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November 24, 2008 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever dry-brined a turkey?

I just picked up this year's fresh bird from a local farm. I've done the brine thing before, and was reasonably pleased with the results, but I'm more and more intrigued by the idea of a salt rub - I hate messing about with coolers and gallons of icy poultry-contaminated water, and I've used the Judy Rogers salt/dry brine method on roast chicken for years with great success. Easy-peasy prep, juicy breast meat, crackling skin - perfect, for a three and a half pound bird. I'm nervous about translating it for the big dinner, though.

My questions -

1) If you've done this before, do you have any tips on handling, ratios, timing, anything? Right now, I'm leaning towards kosher salt mixed with dried herbs, a tablespoon per pound, with about 60 hours covered and 12 hours uncovered to dry. Do you turn the turkey during the salting? Massage or otherwise redistribute the salt? Is more or less salt better?

2) Do you stuff the bird? If so, do you undersalt the stuffing? I have a favorite dressing recipe, and much prefer to cook at least some inside the turkey, but have been reading that it's not a great idea for brined or pre-salted roasts. Ditto for drippings/gravy - should I roast some extra parts in case the turkey drippings are too salty?

3) Any tips in general for cooking a 21 pound turkey? This is bigger than any turkey I've ever cooked before, and I'm nervous about cooking it through without burning the outside. With 13 or 14 pound turkeys I start at a high temperature, then lower, then turn it back up for a final browning, flipping it several times. I'm nervous about trying to turn a turkey this big, though; I guess I can shield the breast with some foil for the beginning. I am stressed about temperature and timing, though - do you have a definitive cooking method for big birds?

Thank you so much! I know it seems like I'm overthinking, but I'm pretty committed to having actively good (not just edible/we can suffer dry meat for tradition) turkey for my Thanksgivings, and it gets me really anxious every year - I hate cooking for a houseful of people when the centerpiece dish hasn't even gotten a trial run, and it just isn't practical to try out a bunch of different variations before the big day.
posted by peachfuzz to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should say, though I experiment with side dishes, I like my turkey and dressing to be fairly straightforward. No calvados glazes or rice wine gravies - I'm trying to get the traditional dish as good as possible. So the rub would be a plain salt/sage/thyme thing.
posted by peachfuzz at 1:31 PM on November 24, 2008

Best answer: This is a datapoint for a couple of the questions. My roommate cooked a Turkey about this size last night. He had wet brined it, and used Alton Brown's recipe as a guideline for all this. As recommended, the bird was stuffed with fruits and aromatics, and we had the oven at 500 for the first half hour, then put a double layer of foil over the breast and reduced the heat to 350 for the next couple hours. We also used an herb butter under and on the skin. The bird was pretty brown, and from all accounts, delicious. There was no flipping, and I don't think he even had to baste.
posted by piratebowling at 1:55 PM on November 24, 2008

I don't have a direct answer, but since you're thinking about brining, you might be interested in Harold McGee's recent article on the topic. He recommends a clever approach for keeping the usually dry breast meet moist.
posted by donovan at 2:00 PM on November 24, 2008

A local food blogger posted about this earlier today. She took the chicken recipe and adapted it to a turkey.
posted by mikesch at 2:07 PM on November 24, 2008

Martha Stewart covered this last week on her show. I'm not sure how many of your questions can be answered with the clip on that link, but there's some good information.
posted by geekchic at 2:33 PM on November 24, 2008

America's Test Kitchen did it recently, too.
posted by milkrate at 2:37 PM on November 24, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for everything so far, guys! I would like to add, ANY tips for cooking a turkey this size are very much appreciated, as that's the part I'm most nervous about.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:54 PM on November 24, 2008

Here is the recipe for dry brined turkey as one by the LA Times' Russ Parson who experimented with "Judying" everything that walked and crawled:

Dry Brined Turkey
posted by jadepearl at 3:00 PM on November 24, 2008

I'm a BBQ nut, so I cook a lot of big cuts at low temperature for lonnnng periods of time. Brining is probably the best bet. The problem with a salt rub is gravy. The drippings wind up too damn salty, IMO.

Either way, the salt treatment is important but it's not the most important thing.

My advice: whatever you do, ice the breast for a good long while before you cook it. The breast is done when it hits 160-165 degrees. The thigh/leg needs to hit 170-175. A half hour with a big bag of ice on the breast will cool it down enough to make this temperature imbalance possible.

Also, get a good digital thermometer (one of the ones with a probe on a wire) if you don't have one. Preferably two, with one to monitor the breast and one for the thigh. That way, if the breast seems to be cooking too fast, you can swaddle it in tin foil while the thighs finish off.
posted by paanta at 3:30 PM on November 24, 2008

The one way around the brining = no gravy problem is to just use the unbrined parts for the gravy, i.e. make giblet gravy and sub in broth for drippings.

I've wet brined the last three turkeys. I wouldn't go back.
posted by dw at 4:06 PM on November 24, 2008

Response by poster: Hey, thanks guys! I followed Russ Parson's method linked in the original Q, and then pretty much did what piratebowling suggested to cook it, though I started at around 450 rather than 500. I got my stuffing very, very hot before loosely stuffing the cavity, and the whole shebang was perfectly, beautifully done at around three and a half hours. We carved it after a 40 minute rest, and literally every single person commented on the turkey being really good, and it was - crackling skin, deeply flavorful, juicy breast meat that was somehow turkeier than any turkey I've had before. I'm going to give the credit the salting method - I brined a fresh local turkey last year, and while it was ok, it didn't really even hold a candle to this one.

Up dry-brining! Thanks again to everyone who had advice and info!
posted by peachfuzz at 2:15 PM on December 5, 2008

A Jewish friend of mine said, "Oh, you should get a kosher turkey," but after comparing notes we discovered that this "dry-brining" process is basically the same process used to kosher a turkey (though not for three days).

I wet-brined again this year but cut the bottom temperature from 350 to 325 because the turkey was done too early (I put it in way too early). Came out better than last year. The "sponginess" people complain about wasn't there.
posted by dw at 10:33 AM on December 6, 2008

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