No-Brine Roast Turkey


* From the archives. As the holiday season gets closer, a lot of people start looking for ways to cook this popular festive bird. I don't want anyone to miss out on this no-brine method. Originally posted November 13, 2006.

This is my entry to the Festive Food Fair  food blogging event hosted by Anna over at Morsels and Musings .

I was always wondering why most articles I’ve read about cooking a turkey involves plunging the bird in a brine beforehand. I remembered when my parents prepared our roasted turkey, they would just cover the bird with cheesecloth and pour the marinade over it. I have never roasted a turkey in my life save for the time I tried to cook a small one thinking it would just take two hours. After an hour in the oven I was wondering why the bird has not changed color. Desperate to put some color on the turkey, I turned the broiler on. And the rest they say is history. Luckily I just had one guest, and I had store bought lasagna that just needed to be heated through. This was 10 years ago, and the trauma of that thanksgiving turkey has since worn off.

So I have lost my parent’s recipe and my mom cannot quite describe the process on the phone. I really need to take a trip back to the Philippines and watch her make all her specialties and take copious amounts of notes. My mom does not measure when she cooks which presents another problem about passing on recipes.

Anyway I am still refusing to brine especially since I have advocated salting everything for 24 hours with much success; this method I learned from the “Zuni Café”, the wonderful book by Judy Rodgers. And as if fate would have it, the NOV/DEC 2006 issue of “Cooks Illustrated” had the Salt-Roasted Turkey method. I did not use the full 5 tbs of kosher salt called for since the turkey available to me has been brined with an 8% solution. I did salt inside the cavity with the full 2 tablespoons required. I also used less salt because I did a light marinade of soy, sake and balsamic vinegar. I also used half a bulb of crushed garlic which I put inside the cavity and under the skin of the breast.


The method I really wanted to try here was cooling the breast down with ice. According to food scientist Harold McGee, this would take care of the temperature differential between the breast and thigh by having the breast temperature lower than the thigh when the turkey goes into the oven for roasting.

This method and recipe was adapted from Cooks illustrated (NOV/DEC 2006) and presents the full salting guidelines

1 turkey (12 to 14 lbs) (5.5 to 6.3 kilos)

5 tbs kosher salt  (~ 71gm)

1 bag ice cubes

4 tbs. unsalted butter, melted   (75ml)

            The recipe above used Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. If you have Morton’s Kosher Salt, which is denser than Diamond Crystal, use only 4 ½ teaspoons of salt in cavity, 2 ¼ teaspoons of salt per each half of the breast, and 1 teaspoon of salt per leg. If using a self-basting turkey like a frozen butterball, skip salting.

            Salt turkey, carefully separating skin from meat on breast, legs, thighs, and back; avoid breaking skin. Rub 2 tablespoons of salt evenly inside cavity of turkey, 1 tablespoon under skin of each breast half, and 1 ½ teaspoon under skin of each leg. Wrap turkey tightly with plastic wrap; refrigerate 24 to 48 hours.

            Remove turkey from refrigerator. Rinse off excess salt from cavity and pat dry inside out with paper towels. Add ice to two 1 gallon zip-lock bags until each is half full. Place bags in large roasting pan and lay turkey breast side down on top of ice. Add ice to 2 1-quart zipper-lock bags until each is one third full; place one bag ice in cavity of turkey and other in neck cavity. (Make sure ice touches breast only, not thighs or legs)

            Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to lowest possible position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Line large V-rack with heavy-duty foil and use paring knife or skewer to poke 20 to 30 holes in foil.

            Remove turkey from ice and pat dry with paper towels (discard ice). Tuck tips of drumsticks into skin at tail to secure and tuck wingtips behind back. Brush turkey breast with 2 tablespoons butter. Set prepared V-rack in roasting pan; set turkey breast side down on V-rack; brush back and legs with remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Roast for 45 minutes.

            Remove roasting pan with turkey from oven (close door to retain oven heat); reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Using clean potholders or kitchen towels, rotate turkey breast side up; continue to roast until thickest part of breast registers 160 degrees and thighs registers 170 to 175 degrees on instant read thermometer, 1 to 1 ½ hours longer. Transfer turkey to carving board; let rest 30 minutes. Carve and serve.

            NOTE : For a bigger turkey 15 to 18 pounds, follow recipe above but increase salt rubbed in cavity to 3 tablespoons and into each breast half to 1 ½ tablespoons. Increase initial roasting time to 1 hour; reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees, flip turkey, and continue roasting until it reaches proper internal temperature, 1 ½ to 2 hours longer.


            Before cooking the turkey, I cut out a piece of the breast meat and cooked it to check for saltiness. The cooking time also took longer because I was messing around with my convection oven settings. If you are sure of the behavior of your oven then the stated temperature will not present a problem. I tried convection roast at 405 °F on my oven and had to take out the turkey for flipping at the 30 minute mark because it started to smoke. I relied on temperature readings of the breast and thigh meat to gauge turkey doneness.

            For the pan gravy, I set the roasting pan on the stove top and scraped the drippings. I added some chicken broth and thickened with arrowroot.

            I am happy to say that I can put the turkey trauma permanently in the past, since this turkey turned out succulent and tasty to the bone! The Cranberry Salsa I prepared in the previous post was delicious with this turkey.

22 thoughts on “No-Brine Roast Turkey

  1. Hmmm…very very tasty Turkey even all the way to the bone. The gravy and the salsa made it absolutely fantastic! This is the best and the first among the 3 Thanksgiving Turkeys we're having this year!

  2. I am firmly of the "no brine ever" school, along with Mr. McGee, who stated that you are replacing the bird's natural juices with salt water. And my go-to, semi-legendary turkey recipe is roast turkey with herb crust and shiitake mushroom gravy (recipe link below). And I have never had to give special treatment to the breasts; I've never cooked a dry turkey in my life.

    (Ooooooh, that gravy is good!)

  3. I am impressed! A gorgous turkey, and it's still a week until Thanksgiving! Last year I used the high-heat method which is having a resurgence. The turkey was a beautiful copper color, but there was a bit of a smoke cloud over the dinner table!

  4. How odd… I have never heard of this brining of turkey business. Must not be something that's widespread here in England, and obviously we don't have Thanksgiving to cook a turkey for – so at Christmas, Mum butters the turkey, lays bacon over the breast, puts stuffing into the cavity and roasts it like that.


  5. I got your link through Serious Eats on the article about PH's class that you had an opportunity to partake in! Lucky you!! I think you are obsessed with macarons just as I am. When I was in Paris last month, I had a (google mapped) macaron trail of most of the macaron shops there! Everyday I was there, I stuffed myself with macarons from at least 3 different shops!

  6. I love turkey, but have never brined one and since I have to cook in a kitchen 9 hours away (husband's family). In fact, last year I made a turkey in an electric roaster inserting fresh tarragon between the breast and the skin. While it did not brown, my husband's family always slices the meat in kitchen before serving in the dining room, so no problem and the electric roaster kept the bird moist. Also, last year, the turkey was more for soup, sandwiches, etc. Our main meal was roasted duck. Do you have any good roast duck recipes?

  7. pjpink – I do not have a roast duck recipe that I have tested. My dad made the best one though…I wonder if my mom remembers the recipe….

  8. how long do you ice the breast for in the recipe above? I have been brining my turkey for years and am a true devotee of the method. I am willing to risk the salting method for the crispier skin, but the threat of dry breast, which i am proud to say i have NEVER served, is making me hesitate.

  9. Thanks Veronica. also, bon apetit magazine features a similar recipe this month, but with the salt and herbs being rubbed on the skin, not under it like in your recipe. is their a best practice here? I did notice that the bon apetit magazine recipe calls for a more salt than yours.

  10. Adi, that makes sense that the salt is more if it is not put under the skin. There is really no best practice as either way would work but it will depend on the amount of the salt and the length of time it is salted before you cook it.

  11. WOW, this was absolutely delicious, never brining again, my guests were very happy and i got rave reviews. I did the salt on the outside, and herbs and butter under the skin. thanks for all your advice.

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