Russ Parsons' Dry-Brined Turkey (aka The Judy Bird) Recipe on Food52 (2024)

5 Ingredients or Fewer

by: Genius Recipes

November23,2021

4.5

57 Ratings

  • Prep time 72 hours
  • Cook time 3 hours 15 minutes
  • Serves 11 to 15

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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

  • Test Kitchen-Approved

What You'll Need

Watch This Recipe

Russ Parsons' Dry-Brined Turkey (aka The JudyBird)

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)
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.

Tags:

  • American
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Serves a Crowd
  • Brine
  • 5 Ingredients or Fewer
  • Christmas
  • Thanksgiving
  • Winter
  • Fall
  • Gluten-Free
  • Entree

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Sauertea

  • Burchie

  • Elena Dehart

  • Leith Devine

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

Popular on Food52

932 Reviews

Calliecoco November 23, 2023

Despite all the little hiccups this bird turned out so moist and delicious. I must say it was too salty for my taste (my fault) but, not so much that I couldn't enjoy it. Surprise, surprise the bird was done in 3 hours (an hour earlier than expected) and I used my trusty instant read thermometer and could not believe it. Wow. Then I realized I had the oven on convection bake and it all made sense. Anyway nothing tragic and when my sister in law asked for the carcass...well when your company wants to take home the bones I guess I can call that a success! Thanks everybody. I look forward to seeing how everyone's day turned out.

Leith D. November 24, 2023

Im glad it all worked out for you in the end.

dini18 November 23, 2023

Through absolutely no fault of this recipe -- it's all on me -- I have ruined a turkey for the first time in my 6+ decades. I've had "meh" turkeys before, especially before I found this recipe, but these are just wrecked.

I bought two, whole, "fresh" turkey breasts. They were not cheap. Did I mention they were "fresh?" It never occurred to me to read the ingredients. I was pretty sure the ingredient was "turkey breast." Full stop.

Nope. They had all the garbage that a lot of commercial, frozen, whole turkeys have. I only thought to look it up after the absolutely gorgeous bird came to the table and proved inedible.

We prefer a little turkey with our salt. I can't even imagine anything to use them for, they're so salty. I'm glad it was just us three, and that I didn't depend entirely on drippings to make the gravy since I made it ahead.

I'm so mad at myself I can barely breathe. Last year I had the most perfect turkey breast ever, courtesy of this recipe. I'm out a lot of money and a lot of recipes I wanted to use the extra meat for.

Next year I'm going back to the local butcher where I know it will be an actual fresh breast with nothing added, and the Judy bird will again reign at my table.

But I'm glad that more and more people are discovering this recipe and getting great results. :)

Sauertea November 23, 2023

Quick question, if using the soaked cheesecloth, how often should you baste? Never thought to ask that before. Thanks

Leith D. November 23, 2023

I usually baste hourly. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sauertea November 24, 2023

Thanks!

krissy November 22, 2023

I've used this dry brine recipe for many years and I swear by it. This year I was invited to the firehouse where my son is a firefighter. But guess who got covid last week and then passed it to her husband? Yep. So now I had to shop on Wednesday for my turkey and fixins for 2. I dry brined my 12.5lb turkey and left it uncovered in the fridge. We'll see how it turns out.

Leith D. November 23, 2023

Oh no, what a shame! I’m sure your turkey will be delicious and I’m glad you’re feeling better. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family 🦃

Calliecoco November 22, 2023

Oh Thank you so much. There was not much salt visable but, I wiped the bird down. I did not rinse it or leave it out of the bag last night. I thought about it and decided to buy unsalted butter so I will not add any additional seasoning when basting. It is a bigger bird than the original recipe calls for so, hopefully it can handle the extra salt. I am taking it of the bag for a good 12 hours open to air. Truth be told I have always been a guest and never a host so I have never cooked a turkey. I am trusting all the good reviews that say even with minor goofs this still turns out a great meal. I will start my thanksgiving early and say I am grateful for all of you who read this thread and want to help everyone. It has been a very positive experience!

dini18 November 22, 2023

You didn't have as much extra salt as you think, either, so that helps! For your bird it actually calls for 4 TB plus a little more, so you're not that far off.

In case you haven't had the chance to read every single comment here (it's a very long thread), Leith and others have said it turns out that it doesn't make much difference whether you flip the bird. Yours is huge, so I'd recommend not trying it! Just start breast-side up.

I learned the first time I made this to start checking the temperature almost obsessively once it gets close, because at that point it finishes fast. I don't make a turkey as big as yours -- I use large whole breasts instead -- but once it hits about 140, I make sure to check at least every ten minutes.

These are the most important things that I've learned from the folks on here. Aren't they a great bunch? Don't forget to let us know how it came out!

Leith D. November 22, 2023

It sounds like everything is fine so far. If you have questions while you’re cooking it please let us know!
1. Use cheesecloth soaked in melted butter, wine, and broth and drape it over the bird.
2. Start checking the temperature early using an instant read thermometer, in the thigh under the leg. If there’s a pop up thermometer in the breast ignore it.
3. If the bird is done but dinner isn’t finished yet, wrap it in foil, then a towel, and put in a cooler if possible.

I’ll monitor the comments if you have any questions.

Calliecoco November 21, 2023

I have over salted the bird. The 21 lb bird was frozen solid on Sunday and had areas with thick layers of ice. I salted the bird with 3 tbsp and then my spouse salted the bird with 3 tbsp again on Monday "to help it thaw". Is there any corrections I need so it won't be too salty?

Leith D. November 21, 2023

I’d wipe off any visible salt today. If there isn’t much visible to wipe off I’d rinse it off and put it back in the fridge. It’s a big turkey, you should be ok.
Good luck and let us know how it turned out. Happy Thanksgiving!
PS: I’m sure he was trying to be helpful 😳

dini18 November 21, 2023

If they end up rinsing it, should they put in back out of the bag?

Leith D. November 21, 2023

Yes, I think the bird has probably absorbed enough salt to continue dry brining. Hopefully she won’t have to rinse it, just wipe off the visible salt.

BH November 21, 2023

Ok help. I didn’t read carefully beforehand and just finished dry brining and put in the fridge. It is noon on Tuesday. Planning to eat at 3 on Thanksgiving. Will someone draw me a picture of how to fix this?

dini18 November 21, 2023

How many pounds is your bird?

BH November 21, 2023

Hi it is 17.8 pounds

dini18 November 21, 2023

I was thinking that when you unbag it tomorrow you might be able spatchco*ck it and that would dry the surface more quickly and let the salt do its work, but that's a big bird.

Someone more familiar with the process is sure to have better insight, but I can say with some confidence that you have not ruined your bird! It might just not get the full benefit of the dry brine. Good luck and let us know how it comes out.

BH November 21, 2023

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond! I appreciate it. I doubt I will spatchco*ck anything lol. But good to know my bird is not ruined!

BH November 21, 2023

So I should still in bag it tomorrow ?(Weds)

Leith D. November 21, 2023

Don’t worry, it’s fine! Just keep it in the fridge until Wednesday night, then take it out of the bag and let it air dry in the fridge overnight. It will still come out moist and juicy.

dini18 November 21, 2023

I hope that Leith will check me on this but I would take it out to give it a day to dry.

BH November 21, 2023

Bless uuuuu 🙏🙏🙏

Leith D. November 21, 2023

Yes keep it in the bag until Wednesday night when you take it out to let the skin dry

BH November 23, 2023

Wow y’all that was one delicious turkey!! I’ll never use another method again!

Leith D. November 23, 2023

I’m so glad it worked out for you, it’s a very forgiving recipe!
Happy Thanksgiving 🦃!

Burchie November 20, 2023

Wondering if anyone has ever pulled off successfully with sea salt? I tried to scroll through the 900 comments and I know it's mentioned that this can be done. When I look up recalculating measurements (Kosher->sea) online, I keep finding articles that say don't even bother dry-brine a turkey with anything but Kosher. I can't find Kosher salt anywhere with the shortage and the online order I placed is now 2 days late. Wanted to see if anyone here had first hand experience with this..

Leith D. November 20, 2023

I’ve never tried it, but checking google it looks like you’d use the same 1 TB/5 pounds amount of coarse sea salt. FYI Trader Joe’s now carries Diamond Crystal Kosher salt, the box looks different but it’s the same product.

Burchie November 20, 2023

Thanks! I’ll try there before I go the sea salt route.

erin November 20, 2023

I'm tempted to chew my own tongue off for telling you this, but here goes... in a pinch, you could use Morton's, just use slightly less than half
of what the recipe calls for because Diamond Crystal is much less salty than Morton's, I don't know if it has anything to do with iodination. I would probably taste the different salts I might use and use that for guidance as well. May your package arrive making this whole conversation mute. Good Luck, it will be great, however, you choose to proceed.

Leith D. November 20, 2023

LOL you’re correct!

erin November 20, 2023

The first time I cooked this I'd never heard of Diamond Crystal, guess what I used?

dini18 November 20, 2023

To be honest with you, I couldn't figure out what sort of itty-bitty community you come from that Kosher salt was a problem. Well, I visited the largest and most well-stocked supermarket in my small city and all FOUR slots for different Kosher salt were empty! I grabbed a small bag of coarse Himalayan.

I hope you'll let us know how you like your bird. I have a pair of large turkey breasts Judying in the fridge because someone here (probably Leith) encouraged me one year to go ahead and try it with a breast. Like pretty much everyone else here says, I'll never go back!

dini18 November 20, 2023

Hi, Leith! Correct about the taste-test, or correct that iodization makes a difference? Because that's a food-science thing that would be useful to know! Thanks for making this page feel like a little community, year after year.

Leith D. November 20, 2023

Both, Morton’s will work as long as you adjust the amount you’re using to brine to account for the difference in saltiness. I am not a food scientist!

Leith D. November 20, 2023

Years ago I discovered that newer cookbooks, websites, chefs etc. use Diamond Crystal kosher salt as the standard, and that’s what you’re supposed to use unless the recipe says otherwise. Like Bon Appetit, Food52 etc. However, this recipe works with other types of salt too! And yes, it was probably me who told you to dry brine the turkey breast. I’m not 100% sure how I’ve become the turkey whisperer but here we are!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Amy November 18, 2023

So for cooking on Thursday, does the brining start on Monday morning? afternoon? Or Sunday? For some reason, I can't figure that out lol. Thanks!

Leith D. November 18, 2023

Start it on Sunday!

Amy November 18, 2023

Then out of the bag on Wednesday to dry in the fridge, I'm thinking. Thank you!

Cheri November 18, 2023

Yes. Sunday.

Debbie November 18, 2023

I did this last year and it was the best turkey in 50 years. I love that the recipe specifies exactly how much salt to use rather than a very imprecise “salt the turkey well.” Also, the 4-day brine makes all the difference. You will not be disappointed.

Leith D. November 18, 2023

Exactly!

erin November 19, 2023

I always start mine on Sunday night so that on Wednesday night I can have it resting in the fridge until I remove it for cooking on Thursday.
The first year I made this I didn't start until Monday night and it was still great and moist.

kelly1111 November 22, 2023

I start the dry brine Sunday morning and unbag it Wednesday Night. We eat at noon or 1pm, so I get it the turkey out of the fridge at 7am to sit for an hour and preheat the oven. Put it in the oven at 8 am and follow the directions from there.
My turkeys are usually 16-17 lbs and they cook in about 2 1/2 - 2 3/4 hours total. I also have an hour drive and I wrap it up in foil and it's perfection when it arrives- still hot and juicy!

kelly1111 November 22, 2023

I also start with a frozen bird- I take it out of the freezer Friday morning, remove the insides on Sunday morning and apply the brine.

Leith D. November 22, 2023

Try my husband’s trick, wrap the turkey in foil, then wrap it in a beach towel and put it in a cooler. All the insulation keeps it warm and moist! Happy Thanksgiving!

Cheri November 8, 2023

I discovered this method of brining a turkey approximately 8 years ago and would never make it any other way. It makes the moistest turkey possible. I usually start with a frozen bird which requires a little extra time but it is well worth the delay. Give this a try and you will never go back to any other way of brining a turkey.

Leith D. November 17, 2023

Same here, I always get compliments on how moist the turkey is.

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!

Margo W. November 23, 2023

Does the skin stay nice with this method?

Leith D. November 23, 2023

It’s not as crispy as it was right out of the oven but the turkey itself is amazing. Happy Thanksgiving 🦃!

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!

Russ Parsons' Dry-Brined Turkey (aka The Judy Bird) Recipe on Food52 (2024)
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