We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Dry-Brined Roasted Turkey

by Michelle

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. William Arthur Ward

Jay, the turkey wrangler. 

In prior years we've been a big fan of wet brining the turkey, especially when we haven't had room to store the turkey in the refrigerator in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Last year I was recovering from surgery and under my doctor's orders I was restricted from lifting anything heavy. My husband doesn't enjoy cooking so I wanted to keep his contribution simple which, for me, meant that he lend his muscle to lifting the turkey whenever it needed to be moved about. I was happy to retain the turkey prep and try a new, easier technique.
   The turkey turned out beautifully last year (as you can see from the photos). And it tasted divine so I am opting for the dry brining method again this year because it is so much easier than doing a wet brine.
   The key here is that the turkey needs to be rubbed with the dry brine mixture and placed in the refrigerator for a nice long rest - as little as two days or as long as four. The turkey is kept covered until the night before roasting. The uncovering step is key because the skin dries thoroughly when the cover is removed. This is what creates the delectable crunchy exterior while the bird is roasting.
Maddie makes a robust cheese and charcuterie tray for everyone's snacking pleasure. 

My daughter, Maddie and my sister, Juliette.
The weather was so incredibly beautiful last year that we ate outside. Jay lit a fire in the fire pit and we all stayed outside late into the evening, talking, laughing, eating pumpkin pie and Linda's "famous" All American Apple Pie. We sipped George Washington Eggnog thatbelieve it or notI made two years prior. The hard eggnog was ultra smooth from long aging under refrigeration. 

La familia.
Now... without further ado.... the recipe for the roasted turkey of your dreams.

Dry-Brined Roasted Turkey

   This recipe is adapted from Chef Dennis Littley's recipe for "How to Dry Brine a Turkey" and includes some of my own twists. His notes and recipe are worth reading if you decide to give this technique a try.
    I prefer to roast a rather large turkey. My tribe likes a variety of entrees made from the leftover turkey such as enchiladas or Shepard's pie, not to mention building and consuming a fantastic sandwich. Plus, the carcass makes a wonderful bone broth for the basis of a hearty soup.
   I always roast a bird that is over 20 pounds and one that is fresh and not frozen. It's not that I'm snobby about the frozen birds, I just don't care for having to factor in defrosting time. Generally I think 23 pounds is about the right size. One year I cooked a 26 pounder and it was a little much to handle and barely fit in my gigantic roasting tray.

A note about stuffing the bird:
If you plan on stuffing the turkey, the stuffing must be made a day ahead and be very cold. Take the cold stuffing and loosely pack it into the bird's cavity right before you plan on putting the turkey in the oven. Also make sure there is an air space between the stuffing and the ribs because the stuffing will expand as the turkey roasts and the stuffing absorbs the drippings, making it ever so delicious Mom's favorite.

A note about roasting the bird:
A stuffed turkey that is covered loosely with foil will take about 20 minutes per pound to roast in a 325°F oven.  A 23 pound turkey will take about 7 hours to roast. If you are planning on disappointing my Mother by not stuffing the turkey with dressing, then loosely place chopped celery and carrots in the cavity. If you are feeling adventurous, you can also add some herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and sage, and perhaps even a couple of garlic cloves.

   If you plan on stuffing the turkey, the stuffing must be very cold. Don't take it out of the refrigerator until you are ready to stuff the turkey.

Ingredients for the dry brine.

A very large roasting pan with insert that is robust enough to handle the weight of your turkey
Heavy duty aluminum foil
digital thermometer - I love my Thermopen
one pair silicone kitchen mitts - I love these!!!
a very sharp carving knife
one large serving platter

about a 23 pound fresh turkey that is not pre-seasoned, pre-salted or basted

For the brine:
1/4 cup kosher salt (I like Diamond brand)
1 Tbsp + 1 teaspoon coarse grind black pepper
1-1/2 Tbsps thyme finely chopped
1-1/2 Tbsps sage finely chopped
1-1/2 Tbsps orange peel
the zest from two squeaky clean lemons
2 tsps rosemary minced
2 tsps smoked paprika

Make the stuffing a day ahead of roasting the turkey:
Herb and Corn Bread Stuffing (or stuffing of your choice), very cold—chilled overnight

The ingredients to create the stock for a tasty gravy:
3 Tbsps olive oil for greasing roasting pan and rack
3 celery stalks chopped
2 carrots chopped
2 onions chopped
4 cloves garlic peeled and smashed
2 cups dry white wine such as chardonnay, or 2 cups low sodium turkey or chicken broth

Final turkey prep:
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 Tbsps olive oil
2 Tbsps sweet paprika


On the Sunday or Monday before Thanksgiving:
1. Combine all the brine ingredients in a bowl and stir thoroughly. My trick is to eyeball the amount of herbs and then I just chop them all together on a cutting board. 
2. Unwrap the fresh or thawed turkey. Remove giblets and keep for making stock for gravy, if needed. 
3. Wash the bird and dry thoroughly. Place the turkey on a tray and rub inside and out with the brine. Cover the turkey with two or three large strips of plastic wrap. Refrigerate. 

On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving:
1. Remove and discard the plastic wrap from the turkey. Let the turkey rest in the refrigerator. 

On Thanksgiving morning:

1. Remove turkey from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for an hour.

2. Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat oven to 325°F.

3. Grease the bottom and sides of an extra large roasting pan. Add the chopped celery, carrots and onions. Add 2 cups of white wine. Grease the roasting rack and place in the roasting pan.

4. Place the turkey breast side up on the rack. 

5. Using your forefinger, gently separate the layer of skin from the breasts, creating two pockets. Generously smear room temperature unsalted butter directly onto the breasts, about 1 stick, or 8 tablespoons.

6. In a small bowl, combine the 2 tablespoons sweet paprika and 3 tablespoons olive oil and stir until smooth. Rub the seasoned oil all over the outside of the bird.

7. If you are putting stuffing inside the turkey, now is the time to do it. Lightly pack the stuffing in the cavity making sure to leave an air pocket at the top because the stuffing will expand as it bakes.

Transfer the rack with the turkey to the roasting pan.
8. Cover turkey loosely with aluminium foil, making sure to leave an air space between the bird and the foil. Tuck in the sides near the neck and drumsticks.

9. Place the turkey into the oven and turn the pan 90 degrees every 2 hours for even roasting. There's no need to baste.

10. Continue to roast the turkey covered with the aluminum foil, until about the last hour, then remove the foil so the turkey can turn a gorgeous deep hued brown.

11. A turkey is done when a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh registers 185°F.

12. With heavy duty kitchen mitts (such as Silicone to protect your hands), tightly grip the handles of the hot roasting rack and transfer the turkey to a foil lined cookie tray. Let the turkey rest.

13. Remove solids from pan drippings and discard. Pour the reserved drippings into a gravy separator. Use the pan juices to make gravy. Or, if you want to skip this step, make my fabulous Mushroom Gravy the day before Thanksgiving. Either way, keep the drippings and add to a turkey soup or freeze to make a delicious gravy in December or during the doldrums of January.

14. Allow the turkey to rest at room temperature for about 45 minutes to an hour before carving. The resting part is an important step, so don't skip it. Plus, you need time make gravy or finish the mashed potatoes. Have a person skilled with a knife carve the turkey and place the pieces artistically on a large platter.

High-five! Congratulations on a job well done. Now it's time to relax and enjoy the beautiful meal that you made with your loved ones. Bon app├ętit!


  1. Thanks for the great recipe, as usual. I have a quick question - if I cook the turkey unstuffed would I plan on 15 minutes per pound instead of 20?

  2. Hi Colleen! We've slowed down on the posting front but the goal is to continue to add recipes that we love and will cook over and over again. I think it is a safe bet to calculate 15 minutes per pound for an unstuffed turkey. I hope you and yours have a very happy Thanksgiving!


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