you don't need to flip the turkey. I've tried it both ways!
 
Isabel November 29, 2017
I've made this ROCK STAR recipe several years in a row. Winner every time! Everyone raved over how moist and flavorful it was.<br />Because my BIL wanted to stuff the bird with his mother's famous stuffing, I also put compound butter (rosemary and orange zest) under the skin to add more moisture as I worked to keep the bird from overcooking while waiting for the stuffing to come to temp.
 
Leith D. November 29, 2017
I use lemon, thyme and rosemary...it's amazing.
 
Jennifer November 25, 2017
Yep, as it says in the recipe, a dry brined bird cooks much faster. Our 16.4 lb bird was out after two hours.
 
Leith D. November 25, 2017
Same for me! I hope it was great!
 
tosacem November 25, 2017
Our 18 pound turkey was done in just under 3 hours. Good to know for next year since this put a monkey wrench into the plan to start heating the sides when turkey was done. The plan was to eat at 5:00 having the bird done at 4, giving it an hour to rest while heating sides. We were an hour off so bird ended up resting first in oven with it off then out of oven covered in foil while I finished heating all the sides. I will be trying this recipe with a roasting chicken and will plan better for next year. Would sure like to hear about others outcomes!
 
Leith D. November 25, 2017
Same here; I make it every year and it cooks fast! But it's always juicy, and the leftovers are awesome!
 
Liz H. November 23, 2017
I left the turkey uncovered last night in a pan. Should I put it on the roasting rack so the bottom dries out as well for the rest of the day?
 
Leith D. November 23, 2017
Sure! Great idea! Use the rack to roast it so it cooks evenly. Happy Thanksgiving!
 
AshleyBlanchard November 21, 2017
I made an error here! I only gave myself two days for the turkey to brine, will this still be sufficient?? Or should I change my plans?
 
Leith D. November 21, 2017
It's fine, leave it uncovered on Wednesday night so the skin can dry out. Happy Thanksgiving!
 
Max S. November 29, 2017
I had the same issue. See my post above detailing what I did. It was a hit!
 
Lynn B. November 20, 2017
I bought a fresh turkey (18 lbs.) Friday night, I was going to start the dry brine today, Monday, and let it brine for three days. Will my bird be okay to eat come Thursday. I've read that if you buy a fresh bird you should cook it within two days or freeze it.
 
Leith D. November 20, 2017
It's fine. I have started mine on Sunday night every year (I did it last night!) and it's never been a problem. Google's first answer "If you are not confident about the temperature of your refrigerator, cook or freeze the turkey within 4 days of the sell-by date." The sell-by date is usually Thanksgiving or later, and I'm sure your fridge is cold :) Happy Thanksgiving!
 
PamYoss November 18, 2017
How do I adjust this recipe for a larger turkey? I have a 26-28 lb. Is there a calculation to increase the initial cook time and then estimate how long it will take to reach 165 degrees?
 
Leith D. November 18, 2017
See below; Google says 12 minutes per pound for a dry-brined turkey. I'd check it 3/4 of the way through the cooking time to make sure it doesn't overcook. The thermometer should read 165. Happy Thanksgiving!
 
Wendie P. November 16, 2017
Can anyone tell me how many minutes/pound for this recipe? I don't think I will be doing a bird as large as 12 - 16 pounds.
 
Leith D. November 16, 2017
I Googled it; it came up with 12 minutes per pound. Use a thermometer to make sure it's done but not overdone (165 degrees).
 
tosacem November 15, 2017
I usually use a v-rack in a All Clad roasting pan. If I spatchcok the bird what type of rack and pan should I use?
 
Leith D. November 15, 2017
Same as you normally would.
 
ziba November 9, 2017
Does this recipe allow for stuffing the turkey?
 
Leith D. November 9, 2017
If you scroll down there's a discussion on this! Here's my best answer...IMHO you can, but this turkey cooks faster than you might be used to and your stuffing might not reach 165 degrees on the inside, which would make it unsafe to eat because the stuffing touches the raw bird. I like the taste of the stuffing cooked in in the bird, so I add some turkey drippings to the the stuffing just before it's done. If you scroll down someone comments that they microwave their stuffing prior to putting it in the bird. I've never done it. My family likes the crispy edges from a stuffing/dressing casserole and I'm too worried about the temp. Plus it might be too salty, idk.
 
ziba November 11, 2017
Great thanks! I'm about to stick it in the oven! I have a 23 lb. turkey . Will it take about an hour longer to cook?
 
Leith D. November 11, 2017
I'd guess 1 to 1 1/2 hours longer, which would make total cooking time around 4 to 4/12 hours. It depends on your oven, and if you're using convection or not. Use a good thermometer. Good luck!
 
ziba November 12, 2017
It was delicious! My first ever turkey! The temperature did plateau for a good 2-3 hours, but I eventually just took it out anyway.
 
Leith D. November 12, 2017
That's great!
 
Suzana October 26, 2017
Thanks Leith. So you spatchcok just before you put in the ove with this recipe? One more thing, would you share your recipe for the gravy? I read your comment below that you make it beforehand. Thank you
 
Leith D. October 26, 2017
Yes, you spatchcock the turkey before the oven. You could do it before you brine it if you wanted to. As far as the gravy recipe goes, I'll need to look that up and post it; I haven't used it since last year!
 
Suzana October 25, 2017
Hi Leith, you mentioned you I spatchcock the turkey? You do it for this recipe? Can you let me know how it works and the advantages? Thanks
 
Leith D. October 25, 2017
It's turkey time! Yes, you can spatchcock the turkey. The advantages are faster cooking time and more exposed skin for even browning. To spatchcock a chicken or turkey, remove the backbone by using a sharp knife to carefully cut down both sides of the back, then flatten out the bird by pressing down hard on the breastbone. Use the back for broth. There are videos that show you exactly how to spatchcock that might be helpful for you. Good luck!
 
Chantal M. November 27, 2016
Could this be used for chicken as well?
 
ron November 27, 2016
This was indeed originally a method for chicken, made popular by Judy Rodgers of the Zuni Cafe and published in her cookbook, the Zuni Cafe Cookbook.
 
Leith D. November 27, 2016
Absolutely, but I don't leave it for quite as many days! Usually 1 night in a bag, one day in the fridge to dry the skin and cook it that night. You could do it for several days if you wanted, as long as the expiration date of the chicken is OK.
 
Beckey November 25, 2016
I used this recipe to make my very first turkey -- a 16 pounder -- for my first hosted Thanksgiving dinner. And it was a complete hit, producing an incredibly tender, juicy turkey that actually looked beautiful as well. I did the initial rub on Tuesday night with a mixture of kosher & regular salt, plus a generous helping of Herbs d'Provence and a dash of cardamom. Wrapped it tightly in a garbage bag. Flipped it around and massaged it a couple of times on Wednesday. Removed it from the bag around 8am Thursday. Stuffed it with a mixture of roughly chopped celery stalks, shallots, lemon rind and apple cores (left over from my pies.) Rubbed some melted butter around on it with my hands because I realized I didn't have a basting brush.. And began cooking at 2:30p. Turned it over at 30 minutes and gave the breast another slosh of butter, and didn't open the oven again. It was perfectly done 2 hours and 40 minutes later. I forgot to leave it at room temperature for an hour, so it only had about 20 minutes, but that didn't seem to hurt things too much. Thanks for the recipe and all the helpful comments from readers!
 
Leith D. November 25, 2016
It sounds delicious...using the apple cores is an inspired idea! Happy it worked so well for you.
 
Elizabeth G. November 25, 2016
Thanks for this recipe!! Its the best turkey I have ever made. It was a 20lb butterball and I followed the instructions started on Sunday night used the bay leaves and thyme and kosher salt & used an oven bag as I reviewed the comments I noticed it said not to use a pre brined turkey like the butterball. I googled it too, so on Wednesday when I turned the turkey I scraped off the salt and replaced with only herb mixture and Thursday I let it sit for an hour outside fridge put in the oven at 2:45, turned it after 30mins and it was done at 5:45 and I also had a ham in the oven too. Very juicy and crispy on the outside. I will definatelly repeat next year!!