Brining a turkey boosts flavor and breaking it down into parts saves roasting time so it’s my go-to method now.
Let me show you the easiest way to brine & roast turkey by applying a dry rub (dry-brining) and roasting in parts.
I have hosted Thanksgiving and roasted turkeys for more than 30 years. Yikes, I may be showing my
age experience here, but that’s what you’re looking for right?!
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Start by Selecting a Quality Turkey
With so many choices it’s hard to know which is the best turkey for your holiday dinner. To make it easier to navigate each type, ingredients, fresh or frozen, size and price, we put together important tips for you: 5 Best Turkey Buying Tips Everyone Needs
Start with quality turkey and you’re way ahead.
TIP: Do not use a kosher or pre-seasoned turkey for a dry-brine method.
Dry Brine Turkey for Better Texture and Flavor
Using a dry rub to season and essentially dry-brine turkey doesn’t dilute the natural flavor the way wet brine can, yet still protects the meat from drying out.
Note: You still have to be careful to not overcook it (see below about instant-read thermometers).
And it is so simple! Just rub on the salt and herb seasoning and let it sit in the fridge for a couple of days.
How Much Dry Rub to Use on Turkey
The recommended ratio of rub to meat is 1 teaspoon per pound of turkey (be sure to accurately figure the weight).
How to Accurately Figure the Dry Rub Ratio
- Weigh the backbone and any other parts not being roasted, like the giblets and wings RESERVED for stock.
- Subtract the reserved parts from the turkey’s overall weight.
- TOTAL WEIGHT (minus) RESERVED PARTS = THE WEIGHT used to estimate the ratio (1 tsp. per pound) of rub to use as well as roasting time.
TIP: Weighing the separate turkey parts will make it even easier to figure out how much to apply to each piece.
Dry Brine Tips
- Apply the rub under the skin and finish by applying a little more on top of the skin.
- Use kosher salt, not table salt. I use Morton’s.
- Any combination of zest, herbs, or seasoning will work, the most important ingredient is the salt.
- Leaving it on longer, like 3 days, is better to let the salt do its work.
Roast Turkey Faster In Parts
When roasting a turkey whole there is a delicate balance to keeping the breast from drying out while the legs and thighs finish cooking.
Basting, flipping, or changing oven temperature is a lot of fuss when there are side dishes and desserts to get ready. And it’s not necessary.
The breast and the thighs cook at a different rate and also dry out differently. Cutting up the turkey into parts is the easiest way to simplify the timing because you can remove the breast portion from the oven if it’s done before the thighs and drumsticks.
Roasting the parts separately also means it cooks faster, which also means there’s oven room for cooking the side dishes.
Juicy turkey in less time. Only 1 1/2 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the turkey. Yeah, I can hear that deep sigh of relief.
How to Cut Up a Turkey Into Parts for Roasting
Did you know many stores will cut up your turkey for you? I called and asked several and most of them said they would do it without any extra charge.
Just let the butcher know how you want it cut up and that you want the backbone for stock.
TIP: Keep in mind that you’ll need to purchase a fresh turkey for them to be able to do so and be sure to ask about any upcharge so there are no surprises.
Equipment You’ll Need to Prep Turkey
- sharp knife
- large cutting board with a drip groove
- 1 (12×17-inch) rimmed baking sheet
- kitchen scale to figure net weight for estimating dry rub
Cutting Up The Turkey Step by Step
- Cut each leg quarter (thigh and leg) off at the hip joint by cutting the skin between the leg and breast to free the leg. Push the leg out away from the breast until the hip socket pops and is easy to identify.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the thigh away toward the backbone slicing down through the joint area to release the leg portion.
- For the wings, use your thumb and finger to locate the indentation of the shoulder socket. Starting under the wing, use your knife to cut through the joint to remove the wing.
- To remove the breast from the backbone, use a pair of kitchen shears to cut through the ribs right beside the backbone. Be patient, working your way through until the backbone is separated.
- Place the breast on a cutting board, cut side down, and press down hard on the breast like you’re doing CPR to flatten it just a little. This helps keep it stable on the pan.
- Reserve the backbone, giblets, and wings for stock.
Apply the rub and arrange the turkey breast and leg quarters on a rimmed baking sheet, cover and refrigerate for 48-36 hours, if possible, but at least 24 hours. Uncover the last 12 hours for crispier skin when baked.
How to Roast a Turkey in Pieces
The number one tool you need to roast the perfect turkey is an instant-read thermometer. You cannot rely on the pop-up insert that is common in turkeys and you also cannot rely on recommended times or the color of the bird.
The only way to really know when the turkey is done is by checking the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer so you know exactly when to pull each piece out of the oven.
No bags, no flipping, no basting, and no oven temp changes are needed when you roast a turkey in parts. All you need is this dry rub recipe and two 12×17-inch rimmed baking sheets and you’re set.
Roast Turkey Pieces at 350°F for about 1 1/2 hours
- Arrange the dry-brined turkey pieces skin-side up on top of the bed of vegetables—aromatics around the turkey will flavor the pan drippings for stock or gravy.
- Roast turkey pieces 1 hour. After this initial hour, check to see if the turkey is browning evenly and rotate the pan front to back if needed.
- Continue roasting for another 30 minutes and then check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer to see how close it is to the desired temp of 150-155°F when inserted in the thickest part of the breast and between 165 to 170 thickest part of thighs.
- Remove any piece that has reached this internal temperature and continue to roast the remaining pieces until each one is done. When done, remove from oven and transfer turkey to a second baking sheet.
- Tent with foil and allow pieces to rest at least 30 minutes or up to 1 1/2 hours. Don’t worry if the meat cools, you will reheat it right before serving.
TIPS for Carving and Serving Roast Turkey
- Allow turkey to rest before carving
- Warm in hot oven a few minutes just before serving.
- Carve turkey pieces by tracing the bone structure with a sharp knife to remove larger segments of meat. Slice meat against the grain.
- Spoon turkey stock over sliced meat just before serving.
- When storing leftover turkey, spoon additional stock over the meat to keep moist and protect the meat when being reheated.
Using the Reserved Parts for Stock
Cutting up the turkey before roasting separates out the parts I want for making the turkey stock well in advance. This means the stock and gravy are made a day or two before I roast the turkey.
Use the turkey backbone, wings, and turkey giblets (except the liver) to make turkey stock by following our complete guide to basic stock.
Note: I do not use the liver when making stock as it is too strongly flavored.
Lemon-Herb Dry Brine Roasted Turkey in Pieces
- 1 (14-15 pound) turkey , cut up into parts; whole breast, leg quarters, wings, backbone
For the Dry Rub:
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut palm sugar (less if using regular sugar)
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest (about 2 large lemons, zested) or 1 teaspoon dried lemon peel
- 2 teaspoons Coleman's dry mustard
- 2 teaspoons freshly gound black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme , crushed
- 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary , or 1 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon granulated onion
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
For Roasting the Turkey:
- 1 large onion , coarsely chopped
- 3 ribs celery , coarsely chopped
- 3 large carrots , peeled and coarsely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic , peeled, halved or crushed
The total roasting time for a 14 lb turkey will be about 1 hour and 45 minutes total. Add or subtract 15 minutes, either way, depending on smaller or larger birds.
- Prepare turkey by cutting it into parts with a sharp knife. Cut each leg quarter (thigh and leg) off at the hip joint by cutting the skin between the leg and breast to free the leg. Push the leg out away from the breast until the hip socket pops and is easy to identify. Using a sharp knife, cut the thigh away toward the backbone slicing down through the joint area to release the leg portion.For the wings, use your thumb and finger to locate the indentation of the shoulder socket. Starting under the wing, use your knife to cut through the joint to remove the wing. To remove the breast from the backbone, use a pair of kitchen shears to cut through the ribs right beside the backbone. Be patient, working your way through until the backbone is separated. Place the breast on a cutting board, cut side down, and press down hard on the breast like you're doing CPR to flatten it just a little. This helps keep it stable on the pan. Reserve backbone for stock.
Applying the Dry Rub:
- Mix the rub ingredients in a small bowl to combine and slice butter. Loosen the skin from the turkey legs and breast by running your fingers under the skin to separate it, but leaving it in place. Don't worry about the wings. Spread 1-2 tablespoons all over the leg portions, including under the skin. Rub 3-4 tablespoons all over the breast portion (skin side and underneath). Finish each piece by sprinkling with any remaining rub on top of the skin. About the wings: If you know someone at your table will want the wing portion, season those as well. Otherwise, roast the wings with the backbone without seasoning and for making stock and gravy.
- Arrange the turkey breast and leg quarters on a rimmed baking sheet, cover and refrigerate for 48-36 hours, if possible, but at least 24 hours. Uncover the last 12 hours for crispier skin when baked.
Roasting the Turkey:
- Remove turkey from the fridge 30 minutes before baking to reduce the chill. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange onions, celery, carrots, and garlic in even layer on a rimmed baking sheet to create a bed for the turkey pieces.
- Arrange the seasoned turkey pieces skin-side up on top of the bed of vegetables, leaving a little space between them if possible. Do not add water to the pan at this point.
- Roast turkey pieces 1 hour. After this initial hour, check to see if the turkey is browning evenly and rotate the pan front to back if needed. Check the pan to make sure the vegetables are cooking in juices and not burning. If the vegetables appear dry and over browned, add about 1/2 cup of hot water to the bottom of the pan. Continue roasting for another 30 minutes and then check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer to see how close it is to the desired temp of 150-155°F when inserted in the thickest part of the breast and between 165 to 170°F in the thickest part of thighs. If not done, continue to roast, checking the internal temperature every 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how close it is when first checked. Remove any piece that has reached this internal temperature and continue to roast the remaining pieces until each one is done. When done, remove the turkey from the oven and transfer to a second baking sheet. Tent with foil and allow to rest at least 30 minutes or up to 1 1/2 hours. Don't worry if the meat cools, you will reheat it right before serving.
- Strain vegetables and liquid from the baking sheet through a colander set over a large measuring cup or bowl. Press solids with the back of a spatula to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard vegetables. Loosen any stuck-on browned bits from the pan with a little hot water, if needed. Add this to the strained pan drippings, skim fat if needed, and taste. If bland, add a little salt; if too concentrated, add a little chicken broth or water until it has a pleasantly seasoned flavor. Use this liquid to moisten turkey or add to gravy.
- To serve, heat oven to 500°F. Carve turkey and arrange meat on an oven-safe serving platter so any pieces of skin rest on the top. Place in the oven for 5-6 minutes to warm through. Spoon a little of the liquid from the pan drippings over the turkey just before serving.
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- Nutrition data reflects the amount of salt used in the rub which is not eated directly in each serving. *According to lab tests done by Cooks Illustrated, brined meat absorbs between 150-254mg sodium per 4 ounces.
- The total roasting time for a 14 lb turkey will be about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Add or subtract 15 minutes, either way, depending on smaller or larger birds.
- Cooking time depends on size of turkey, oven temperature, and pan type. A rimmed baking sheet exposes more of the turkey to the heat whereas a deep roasting pan can shield it and take longer to cook.