5 Ingredients or Fewer

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

November 23, 2021
4.3 Stars
Photo by JULIA GARTLAND. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG. PROP STYLIST: AMANDA WIDIS.
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)
  • Prep time 72 hours
  • Cook time 3 hours 15 minutes
  • Serves 11 to 15
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.

  • Sauertea
    Sauertea
  • cindy_perkins_marlow
    cindy_perkins_marlow
  • Shannon
    Shannon
  • Rosalind Paaswell
    Rosalind Paaswell
  • Leith Devine
    Leith Devine
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

850 Reviews

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.
 
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!!
 
Natalia November 25, 2020
What do you do with the liquid that releases 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!!
 
Sarah V. November 24, 2020
Question! Would it be a mistake to use salted butter for the basting and for an herbed butter under the skin? It’s what I keep on hand and I’d love to avoid another trip to the grocery store, but I’m worried it may make the bird too salty.
 
[email protected] November 24, 2020
Hi. I would avoid the salted butter as this is salty enough. I’ve done it every year the last 7 years and I never use any butter. I think you should try it as it is written. I think you will find it comes out really well. People rave about how juicy the breast is. Use spices instead do create flavor.
 
Sarah V. November 24, 2020
Wonderful. Thank you!
 
Leith D. November 25, 2020
I think it’s fine, just reduce the amount of salt you season the bird with. I’ve actually always used salted butter and the turkey is never too salty.
 
Sarah V. November 25, 2020
Thank you!
 
[email protected] November 25, 2020
Let us know what you did and how it turned out! I’d love to know !
 
cindy_perkins_marlow November 24, 2020
I have a question...I just saw the 72 hour timeline. I only have 52 hours until dinner. Can I still try the dry brine?
 
Leith D. November 24, 2020
Absolutely, get started as soon as possible. It will work fine. Happy Thanksgiving!
 
Messi'sMom November 24, 2020
For sure! Get it in there!!
 
LMiller November 23, 2020
Can you use this dry brine with recipes that call for buttered cheesecloth, specifically the no-baste versions? Will the cheesecloth prevent the skin from crisping in a way the butter on the skin alone wouldn't?
 
Leith D. November 23, 2020
Yes! I use buttered cheesecloth every year, I soak it in melted butter and white wine. The skin comes out crispy and beautiful. However, I don't start the turkey breast side down and then flip it. If you want to do that I'd drape the cheesecloth after the bird is breast side up. Funny story, my husband was flipping the 24 lb bird and dropped it on the floor. He invoked the 20 second rule and put it back in the oven. I didn't find out until after dinner was over!! Thank goodness I'd mopped the floor that morning!
 
[email protected] November 24, 2020
I used to use cheesecloth m, buttered, for decades. Then I can across this recipe. The whole point of this is it comes out looking like a magazine photo, the skin is perfectly crisped!!! So why make it harder than it has to be?
This recipe really works and is as simple as it sounds! Use herbs in your salt to infuse the meat with flavor. The salt and dry brining crisps the skin.
 
[email protected] November 24, 2020
Why tho ? The entire point of this recipe is that the brining does all the work for you where crisping up is concerned. This seems like twice the work ?
 
Leith D. November 25, 2020
It’s up to you, brining makes the turkey more tender and juicy. I don’t like to baste, and the cheesecloth does the work for me. Do whatever makes you comfortable.
 
Sauertea November 25, 2020
Do you put the cheesecloth on when you start the turkey and are their any adjustments I would need to make using a convection roast setting?
 
Leith D. November 25, 2020
I put the cheesecloth on at the very beginning, I soak it in melted butter and white wine. I don’t flip the turkey, if you’re going to flip I’d put the cheesecloth on after that. Convection ovens cook about 25% faster so factor that in to your cook time calculations. Good luck, Happy Thanksgiving 🦃🍁!
 
Sauertea November 25, 2020
Thanks! I am eager to try with the cheesecloth!
 
Sauertea November 27, 2020
Wow, the cheesecloth was a great technique. Had a beautifully browned bird! Thanks for the advice!
 
Leith D. November 27, 2020
Glad it worked for you, it's the perfect "no basting" method in my opinion. Try it on your next roast chicken. Happy Holidays!
 
Amy November 23, 2020
My turkey is only 8 pounds. How can I adjust and still use this method? Thank you.
 
Sauertea November 23, 2020
Yes, you can . It is one tablespoon of salt per five pounds. To do an 8 pound turkey it would take about 2.25 tablespoons of kosher salt. A tablespoon of Kosher salt is 18 grams. That



 
Sauertea November 23, 2020
Is about 3.6 grams per pound. It is a very forgiving recipe.
 
Leith D. November 23, 2020
I'd use 1 1/2 TB of salt plus whatever herbs and zest you want to add.
 
Sauertea November 23, 2020
You may well be right. I got very wonky with grams per pound!
 
[email protected] November 24, 2020
Yes! Use less salt
 
Amy November 25, 2020
Actually - it's 12 lbs. When I asked the butcher, she only saw the word
"weight" but the "w" was rubbed off lol! Now my questions are:
Since it's at the low end of the weight scale for this recipe, is 30 min at 425 too much time?
To flip or not to flip...?
 
Leith D. November 25, 2020
The initial 30 minutes is for breast side down, then you flip and reduce the temperature to 325. Personally, I start it at 425 for 30 minutes then reduce the heat, but I keep the turkey breast side up the entire time. I keep the initial time at 425 for 30 minutes no matter how big my turkey is.
I don't flip the bird, we had an unfortunate incident a few years ago! If you scroll down, you'll see discussion about flipping the turkey. Good luck, and Happy Thanksgiving!
 
Carol Y. November 20, 2020
What bout stuffing inside turkey?
 
Leith D. November 20, 2020
It's not considered safe to stuff the turkey. The stuffing can't reach a safe internal temperature by the time the turkey is done, so you end up serving stuffing that has uncooked turkey juices in it. There's a lot of discussion on this topic in the comments below. Also, if you stuff this turkey after dry brining, the stuffing will be too salty. I put herbs, lemons, and onions in the turkey cavitiy. Good luck!
 
chimom435 November 20, 2020
Leith, thanks for that info. Do know this from direct experience? I definitely don’t want to have too salty of stuffing and am interested in your experience and how you have done things differently with subsequent attempts?
 
[email protected] November 20, 2020
Hi. I’ve made this every single year for the past seven years and I stuff it every year. Then I take the stuffing out, and put it into a baking pan and bake it til crispy on top. It’s never been too salty and people rave about it. Just use a thermometer to make sure stuffing is cooked. So my personal experience is it’s not too salty. Just don’t add salt to your stuffing recipe. Tho I do moisten mine with chicken broth as my daughter is allergic to milk proteins.
 
chimom435 November 20, 2020
Thank you so much for the info. It’s my first year doing a Turkey. Normally we are at my moms but we are trying to follow Illinois rules to not gather. I feel like I have big shoes to fill. :) Thanks again!
 
Leith D. November 20, 2020
I haven’t tried it for safety reasons, I put it in the casserole dish and bake it and then when the turkey comes out, I pour some turkey juices on it to make the stuffing taste like it’s been cooked in the bird.
 
chimom435 November 20, 2020
What if I baked the stuffing separately but “basted” it will some of the turkey’s drippings? Could that give me an good (tasty) end result? Will I kick myself bc it might reduce amounts for gravy? My mom always simmers the giblets (?) in a small pot of hot water and leaves it simmering all day...could that be used for basting the stuffing.
Ps: thanks SO MUCH for your input. So kind and much appreciated. :)
 
[email protected] November 20, 2020
Yes! We like extra stuffing so I also make some in a dish and then combine the two at the end. But I do baste it with turkey juices and have used the gizzard juices as well! Good luck it
 
[email protected] November 20, 2020
Oops. Do keep in mind the Joyce’s themselves are very salty. You may not want to use a lot of them for gravy anyway. Dilute with chicken stock unsalted or giblet water
 
[email protected] November 20, 2020
Juices!
 
[email protected] November 20, 2020
Same but if you do it while it baked ie baste your stuffing it will get that crispy topping everyone loves on the part of the stuffing that usually sticks out of the turkey. So good
 
Leith D. November 20, 2020
That would work as long as the drippings aren't too salty. I wait until the end of the turkey cooking time to use the drippings to make sure I have enough for gravy. I usually dilute the juices with chicken broth. The giblet broth might work, but that would be great in the gravy too! Happy Thanksgiving!
 
sue K. November 21, 2020
Hi chimom
I simmer the giblets with garlic, onion, celery, and a carrot, and usually buy turkey necks of wings to make a full flavored stock.
Then, there is plenty for the gravy and stuffing
 
Lawkat November 24, 2020
My mother (and now myself) have always simmered the giblets and used the broth for the stuffing. I like to throw some celery and onion into the broth for more flavor.
 
Shannon November 18, 2020
I love this dry brine method. This will be my fifth year using this recipe. I break my bird down and separate the legs and thighs to roast on a separate sheet pan from the joined breasts and wings. I use a Thermapen and start checking around 01:45. Slice and present on a nice turkey platter. It's a winner every year for me with family and friends. I'll never go back to a wet brine. I highly recommend brining with fresh garlic and herbs.
 
Leith D. November 20, 2020
Me too!
 
Rosalind P. November 7, 2020
Kosher turkey eliminates the need for brining because salting is used for koshering. Costs more but SO much easier. Who has room in their fridge for 3 days, especially at holiday time, for a big, dripping bird?
 
Janex November 19, 2020
I've used the kosher birds and dry brining tastes better to me.
 
[email protected] November 20, 2020
It works well if you have a second fridge in garage like we do. Also salting isn’t the point. All processed turkey has sodium injected. It’s the process of dry brining that’s being discussed
 
Rosalind P. November 20, 2020
A second fridge! Why didn't I think of that? 🙂🙂 And salt is what brining is all about. Makes the bird more tender and moist and flavorful.


 
Meadowbrookmanor January 18, 2020
How can I adapt this to just a Turkey breast?
 
dini18 January 18, 2020
If you have the patience (I just tried and do NOT have the patience ... or time, actually) I asked this question some time back and got replies. If only I had memorized them ... So it's in here somewhere! Or you can wait for some dear soul to come along and respond. Good luck!
 
dini18 January 18, 2020
Oh, and it will be useful if you can give more details about your bird, such as is it a whole breast, frozen or not, etc. Thanks!
 
Leith D. January 18, 2020
Use the appropriate amount of salt according to the weight of your turkey breast (1 TB for every 5 pounds), and use it on the breast the same way you would for a whole turkey. I wouldn't do it for 3 days, just one or two. Depending on the size it might fit into a plastic bag, take it out the night before you cook it to let the skin dry out. I think you need different cooking instructions, look up some turkey breast recipes for that.