We can thank Judy Rogers, the late great owner of the Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, for Dry Brine Turkey. She made this dry brining method famous with her Zuni Chicken, often referred to as the Judy Bird. I can attest first hand that the acclaim is well earned.
We celebrated my dad's 60th birthday at the Zuni cafe and, a decade later, we still talk about that magnificent dinner. The juicy, herbaceous chicken with its crackling skin and the salty sweet bread salad it perched on that caught every last drop of flavorful juice.
After that meal, I flew home and immediately ordered the Zuni Cafe Cookbook with its detailed description of making the famed chicken dish in a home kitchen. Since then, we've shared some of our most memorable meals with family and friends around a platter of Zuni Chicken.
I'm not sure why it took me so long to think of trying to make a dry brine turkey, but the method works beautifully. And it couldn't be simpler, welcome during the holidays when there are countless side dishes (Mashed Red Potatoes or Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes and Turkey Gravy, Cornbread Pudding, Cornbread Dressing, Sourdough Stuffing, Brioche Rolls, Cranberry Orange Relish and Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower are a some of my favorites.) and pies (like Chocolate Rum Pie) to consider.
If you end up with leftover turkey meat, as we always do, enjoy it in Turkey Pot Pie, Turkey Pot Pie Soup, or Turkey and Rice Soup. And don't toss that carcass! This tried and true method for making homemade broth in a slow cooker is easy.
A dry brine simply means that you season meat with salt and/or a mixture of salt and aromatics well ahead of roasting, hours or even days. The general rule is: the larger the cut of meat, the longer the brining time. Far less mess and hassle than a wet brine with equally delicious results.
There's no need to rinse the turkey after dry brining. Just pat it dry with a paper towel before roasting.
How to make Dry Brine Turkey
Step 1: Pat turkey dry and place on a platter or in a roasting rack. Tuck fresh herbs under the breast and thigh skin. Season all over with kosher salt. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 days.
Step 2: The night before you plan to roast the turkey, remove the plastic wrap and pat dry. Refrigerate overnight, uncovered.
Step 3: Remove turkey from refrigerator 1 hour before you plan to roast it. Roast turkey at 450˚F for the first 30 minutes. Reduce oven to 325˚F and continue to roast until the thigh reaches 165˚F on an instant. Remove turkey from oven and tent with foil. Allow to rest 30 minutes before carving.
Dry Brine Turkey Recipe Video
Dry Brine Turkey
- 12 pound turkey patted dry
- 8 fresh sage leaves or more
- 4 fresh rosemary sprigs or more
- 8 fresh thyme sprigs or more
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- Two days before you plan to roast the turkey, pat it dry and place breast side up on a roasting rack or platter.
- Loosen skin under breast and thighs and tuck fresh herb sprigs underneath. (see video) Sprinkle turkey all over with kosher salt, lightly rubbing it into the breast and onto the legs and thighs. Cover turkey tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two days.
- The night before you plan to roast the turkey, remove the plastic wrap and pat dry. Then refrigerate overnight, uncovered. (This will make the skin extra crispy!)
- One hour before you're ready to roast the turkey, remove it from the refrigerator.
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- Roast turkey 30 minutes.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F and continue roasting until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thigh (take care to not touch the bone) reads 165˚F (approximately 12 minutes per pound).
- Remove turkey, tent with foil and allow to rest for 30 minutes before carving.
- If your turkey is larger than 12 pounds, use an extra ½ teaspoon kosher salt per pound. If your turkey is smaller, reduce the salt by the same ratio.