How to Dry-Brine a Turkey
For the juiciest—and easiest—turkey, there’s just one way to go: the Judy Rodgers way. The late chef of Zuni Cafe in San Francisco was the master of poultry, and the method for her famous roast chicken—using a dry brine to render meat deeply flavorful and very tender—applies to turkey as well.
After the initial layer of salt pulls moisture out of the meat, it’s drawn right back in, where “salt changes the proteins—they ‘open up,’ enabling them to entrap more moisture than before,” Rodgers wrote in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. As for that crispy skin? Let the bird chill uncovered for the last hours to dry the skin out so it becomes shatteringly crisp in the oven.
In the F&W test kitchen, we spatchcocked the turkey for quicker, more even cooking and roasted it over a bed of lime and ginger for a fresh flavor profile that goes beautifully with a Coconut-Lemongrass Gravy (For a classic take, swap onions and sage for the limes and ginger, and make your favorite gravy.)
Place turkey, breast side down, on a work surface. Using poultry shears and beginning at tail end, cut along each side of backbone, separating backbone from turkey. Remove backbone; save for stock or discard.
2. Flatten Turkey
Turn turkey breast side up on work surface. Using the heels of your hands, press firmly against breastbone until it cracks and turkey breast flattens.
Loosen skin from breast and legs by gently pushing your fingers between skin and meat. Rub kosher salt under skin, on skin, and in turkey cavity.
4. Air Chill
Place turkey on a wire rack set snugly inside an 18- x 13-inch rimmed baking sheet. Tuck wing tips under turkey (so they don’t burn when roasted). Turn turkey breast side down. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 36 hours.
5. Prepare Aromatics
Spread ginger, limes, and garlic in an even layer on a clean rimmed baking sheet. Top with a wire rack. Add turkey, breast side up; pat skin dry with paper towels. Refrigerate, uncovered, 6 to 12 hours.
6. Butter and Roast
Remove turkey from refrigerator. Let turkey stand at room temperature 1 hour. Place butter under loosened skin of breast and legs. Pour stock into baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven as directed.
Get the full dry-brined spatchcocked turkey recipe here.