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My Ultimate Turkey

Monday, August 26, 2013

Last year we spent Thanksgiving away from home (as we often do). We miss having a turkey sandwich when we do that, so we almost always have a second — somewhat simpler — Turkey Day at home afterwards. I hadn’t done my shopping ahead of time; as you might imagine, I was delighted to find that the turkeys were on sale for $5 apiece — including the free-range organic birds! So I snatched up four of them. I had room in the freezer for two whole turkeys, but not for a third one. Thus, I decided to roast two of them.

A little Googling led me to Mark Bittman’s 45-minute turkey technique. Brilliant! I have two half-sheet pans that fit in my oven, so I could actually roast two turkeys at once. I was already an expert at spatchcocking chickens for the grill (and if you haven’t tried chicken under a brick, you really should!), so I figured turkey would be just as easy — and it was. But I wanted to season it well. Since I was already in full Google mode, I found Russ Parsons’ post on dry-brining a turkey. I’ve been wet-brining for several years, but I decided to give this a try instead. It was so good that I’ll never wet-brine a turkey again.

So my ultimate turkey is actually the simplest. Spatchcock (butterfly) the turkey, sprinkle it with salt and any other seasonings you like (or use just salt if that’s what you like). Wrap it up in a turkey roasting bag and put it back in the fridge for a 2-3 days (do let it air-dry for 8 hours so the skin gets crispy). Then lay it on a sheet pan and continue as described below.

NOTE: If you’re crazy enough to do two turkeys at once like I did, rotate the pans from top to bottom midway through the roasting. Check the internal temperature: you may have to add a few minutes.

Russ Parsons’ Dry-Brined Turkey

(a.k.a. the ‘Judy Bird’)

Note: This is more a technique than a recipe. It makes a bird that has concentrated turkey flavor and fine, firm flesh and that is delicious as it is. But you can add other flavors as you wish. Minced rosemary would be a nice finishing addition. Or brush the bird lightly with butter before roasting.

1 (12- to 16-pound) turkey
Kosher salt


Wash the turkey inside and out, pat it dry and weigh it. Measure 1 tablespoon of salt into a bowl for every 5 pounds the turkey weighs (for a 15-pound turkey, you’d have 3 tablespoons).
Sprinkle the inside of the turkey lightly with salt. Place the turkey on its back and salt the breasts, concentrating the salt in the center, where the meat is thickest. You’ll probably use a little more than a tablespoon. It should look liberally seasoned, but not over-salted.

Turn the turkey on one side and sprinkle the entire side with salt, concentrating on the thigh. You should use a little less than a tablespoon. Flip the turkey over and do the same with the opposite side.

Place the turkey in a 2 1/2 -gallon sealable plastic bag, press out the air and seal tightly. Place the turkey breast-side up in the refrigerator. Chill for 3 days, turning it onto its breast for the last day.
Remove the turkey from the bag. There should be no salt visible on the surface and the skin should be moist but not wet. Place the turkey breast-side up on a plate and refrigerate uncovered for at least 8 hours.

On the day it is to be cooked, remove the turkey from the refrigerator and leave it at room temperature at least 1 hour. Cook the turkey however you usually roast your Thanksgiving bird.

45-Minute Roast Turkey


1 8- to 12-pound turkey
10 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed, more to taste
1 branch fresh tarragon or thyme separated into sprigs, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or tarragon
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil or butter
Salt and pepper to taste


Heat oven to 450 degrees. Put turkey on a stable cutting board breast side down and cut out backbone. Turn turkey over, and press on it to flatten. Put it, breast side up, in a roasting pan. Wings should partly cover breasts, and legs should protrude a bit.

Tuck garlic and tarragon under the bird and in the nooks of the wings and legs. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Roast for 20 minutes, undisturbed. Turkey should be browning. Remove from oven, baste with pan juices, and return to oven. Reduce heat to 400 degrees (if turkey browns too quickly, reduce temperature to 350 degrees).

Begin to check turkey’s temperature about 15 minutes later (10 minutes if bird is on the small side). It is done when thigh meat registers 165 degrees on an instant-read meat thermometer. Check it in a couple of places.

Let turkey rest for a few minutes before carving, then serve with garlic cloves and pan juices.

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