Dry-Brined Turkey {recipe} – The Only Way to Cook Turkey

Dry Brined Turkey
This is the only way to cook a turkey. Period.

It is a variation on Zuni Café’s Roast Chicken, which “dry-brines” a whole chicken in the refrigerator for three days before roasting.

I tried the Zuni chicken for the first time this summer, and it was awesome. There was ever-so-slight perfume of herbs from rosemary and thyme that had been slipped under the skin, the skin was crisp because it had “dried out” during the brining. And the meat? It was — and I hate to use a word I hate even more than the F-word (foodie) but I must — moist.

As I tore through the chicken thighs, fiber by fiber, I thought to myself that this would probably work magic on chicken’s bigger, blander cousin, a turkey. And then I forgot about it because I was distracted by the chicken oysters.

And now it is turkey time, and while I thought I was some kind of genius for planning to Zuni-brine a turkey for Thanksgiving, I discovered that it has been already been done. And tested.

And re-tested.

And done again.

So we roasted a turkey to test it out anyway (not that we don’t trust Russ), and it was awesome. This is the only turkey we’ll ever make. While the technique seems a bit much for a regular ol’ roast chicken on, say, a Wednesday night, it’s definitely worth it for the one turkey you’ll roast all year. It also requires some advance planning to thaw, but hey, this is Thanksgiving we’re talking about. We’ve been planning for this for four-and-a-half weeks already, right?

Dry-Brined Roast Turkey

based on Russ Parsons’s dry brined turkey in the Los Angeles Times, which is based on the Zuni Café roast chicken

Serves 11 to 15


1 turkey (ours was 13 pounds), giblets and neck removed, washed and very thoroughly patted dry
sprigs of fresh rosemary, sage, and thyme

Kosher salt


Three Days Before Roasting

Gently slip your fingers between the turkey skin and breast. Slide your fingers around to loosen the skin from the breast and down the sides to loosen the skin from the legs. Place sprigs of fresh herbs (rosemary, sage and thyme) between the skin and the meat. We used about 8 leaves of sage, 2 sprigs of rosemary, and 4 sprigs of thyme.

Sprinkle the turkey cavity with salt. Salt the entire outside body of the turkey. Be liberal, but not oversalted. We used about two tablespoons of Kosher salt.

Place the turkey on a large platter breast side up. Cover completely with plastic wrap. (Russ Parsons’s recipe calls for putting the turkey in 2½-gallon sealable plastic bag, but we didn’t have any and didn’t want to go out and buy a box of monster Ziplocs that we’ll never use).

Place the turkey in the refrigerator (lowest shelf, away from other stuff, etc.) for three days.

Eight (8) Hours Before Roasting

Remove the turkey from the refrigerator. Unwrap it, wipe it down with paper towels, and put it back in the refrigerator, uncovered.

Day of Roasting

Preheat oven to 425. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for one hour.

Place the turkey on a roasting rack in a roasting pan, and place in 425 degree oven.

After 30 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees, and roast until a thermometer inserted in the deepest part of the thigh, but not touching the bone, reads 165 degrees.

Our 13-pound turkey took about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Russ’s recipe says 2¾ hours, but every oven and every bird is different. Rely on your senses a little, rely on your thermometer a lot.

When the turkey is done, remove the roasting pan from the oven. If you can, remove the turkey from the roasting pan so you can make gravy with the “stuff” in the bottom of the roasting pan.

Place the turkey on platter/cutting board to rest, covered loosely with foil for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.

by Sarah J. Gim on November 18, 2011 · 4 comments

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

sippitysup November 19, 2011 at 8:36 am

I have used a very similar method and like it better than the wet brine. Besides it is easier too. GREG


Carrie November 24, 2011 at 3:51 am

I have just put this in the oven and I am SO excited. Thanks for sharing!!! Happy Thanksgiving :)


Kaitlyn November 13, 2012 at 12:57 pm

So it was a year ago that I first tried this method. It ended up being the best roast turkey I’ve ever made and my husband has ever tasted. I made it again for Christmas and I’ll be making it again next week for Thanksgiving 2012.

*I did roast the turkey breast side down for the first 30 mins on high 425 degree heat.


JOYCE November 21, 2012 at 4:55 pm



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