In his iconic 1943 painting “Freedom from Want,” Norman Rockwell depicted the Thanksgiving ideal: a family-filled table anchored by a perfectly roasted golden turkey. While our Thanksgiving table is always crowded, my quest for that consummate bird has spanned years. I’ve tried wet brines, slow-roasting, and deep-frying. But for that truly delicious bird, with moist, tender meat and crisp herb-scented skin, the dry-brine method proved to be my Aha! moment.
Adapted from age-old salt-preserving techniques, the dry-brine method uses a salt and herb rub directly on the bird to draw out its juices, which are then reabsorbed into the meat along with the flavorings, making it succulent and tender. What’s more, all of the work is done four days in advance. Come Thanksgiving, the bird is oven-ready, meaning plenty of time to go to town on side dishes and desserts.
The flavorful meat of a dry-brined turkey also opens the door for a week of post-holiday feasting. Make an updated Bolognese with crushed red pepper flakes, fennel seed, and leftover turkey instead of beef or pork. Or use the leg and breast meat in a creamy-crunchy mushroom-packed noodle casserole. As it’s already seasoned, dry-brined turkey is also delicious in turkey soup, made sophisticated with pillowy herb-flecked dumplings. With this turkey and these leftovers, you’ll have more than a few reasons to be thankful this year.
Need even more ideas for Thanksgiving dinner? Check out more than 200 recipes, perfect for the big day (more than two dozen turkey recipes alone!), and our Guide to Thanksgiving Dinner featuring how-to videos with instructions on everything from how to stuff a turkey, how to tell when your turkey is done, and of course, how to carve a turkey like a pro.
How to Buy a Turkey
Thanksgiving comes just once a year, so if there’s ever a time to pull out all the stops and buy a great bird, it’s now. Our Fresh Herb and Salt-Rubbed Roasted Turkey recipe works with any type of turkey (except self-basting birds, which are pre-seasoned, and kosher birds, which are pre-salted). Keep these pointers and places in mind as you search for that perfect turkey:
Local Harvest connects consumers with small-scale farmers and farmers’ markets. Enter your Zip Code, and you’ll find turkey producers offering flavorful heritage breeds like Bourbon Red, certified organic birds, free-range options, and pastured turkeys raised in the great outdoors.
Whole Foods and other natural foods stores offer free-range, organic, and heritage turkeys, often from local sources.
When shopping for a turkey at the grocery store, look for labels like “fresh” (meaning never frozen) and “natural.” The latter indicates the bird was minimally processed and is free of artificial ingredients and coloring.