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the bird is the word

Recipe: dry-brined roast turkey with gravy

Before my parents left for Hawai’i, my mom called me up to find out if I would like her to ship me a Smithfield ham – the uber salty, delicious, country-style ham from my home state of Virginia. I said I’d love to have one and she made a note of it (her thing is to ship hams all over the country to friends and family). I asked if I could get one for Thanksgiving and she said, “No! They come out for Christmas and besides, everybody eats turkey for Thanksgiving.”

Well, not everybody. It’s been a while since we’ve had turkey for Thanksgiving. I always get waylaid when planning the Thanksgiving menu because other mains sound so much better. This year, I decided that no, we wouldn’t be having turkey for Thanksgiving, but yes, I would roast a turkey. Remember that organic bird I picked up at Whole Foods last week?

dry brining the bird

It was a little frozen ten pound hen. I figured I would try dry brining which I had read about on The Bitten Word. I used a quarter cup of coarse sea salt with a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper as my dry brine. Last night, I rubbed the defrosted (took 3 days – I think our fridge is really cold) turkey down with the salt mixture both inside and out, set her on the rack in the roasting pan, and let her chill out in the refrigerator uncovered for 10.5 hours (she weighs 10.5 pounds).

separating skin from the breast

After the 10.5 hour chill out, the turkey was rinsed in lukewarm water to rub off the brine (inside and out) and patted dry (inside and out). I referenced my Fine Cooking November 2007 issue which recommends separating the skin from the breast and rubbing butter underneath. I had some truffle butter that my aunt had given me and decided to use that on the bird.

heady smelling truffle butter – gets under the skin

It’s actually easier to place little pats of butter under the skin and then moosh them around from the outside. I then rubbed softened regular unsalted butter around the outside of the whole bird, tying the legs together and tucking the wings under.

trussed, more or less

I normally like to stuff my turkey, but so many sites and references say not to stuff the turkey – so I didn’t this time. I put the turkey on the rack, breast-side up, but since I wasn’t stuffing the bird, I should have tried cooking it breast-side down, but forgot (Elise says it gives a moister breast meat). Once the bird was ready, I covered the pan tightly with aluminum foil and baked at 350°F. After 2 hours, I removed the foil and baked for another 45 minutes. What I should have done was bake under foil for 1.5 hours and then bake uncovered for another hour. But the skin came out crispy and golden and juices were pouring out.

a little tan goes a long way

While the turkey rested, I drained off the drippings and poured them into a ziploc bag. I cut a hole at the bottom corner of the bag to collect the juices and discarded the fat. I love that trick!

turkey goodness

I made a quick roux with butter and flour. After the roux thickened and browned, I strained the turkey drippings into the pan.

adding turkey juices

I added ground pepper, poured in some chardonnay and a little chicken broth to achieve the proper taste and consistency. The wine really turns it from bland “meh” to a lively and tasty gravy. There wasn’t much need for salt since the drippings were already a little salty from the brine.

a little wine

So we had our turkey dinner today rather than Thanksgiving Day. The turkey was good as turkeys go. While neither of us are fans of white meat, Jeremy enjoyed it and said it was rather juicy. I stuck to the dark meat, which was reminiscent of duck (mmmm, duck…). We paired it with a lovely Gewürztraminer. Here is what we had:

roasted butternut squash soup with bacon
roasted turkey
turkey gravy
potatoes au gratin
salad greens with orange and pomegranate in lemon-citrus dressing
crustless pumpkin pie with whipped cream and crystallized ginger

The turkey and gravy instructions are at the bottom of this post. I’ll post some of the other recipes over the next few days and link to them from here as well. The stuffing was plain old ordinary stuffing (onions, celery, cubed herbed bread, chicken broth, and minced gizzard). I always prefer a green salad to mushy vegetables if at all possible – it’s lighter and more refreshing on the palate.

roasted butternut squash soup with bacon

dinner plate

crustless pumpkin pie with whipped cream and crystallized ginger

The beauty of the crustless pumpkin pie is that 1) I don’t have to make a crust and 2) I don’t have to eat the crust. I’m all about the pumpkin part of pumpkin pie. Now if it’s apple pie… gimme crust!

such a good girl: waiting for the okay

Verdict on dry-brining: much better than wet brining.
Verdict on the turkey: not bad.
Verdict on making this turkey again: If I’m going to spend that much time on preparing a critter, it had better taste as good as crab or lobster…

This turkey didn’t taste as good as crab or lobster to us. We just aren’t crazy for roast turkey. I don’t care HOW WELL you roast it, it won’t tickle my jollies the way pork, beef, or seafood can. Still, it’s always good to learn how to do things.

Dry-Brined Roast Turkey
[print recipe]
from Epicurious and Fine Cooking November 2007

10 lb. turkey (preferably organic), fresh or defrosted if frozen
see article for adjusting quantities for larger or smaller birds
1/4 cup coarse sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp each of any herbs you want to use (I didn’t)
1/2 cup butter (I used truffle butter and unsalted butter), softened

Make sure to defrost the turkey according to food safety recommendations (i.e. not on your counter top). Remove giblets and neck from cavity (reserve). Cut off fatty end at the tail (reserve). Mix sea salt and pepper and any herbs together. Rub the salt over the entire bird including inside the cavity. Set on a rack in a shallow pan and refrigerate 1 hour for every pound, uncovered. Remove bird from refrigerator and rinse off the brine in lukewarm water. Pat dry. Preheat oven to 350°F. Carefully separate the skin from the breast by sliding hand under the skin. Place pats of butter under the skin. Push the butter around evenly from outside of the skin. Use remaining butter to coat the entire outside of the turkey. Tie the legs together. Tuck the wings down. Place turkey breast side up on rack in shallow roasting pan. Toss the turkey neck and tail piece into the bottom of the pan. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1.5 hours (2 hours if 14-16 pounds) on a low rack in the oven. Remove foil and bake for another hour for the skin to brown. Target temperature is 170-175°F in the thickest part of the thigh and the juices run clear when you remove the thermometer. Remove from oven and let rest under foil for 20 minutes before carving.

Turkey Gravy
adapted from Fine Cooking November 2007

pan drippings from roasted turkey
4 tbsps butter
1/3 cup flour
1 cup chicken broth (or more)
1/2 cup dry white wine

Pour the cooled contents of the pan into a ziploc bag. When the fat layer settles out, poke a hole in the corner of the bag and let the turkey juices flow into a vessel. Stop the flow when the fat layer approaches the corner. Discard the fat. Melt butter in a large shallow pan over high heat until it foams. Whisk in the flour and continue whisking until the roux darkens to a caramel color (couple of minutes). Pour the wine into the roux and whisk to incorporate. Add the pan drippings and stir in chicken broth. Add more chicken broth to achieve desired consistency. Season with pepper to taste and serve with turkey.

43 nibbles at “the bird is the word”

  1. Vicki says:

    OMG you’re a genius with the fat-separating drippings thing. I can’t believe I never thought of that before!

  2. peabody says:

    Truffle butter, now you are getting fancy.
    We don’t do turkey either. We do roasted chicken for Canadian T-day and we go out to eat for US. :)

  3. Shoshanna says:

    I wish I had you as my neighbour…Like you, I’m more into seafood, beef, chicken than anything else; but once in a while, turkeys are good as a change. Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Manggy says:

    Yay! There’s that trick I love :) Anyway, I gotta agree with you on the turkey… If not for all the doodads surrounding it, I really don’t see the point. I’d much rather have a chicken. Or maybe I’m corny that way? But your turkey with truffle (!) butter sounds extremely awesome (not to be interpreted as experience in tasting truffles on my part, sigh). Now all that remains to be seen is how to finish a few pounds’ worth of turkey leftovers! (And of course, the recipes for the other neat treats on the spread :)

  5. Rosa says:

    A beautiful turkey! I love that kind of meat… Wrapped in bacon, it’s also fabulous!



  6. Maja says:

    Why shouldn’t you stuff the bird? Stuffing is my favourite part of the chicken ;) … i love the truffle butter idea! :)

  7. Mrs Ergül says:

    I almost forgot a turkey will take so much time in the oven!! Seriously, I will love to have seafood over poultry too. I can’t even compare!

  8. Graeme says:


    Don’t you know, that the bird is the word? The bird bird bird, the bird is the word.

    That’s one lucky Turkey, for sure. It gets to look so beautiful before it bathes itself in Cheesecake.
    Nice job.

  9. zoe / puku says:

    lol, Jen, maybe you and Jeremy should come down here for a traditional Aussie/NZ xmas then.. (we have the ham, the turkey, mince tarts etc etc for nibbling and auxiliary eating, but the main meals are generally dominated by piles of fresh crustaceans and salads).

    this does look lovely and crispy! truffle butter.. mmmmm.

  10. Debbie Green says:

    Everything looks so good. My husband and son would love the crustless pumpkin pie. They eat out the pumpkin part and the crust just sits there!!!!!

  11. Mollie says:

    I think it looks great! I like the dry brine tip… may have to try that…

  12. Sarah @ Sweet Endeavors says:

    This just in…it seems that the bird is less than or equal to the bird.
    Everybody has heard…

    Dry brining sounds interesting. I am already planing a wet brine for this year though. But I might change my mind when I start wrestling with the bird!

  13. Amy says:

    I agree, I think turkey is pretty overrated… but yours looks delicious! Now gravy… that’s something I can definitely get behind and I love the trick with the ziploc bag! I’d never heard about that one. Happy Thanksgiving!

  14. Bridget says:

    I’m not a huge fan of turkey either, but I figure since I eat it so rarely, I can still look forward to it on Thanksgiving. As long as I’m cooking it, that is, as neither my mom or my mother-in-law does a great job with it.

    One thing I don’t get about the ziploc bag method is, aren’t those juices crazy hot? And if you let them cool, it seems like you’d run out of turkey-resting time to make the gravy.

  15. diana banana says:

    you have the most obedient dog in the world! (not to mention the cutest)

    ditto on turkey…there’s so many other tasty proteins out there!

  16. Susy says:

    Here I thought I was the only person that made crustless pumpkin pies!

    Our dog waits for the OK as well, but we don’t make here wait too long or there will be a sticky pool of drool on the floor.

  17. Christina says:

    I’m definitely going to give a dry brine a try, especially since it’s less messy. The turkey looks pretty, even if you didn’t like it much.

    I want a dog!

  18. alst says:

    what a lovely thanksgiving spread….
    gobble gobble.

  19. cindy says:

    i am one of those people that gets excited all year over turkey…this sounds great, especially the truffle butter!

  20. Amy says:

    Ooh, my mouth is watering. What a fabulous dinner. I’ve been reading about brining turkeys and it sounds like it worked well for you – I’m going to have to give it a try.

    Btw, that Kaweah’s eyes are so expressive! :)

    Happy Thanksgiving, Jen!

  21. jess says:

    your puppy is so cute awww

  22. Nate says:

    We’ve done dry brining with chickens but not turkeys before. It definitely makes for a delicious bird.

  23. Gavin says:

    Yup, that trick with the bag is a real winner. I’ve heard of dry-brining beef a day ahead but never any other meat. Then, all of a sudden, it seems like I’m hearing about it everywhere…how did I get left so far behind?
    Your bird looks like it turned out perfectly, great job!

  24. Manisha says:

    I hear you on the turkey! Like Manggy, I prefer chicken. What are you going to do with all the leftovers?

  25. Margie says:

    So pretty, as usual and as I type this I say to myself, ‘I’m jealous, she already has the dishes done.’… ;) (to me, that part is the WORST!).
    I’ve never really enjoyed turkey baking either. It is never as moist as a chicken and it lasts FOREVER. (i have a problem with throwing away food.)

    Happy Turkey Day to you and Jeremy!

  26. Asianmommy says:

    What a nice dinner! I love your little baggie trick. I’m going to try that!

  27. barbara says:

    We always roast a turkey for Christmas Day. The boys insist. Michael will be cooking this Christmas. We’ve ordered a smaller one than in the past as we have a smaller oven. We stuff the turkey with a bread stuffing butt end and sausage meat in the neck cavity. The sausage meat helps keep it moist. I’ll tell Mike to salt it 24 hours before…which is basically the Zuni Cafe roasted chicken method.

    Friends are joining us and bringing the vegies. I’ve emailed her your potato au gratin and suggested she make it.

    Happy Thanksgiving Jen to you and Jeremy and Kaweah

  28. jenyu says:

    Vicki – I love that trick :) I only started using it recently – I think I got the tip from an old issue of Fine Cooking. So handy!

    Peabody – I had a lump of it sitting in the fridge. The bird was *begging* to be rubbed in it :) I like how you get to celebrate t-giving twice.

    Shoshanna – thanks! Happy t-giving to you!

    Mark – I am all over those leftovers! I *love* turkey leftovers – much more than the turkey on roasting day :)

    Rosa – oooh, that is one decadent and wonderful idea!

    Maja – all of the food experts say it makes it harder for the bird to cook evenly (true). They also warn about cooking long enough so the stuffing in the bird is “safe” which means drying out the rest of the bird :( But I agree, stuffing IN the bird is the BEST part.

    Mrs. E – I know!!

    Graeme – Did you see that episode of Family Guy? I laughed sooooo hard!

    Zoe – yes, I must admit that my dear Aussie pal, Kell, made me feel less guilty about indulging in seafood over the holidays when I discovered a whole continent partakes in that act :) Woohooo! I love Aussies!!

    Debbie – I just posted the pie recipe :)

    Mollie – I can see many accidents avoided in my kitchen by dry-brining ;)

    Sarah – hee hee. I love dry-brining.

    Amy – the bag trick is so awesome and much less mess if you don’t mind sacrificing one bag. Happy t-giving!

    Bridget – that’s what I thought when I first read about the trick. It was pretty hot when I de-fatted the ham bone broth for the bean soup – so I should have let that cool longer. But the pan drippings were surprisingly cooled down! I think it was because the pan was large and so the drippings were shallow. They cooled much much faster than I would anticipate. Still, it’s quite warm, but I had it in the ziploc within 5 minutes after removing from the oven.

    Diana – puppy lives for meat ;)

    Susy – yes, we also have the drool spigot problem! Love that crustless pumpkin pie :)

    Christina – thanks!

    Alst – thank you.

    Cindy – Jeremy was skeptical at first, but it’s wonderful on the turkey!

    Amy – Right back at ya babe! I hope you guys have a great holiday. xxoo

    Jess – :)

    Nate – yum! I guess I dry brine my chicken too… I never even realized it.

    Gavin – you’re not left behind! there is still time to dry-brine :)

    Manisha – see the next post, dearie.

    Margie – my good man had the entire kitchen washed by 8 pm and I had all of the food stuffed back into the fridge. Happy t-giving to you too!

    Asianmommy – just take care that it isn’t too hot!

    Barbara – yes, this technique was adapted from the Zuni Cafe! You’re so knowledgeable, I should have asked you! :) I hope you all have a wonderful time and meal together. Sending you many good wishes and hugs.

  29. Courtney says:

    Thanks for tip about the ziplock. I must have been under a rock, because I have never heard of dry brining. Can you do it on a non organic, frozen turkey?

  30. jenyu says:

    Courtney – yes! as long as you defrost the bird properly, it should still work like a charm. Good luck :)

  31. carol says:

    brilliant…dry rub….i will be trying out the technique on my future you we are only moderately in the turkey mood….

    your blog always inspires me to try out your recipes and techniques….

    and the pics of your doggie are wonderful too!

  32. christinemm says:

    I found out about three days ago and saw this recipe on it. Husband (the cooker) decided to dry brine with your recipe, one turkey and we are using our regular brine (from Alton Brown’s recipe). We’ll do a comparision. Wanted to say thank you for posting this.
    This is the first time we’re doing two turkeys and a good opportunity to do a side by side taste test also.

  33. Stephanie C says:

    Thank you thank you thank you for this recipe.
    I made a turkey for the first time for my small little family (my husband and I and my mom and her fiance) and they exclaimed it was the best turkey we had ever made at home! Also the juiciest and moist. I was so happy and proud.
    Again, many thanks – and have a great Turkey day ;)

  34. White On Rice Couple says:

    What a beautiful pre-Thanksgiving feast!!!!
    We dry brined our turkey too, and it turned out great….but too good to where I ate too much….ugh….pain….sleep…

    Happy Thanksgiving you two!!! XOXO

  35. jenyu says:

    Carol – thanks!

    Christinemm – cool! I’d love to see what you think!

    Stephanie – woohoo! It’s so nice to know that it’s not just me who likes the dry brine (well, the boys at the bitten word do too!). Happy Thanksgiving!

    WoRC – awesome :) I can’t wait to see what you guys had. Rest now, hon :) xxoo

  36. Kevin says:

    What an amazing turkey dinner!

  37. Gina says:

    Hola! I don’t like turkey as much either and cooking; it gives me a headache, I’m much more of a seafood lover too and would love to have Salted cod fish like in Spain, it’s called Bacalao,but I don’t know where to get it here, love your blog and thanks for sharing…..Gina

  38. jenyu says:

    Kevin – thanks hon!

    Gina – thank you :)

  39. Roasted Chicken with Lemon, Thyme, and Garlic | The Haute Kitchen says:

    […] thinking specifically of putting some truffle oil in it (ala the turkeys from Gordon Ramsay and this site), but we’re not sure […]

  40. Scott Mc says:

    You say you’re not really a fan of turkey?

    That’s because you’ve been eatin’ the wrong turkey.

    First, you should never eat frozen turkey (or any frozen meat if possible) because freezing permanently draws moisture from the meat. Second, you should be eating SMOKED turkey. I live in upstate NY and Plainville Farms near Syracuse sells fresh, smoked whole turkeys TO DIE FOR. I’m sure there are also other places to get fresh smoked turkeys.

    Before I pop one of these babies in the oven, I cut a lemon in half and squeeze the juice inside the cavity and kind of slosh it around. Then cut some apples in half, a couple onions (peeled) in half. Then stuff it all inside – even the lemon. If you want to add an orange, fine. Cook as normal.

    I GUARANTEE this will change your mind about roast turkey.

  41. jenyu says:

    Scott – well, if I ever get my hands on a freshie, then perhaps I’ll try your technique. Thanks.

  42. Real Food Thanksgiving Round-Up! | Meet Miss Jones says:

    […] Dry-Brined Roast Turkey from Use Real Butter […]

  43. Miranda says:

    Wow, somehow I stumbled across your site with the dry brine recipe… very nice descriptions and pictures!
    Tried it out on a 10 pound turkey breast with the rib cage, that was thawed out and it worked beautifully.
    Note: that I seasoned the salt brine with a teaspoon of the following dry spices: poultry seasoning,
    oregano, basil, Italian seasoning, some cracked pepper and cracked garlic salt.
    Only used two tablespoons of sea salt for brine.
    Let the seasoning set on the bird overnight in refrigerator, didn’t rinse off, seasoned some butter and placed under the skin and on top and added a little olive oil to outside of skin as well. Placed in a cooking bag, with lots of celery, carrots, onion, garlic cloves and chicken stock. Baked on 350 for 3 hours. Then used drippings for gravy.
    THANKS, this was the juiciest best tastin bird, I’ve ever had!

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