These Turkey Seasoning Tips Make the Most Flavorful Bird


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Mike Garten

Nothing brings down a Thanksgiving meal quicker than a dry, bland turkey. And that’s when you can be grateful that there are plenty of yummy side dishes on the table to fill up on. We all want to nail that perfect roast turkey, but let’s be honest, there’s a lot that can go wrong. (Check out our foolproof turkey cooking tips to help steer you along). But if you learn how to season a turkey properly, you’ll be off to an, ahem, flying start. While there are some general rules, the process is endlessly customizable so you can have fun introducing new flavors, from herbs and butter to bacon (yes!). What are you waiting for? Here are some of the Test Kitchen’s tried-and-true favorite ways to deliciously pump up a Thanksgiving bird so it’s truly the star of your table. And once you are done with selecting the perfect seasoning for your bird, be sure to check out our complete guide of cooking times to see how long to cook your turkey depending on weight.

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1

Brine your bird — it’s simple!

Our #1 secret to a well-seasoned turkey? The all-important (and oh so easy!) dry brine. The Test Kitchen turns to this method for maximum flavor, juicier meat and the crispiest skin. Here’s how it’s done: Rub herbs and 2 Tbsp salt all over the turkey, pop it in a plastic bag and refrigerate. You can season your turkey the night before or as far in advance as two days.

Salt is a great (and non-negotiable) place to start, but there are so many seasonings that really rev up the flavor of a bland bird. Try Cajun-style turkey rub inspired by the lively flavors of New Orleans (think smoked paprika, celery salt and onion powder) or a red rub with paprika, ground coriander and garlic powder.

3

Slather seasoning everywhere with butter

Don’t just sprinkle salt on the surface of the turkey, give your bird a big flavor boost by seasoning under the turkey’s skin too. Stir your favorite spices and fresh herbs into softened butter, then rub it all over the turkey and under the skin. Try a combo of lemon zest and garlic with paprika and ground coriander, or something more traditional like folding chopped parsley, sage and rosemary into the butter. Not only does this help season the bird, but it also makes the meat extra juicy.

4

Layer on big flavor with a glaze and bacon

Glazes are a great way to add a subtle sweetness and shine to your bird. Try a combo of maple syrup, orange juice and fresh sage, brushing most of the glaze on before roasting and saving some to polish up the bird once it’s out of the oven. Or to really amp things up, consider a bacon-wrapped turkey. Lay slices of bacon over the turkey breast before roasting, securing the ends with toothpicks so they don’t curl. Brush the bacon with glaze before roasting, and once more after it’s done. Trust us — no one can resist a bacon-wrapped bird.

5

Skip the stuffing and go for fresh herbs

A more flavorful plan: Fill up the bird’s cavity with herbs and aromatics. Instead of packing your bird with bread cubes that inevitably turn soggy (we prefer a crispy-topped stuffing cooked on the side), stuff the turkey with fresh whole herbs, lemon halves, shallots and smashed cloves of garlic that lend tons of flavor with zero mush.

Not just for creating a pretty plate, garnishes can offer complementary or contrasting flavors to enjoy alongside your well-seasoned roast. Try roasted pears for extra juiciness or caramelized winter vegetables for earthy sweetness. Small, sweet champagne grapes are also fun to munch on in between bites of savory turkey.

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