It’s time to tame the bird. There are many ways to cook a turkey, and choosing your method is the first step to a seamless Thanksgiving dinner. To brine or not to brine? Dry or wet? Roast, smoke or grill? Let’s start by saying there are no wrong answers, and all methods will deliver a flavorful turkey.
This recipe is for a dry-brined whole turkey cooked on the grill. I rely on my gas grill for the holiday, so I can free up my oven for other dishes to cook. If you don’t have a grill, or weather does not permit, that’s no problem; there are instructions for oven roasting provided as well.
Dry brines are simple: just salt and dry seasonings. They are less messy and cumbersome than liquid brines, which require refrigerating a hefty bird submerged in unwieldy liquid for multiple days. You do need to start the dry-brining process ahead, at least two days before serving, with a good salt rub. The salt acts as a cure and draws the moisture out of the turkey, creating a natural brine that is then reabsorbed while it refrigerates, thus seasoning and tenderizing the meat with the flavorful juice. This technique was made famous by San Francisco chef Judy Rodgers, who dry-brined her iconic roast chicken at Zuni Cafe.
Serves 8 to 10
1 (12- to 14-pound) turkey, thoroughly defrosted if frozen
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon crumbled dried sage
1 medium yellow onion, cut into 6 wedges
6 garlic cloves, peeled, lightly crushed but intact
1 small bunch fresh thyme sprigs
4 fresh rosemary sprigs
8 ounces unsalted butter, softened
Two days before serving, rinse and pat the turkey dry. Using 1 tablespoon of kosher salt per 4 pounds of turkey, combine the salt, brown sugar, black pepper, dried thyme and sage in a small bowl. Rub the mixture all over the bird, including between the skin and flesh and in the cavity.
Place the turkey in a large baking pan, breast side down, and refrigerate uncovered for 24 hours. After 24 hours, flip the turkey and continue to refrigerate for 24 hours more. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees (or prepare your grill for indirect cooking over medium-high heat).
Lightly stuff the cavity and neck of the turkey with the onion, garlic, fresh thyme and rosemary. Do not pack too tightly or you will slow down the cooking process. Smear the butter all over the turkey and between the skin and breast meat. Truss the legs and tuck the wings under the bird. Arrange the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a large baking pan or grill pan. Place in the oven (or on the grill over indirect heat) and roast for 20 minutes.
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Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees (or adjust the grill for indirect heat, as close to 325 degrees as possible). Continue to roast the turkey until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh, without touching the bone, registers 160 degrees, about 12 minutes per pound for total cooking time. If the turkey begins to darken before it finishes cooking, lightly cover with foil.
Remove the turkey from the oven or grill and transfer to a cutting board. Discard the stuffing ingredients and let the turkey rest at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before carving.
Lynda Balslev is a San Francisco Bay Area cookbook author, food and travel writer and recipe developer.
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