Have you ever been in charge of making the turkey for your Thanksgiving Day feast? If so, I bet you might’ve been a little stressed, especially if it was your first go. There’s a lot at stake! Turkeys aren’t the cheapest; everyone is starving and excited; and we hardly ever cook turkeys throughout the year so there’s no time to practice!
That’s why I figured I’d do some of the work for you this year. Today I’m sharing this recipe for a Citrus Dry-Brined Turkey. A lot of people swear about a wet-brine (and there have been years where I’ve loved them), but recently there’s been a lot of talk about the dry-brine, so I wanted to give it a proper go.
I followed the some of the rules and salt ratio from Russ Parson’s “Judy Bird.” I, of course, added some things that I think compliment a turkey very well: fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage and other additions like dried bay leaf, coriander and zest from a lemon and half of an orange. It’s a citrus-infused bird that I think looks and tastes wonderfully. Here are some big-time pros when it comes to dry-brining:
- No need for a big bucket to fit the bird. I used a very sturdy brining bag (I used this one specifically). Butchers often times have bags for meat that are sturdy, too; feel free to ask for one.
- It takes a lot less fridge space, which is crucial in the few days leading up to Thanksgiving.
- There have been numerous studies, proving that all a wet-brine does is make the turkey wetter, not necessarily more flavorful. This post from Serious Eats is very helpful.
- It takes less prep time. I dry-brined for about 24 hours (pretty much overnight) and it came out amazingly tasty!
Please note that these ratios below are for a 13-pound bird. If yours is larger, scale up. The salt ratio is 1 tablespoon per five pounds. So if it’s a 15-pound bird, use 3 tablespoons of salt. And of course, be sure to add and subtract the spices as you see fit.
As for supplies, I wanted to share a few things I used. If you’re looking for an affordable roasting pan, I used this one from Chicago Metallic. It did a fine job, though since I purchased just a few weeks ago, so I’m unsure of its lasting power. (I’ll report back in a few years!) I have this digital thermometer from Taylor—I think it’s fantastic. You can set an alarm and it will alert you when the turkey has hit the correct temperature.
I love a lot of things about this recipe: its ease, the lack of effort it takes, but mostly the thing I love the most is the crispy skin. If someone served me a plate of crispy turkey skin and no turkey, I’d be really happy. (This should not happen but if it did I wouldn’t complain.) If you like crispy skin, this is the recipe for you. It’s flavorful, properly seasoned with lots of citrus and herbaceous notes.
I think making a turkey should be a family affair. Get people to work! Ask them to help you lift the turkey, chop the herbs and zest the lemons. And lastly, a glass of wine and music blasting help, too. This shouldn’t be stressful—this should be fun. Feel free to leave any questions below and if you’ve tried different dry-brines, I’d love to hear about them.
Citrus Dry-Brined Turkey
- 13-pound turkey, thawed (see below for instructions on how to de-thaw)
- 2 1/2 tablespoons fine-grain sea salt (kosher works great, too)
- 1 (5-inch) sprig rosemary, leaves removed and mince, plus a few more sprigs for roasting
- 2 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and minced, plus a few more sprigs for roasting
- 2 sage leaves, minced, plus a few more leaves for roasting
- 1 lemon, skin zested and lemon cut into wedges
- 1/2 naval orange, skin zested and orange cut into wedges
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- *To thaw the turkey, either transfer to the fridge for two days or (this is what I did), place the wrapped turkey in a large pot and fill with cold to lukewarm water. When the water turns ice cold, dump out and refill. Keep doing this until it is mostly de-thawed (about 6 hours). Transfer to the fridge overnight and by morning it will be completely ready to be brined.
- In a mortar and pestle or a food processor, add the salt, minced rosemary, minced thyme, minced sage leaves and zest from the lemon and half of an orange, bay leaf and ground coriander. Twist and grind and twist and grind again until the mixture resembles a coarse rub. (If you’re using a food processor, pulse it a few times until it’s all mixed together.)
- To prep the turkey, remove the gizzards and neck bone and put them in a new plastic bag and place them to the fridge (we’ll use them for the gravy, recipe coming soon!). Pat the turkey dry with a bed of clean paper towels. Note: You can wash the turkey if you like, but I’m of the notion that by washing poultry it actually makes quite a big mess and spreads bacteria around the kitchen.
- Transfer the turkey to the center of the brining bag. Roll down the sides of the bag; this will make it easier to get in there and rub the turkey. Flip the turkey over, breast-side down, and rub half of the salt mixture all over the backside. Flip it over, breast-side up, and rub the remaining mixture all over, being sure to even rub some in the cavity of the turkey. Wash your hands (this’ll be messy) and then press the sides of the bag, releasing any air that’s in the bag, and seal it. You want an airless bag. Roll the bag over the turkey and transfer to the fridge, so the bird is sitting breast-side up. Allow to brine for at least 24 hours.
- The following day, remove the turkey from the brining bag and transfer to the cooking rack that’s set inside of the roasting pan. Pat dry to remove any moisture from the turkey; allow to come to room temperature for 1 hour. (While the turkey is drying, moisture will drip into the roasting pan and that’s great!)
- At the 45-minute mark, preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Pat the turkey dry one last time. Add a few extra sprigs of rosemary, thyme and sage to the turkey's cavity, along with the reserved wedges of lemon and orange.
- Flip the turkey, breast-side down. Place in the oven to brown for 30 minutes.
- Flip the turkey over so it's breast-side up. Reduce the oven’s temperature to 350 degrees F. Cook for an additional 2 1/2 hours, until the internal temperature of the bird (inserted into the thickest part of the thigh) reads 165 degrees F. Be sure to check on it periodically. (I gave it a peek every 45 minutes or so.) If at any time the bird begins to brown too much, turn the heat down to 300 degrees F and don’t be afraid to tent it with a loose piece of foil. (Note: A “loose” piece of foil is important because you don’t want to steam the turkey!)
- When the turkey is done, carefully remove it from the roasting pan and transfer to a cutting board to rest for 30 minutes, before slicing it. While the turkey is resting, feel free to use the drippings to make gravy (this recipe is coming soon). Carve the turkey and serve.
Adrianna Adarme is a food blogger and author living in Los Angeles, California. She writes the blog A Cozy Kitchen, where she shares comforting, everyday recipes from her kitchen. She recently authored her first cookbook, PANCAKES: 72 Sweet and Savory Recipes for the Perfect Stack. She’s a lover of breakfast, pie (and sometimes even pie for breakfast), corgis and cute things. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.