Dry Brined Turkey

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you they’ve got the perfect Thanksgiving turkey recipe…or in my case, they’ll tell you their Dad does. We always fry our turkey, but my Dad is in charge of manning the bird, so I was not confident I could handle it during this year’s pandemic Thanksgiving without burning down our whole courtyard. Although we were hosting our own Thanksgiving with just the two of us due to COVID, we still wanted to do the full shebang so I started looking into less flammable solutions. We figured brining was the way to go since it’s the approved method of turkey #2 (made by Bill) at our regular Thanksgiving…but then I realized how much space that takes up in the fridge and said uhhh no thank you. After a bit more research, we landed on the dry brine method and I could not have been happier with the results.

Just before brining

I studied several different recipes and settled on this Frankensteined process that I’ll lay out, step by step:

  1. Two days prior to cooking (aka Tuesday), dry brine the turkey. Make a mix of salt (I used course salt) and herbs (we used dried thyme and cracked peppercorns) and rub all under the skin and inside the cavity. You’ll need to pull the skin up a bit, separating the membrane from the meat. Don’t rip it off but you can kinda shove your hand in there. How much salt and herbs? 1 tbsp salt, 1/2 tsp herbs, and 1/2 tsp pepper for every 4-5 lbs of turkey.
  2. Let the turkey sit uncovered – yes, uncovered – in the fridge in a roasting pan until Thanksgiving.
  3. Day-of, take the turkey out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter for a few hours so it comes to room temperature. I would do this about 6-7 hours before you plan to actually eat.
  4. When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 450.
  5. Make a compound butter, which means soften it a bit (either by sitting on the counter or sticking in the microwave for 10 seconds) and stir in some herbs (I used herbs de provence). For measurements, I used about 3/4 stick of butter and eyeballed the herbs. We were working with a 10 lb turkey, for reference. Stuff the butter under the skin and rub any remaining on top. Put 1/2 a lemon, a full head of garlic (with the top sliced off), several sprigs of fresh rosemary, and half an onion (quartered) inside the cavity. Place the turkey on top of thickly sliced rounds of onion and apple. We did this because I don’t have a roasting rack but also because I think it adds extra flavor so I prefer this to a traditional roasting rack – same effect of lifting up the turkey so steam can circulate and it doesn’t sit in its own juices but with more flavor…why wouldn’t you do it this way?
  6. Cover the turkey with aluminum foil, place in the oven, and immediately reduce the temperature to 350.
  7. Cook for an hour and a half with the foil on.
  8. Remove from oven and add dry white wine to the bottom of the pan. I didn’t measure, but it was probably about a quarter of a bottle.
  9. Return to the oven and cook for 30 minutes with the foil off.
  10. Baste, check the temperature (at this point ours was at 145), and put the turkey back in the oven, checking/basting every 15-20 minutes. You’re looking for a 165 temp. A note about total cooking time: Assume 13-14 minutes per pound. We had a 10 lb turkey and the total cooking time (with foil and without) was 138 minutes. It could have come out maybe 5 minutes earlier but that’s why you do the first hour and a half covered without opening the oven and then check in 15 minute increments for the uncovered part.
  11. When it hits the right temperature (and don’t hit the bone when you’re inserting that thermometer!), take it out of the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes before carving.
  12. When one person removes the bird from the roasting pan to start carving, have another person take that amazing wine/onion/apple/garlic/lemon juice that’s collected at the bottom of the pan and pour it into a saucepan (just the juice – not the actual fruit/vegetable bits). Add a large spoonful of flour and whisk whisk whisk as it simmers until it forms a lovely, lump-free gravy.

Note: It feels very weird to leave a raw turkey uncovered for days in the fridge. In my mind, salmonella particles would just be floating around the fridge, but it don’t work like that. Just make sure your other food isn’t actually touching the turkey and you’re fine. And when I saw it all dried out after sitting in salt I thought there was no way this would work and started googling open restaurants. But it did! It worked!

With gravy

This turkey was nice and juicy and very flavorful. So much so that Albert confidently said he’d be a-ok if we hosted Thanksgiving moving forward. I said, “no thank you I hope we never have to miss another Savannah Thanksgiving” but agreed it’s very nice to know we can do it. And if your family is looking for a great turkey for next year’s celebration, look no further. This method is delicious, simple, and easy on refrigerator space.

Plating could use a bit of work, but it was nicely carved and terribly delicious