Dry-Brined and Herb-Roasted Turkey

Photo by Andrew Cebulka

This is a simple, straightforward turkey recipe. The process must be launched 3 days before the bird goes in the oven, but most of the time is hands-off. Dry-brining the bird with kosher salt yields juicy, seasoned meat and crisp skin.

Most turkey tribulations are over wondering when the turkey is done. The easy fix is to rely on an instant-read thermometer. The pop-up thermometer that comes inserted in some birds can be off by as much as 25 degrees. Smaller turkeys are easier to handle and cook evenly. When you need to feed a crowd, cook multiple smaller birds rather than one whopper. Smaller birds have a higher bone-to-meat ration than big birds, so count on one to one and a half pounds per person.

Another option, especially if you want plenty of white meat for sandwiches and casseroles, is to roast an additional turkey breast. Use the same technique for the breast as described here for whole turkeys, but it should be done in about 90 minutes.

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Serves 8

  • 1 small fresh turkey (about 14 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3-4 cups turkey or chicken stock, warmed


  1. Blot turkey dry with paper towels 3 days before roasting. Use your fingers to gently loosen skin and separate it from breast meat, making sure to break through thin membrane between skin and breast while not puncturing or tearing skin.
  2. Sprinkle 3 teaspoons of salt under skin, spreading it evenly over meat. Sprinkle remaining 6 teaspoons salt over skin and in cavity.
  3. Place turkey in a large, airtight container or inside a large zip-top bag and squeeze out air. Refrigerate for 2 days.
  4. The day before roasting, remove turkey from bag and place it on a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate turkey uncovered for 24 hours.
  5. Remove turkey from refrigerator 1 hour before roasting. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Use convection if you have it.
  6. Stir together butter, lemon zest and juice, pepper thyme, sage, and rosemary in a small bowl. Gently loosen skin from top of turkey, taking care to not rip holes in it. Place butter mixture under skin and massage gently to spread butter as evenly as possible. Tuck about 1/3 of the onions, celery, and carrots in cavity.
  7. Spread the rest of vegetables on a clean rimmed baking sheet and set turkey on top, using vegetables as a roasting rack. (Roasting the turkey in a shallow pan instead of a deep roasting pan helps it brown evenly on the sides.) Brush turkey with melted butter.
  8. Place turkey in oven with legs in back. Carefully pour about 1 cup of broth into baking sheet. Roast 15 minutes, and then rotate pan so that breast is in back. Continue roasting until skin is light golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes longer.
  9. Reduce oven to 350 degrees and continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh, without touching bone, registers 180 degrees. (If thigh is done, so is the breast; there’s no need to pierce it with the probe and let out delicious juices). Tent breast with buttered or nonstick foil if skin browns too quickly. Do not let pan cook dry while turkey roasts; add another cup of warm broth as needed. (This creates pan drippings you can use in gravy or drizzle over carved turkey.)
  10. Let turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving. Meanwhile, strain pan juices through a mesh sieve into a medium saucepan, pressing on solids to remove all liquid. It’s fine if a little soft puree blends into the juices. Keep warm over low heat while turkey rests, then drizzle over carved turkey just before serving.
  • Recipe By
    Sheri Castle

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