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I always hear Thanksgiving is the nemesis of all food writers and publications. How do you ever go about reinventing the wheel year after year? Coincidentally, the turkey can be a lot of home cooks’ nemesis as well. Often, it ends up being pretty dry or has minimal flavor. Moreso, the turkey, often takes the back seat to all of the side dishes that make Thanksgiving what it is.
But, a day built around the main dish shouldn’t have to be in the back seat! Honestly, growing up, I never remember the turkey itself. I remember my grandma and mom going back and forth on who would roast it, acting as if it were the punishment. Ha!
What if the turkey became the star? What if it was full of flavor and always juicy?
I used to think a good turkey was a lot of work. I would prepare a vat of water with salt and some spices and empty out the refrigerator to brine it. The outcome was good but hardly worth the effort.
Say hello to dry-brine!
A dry-brine has changed everything! In a wet brine, the salt-infused water slowly penetrates the meat. In a dry-brine, which is one with no water, the salt mixture is rubbed directly on the meat and pulls out its natural juices. These juices mix with the salt and spices and then return to the meat and infuse throughout. It’s just easier, cleaner, and… better!
As the salt infuses into the meat, it’s the best time to add additional flavors with a spice blend. To ensure the turkey picks up the flavor, start by toasting the spices to release their natural oils. This brine uses black peppercorn, pink peppercorn, coriander, fennel seed, and bay leaves.
Right after toasting, grind the spices to draw out their flavor. Finally, mix this blend with salt and citrus zest. Citrus gives the acidic pop the meat needs, brightening up the spices. That’s it for the perfect salt mixture for a turkey!
Let’s get a crispy skin!
To ensure the skin browns and gets crispy, there a few tips that make a difference:
- Separate the skin from the meat, making sure not to tear it. Releasing the skin allows air to dry the skin and also make it easy to rub the salt mixture directly onto the meat.
- Add baking powder to the salt mixture. Baking powder browns the skin and gives the crispiest finish.
- Once the salt brine is applied, place the turkey uncovered in the refrigerator. Uncovered, the turkey skin will dry out, which is one of the most important steps for a crispy skin.
This dry-brine method not only seasons the turkey but flavors the meat as well. It’s a plate full of bright spiced flavors that will make anyone go back for seconds this holiday!
Watch how to make this dry-brine turkey:
Citrus Dry-Brine Turkey
- 12-18 lb turkey
- 2 tbsp black peppercorns
- 1 tbsp pink peppercorns
- 2 tsp coriander seed
- 1 tsp fennel seed
- 5 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp kosher salt per every 4 lbs (example: 3 tbsp for 12 lb turkey)
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp lemon zest
- 2 tbsp orange zest
For the basting butter
- ½ cup butter
- 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- ¼ cup orange juice
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- Remove the giblets and neck from the thawed turkey. Slowly separate the skin from the meat. Work fingers slowly in between the meat and skin and keep working into the leg and thigh. Once the skin is separated, set the turkey aside and prepare the brine.
- In a small skillet, combine the black and pink peppercorns, coriander, fennel, and bay leaves. Heat slowly over medium-low heat until the spices become fragrant, 3-5 minutes.
- Remove the spices from the heat and grind, using a coffee grinder. In a bowl, combine the ground spices, salt, citrus zest, baking powder, and brown sugar. Stir to combine.
- Work the brine mixture under the skin and on top of the skin, including in the cavity. Place the brined turkey in the refrigerator uncovered for 8-24 hours.
- Remove turkey from the refrigerator one hour before roasting. Preheat oven to 425°F.
- In the bottom of a roasting pan, place two ribs of celery, two carrots, and one onion, all roughly chopped. Place turkey in the roasting pan on top of vegetables, stuffing a few pieces of the vegetables in the cavity as well. Place in preheated oven and immediately turn the heat down to 375°F.
- While roasting, prepare the basting butter by melting all the ingredients together over low heat. Every 30 minutes, brush the turkey with the basting butter.
- Turkey takes about 15 minutes to cook per pound. If the turkey becomes too dark, tent with aluminum foil. Roast until the breast registers 150°F and the thighs register 165°F.
- Remove from the oven and allow to rest 20-30 minutes before carving.
- Cooking times and calorie amounts in this recipe are for a 15 lb turkey. Adjust calories and times based on the actual weight of the turkey.