How to Season a Turkey: 12 Secrets to the Most Flavorful Turkey
Make your Thanksgiving turkey more flavorful than ever with our top turkey tips. In no time you'll know how to season a turkey that guests will crave.
Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links.
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, you’re sure to have your menu planned from the best sides to perfect pies. And of course, you’ve got the traditional turkey lined up. But before you pop that bird into the oven, consider giving it an extra boost of flavor. We’ve got techniques to help you get your tastiest turkey ever. Now, let’s talk tips. Check out our best-ever Thanksgiving turkey recipes.
Season Under the Skin
It can be tempting to sprinkle your seasonings right on top of the turkey as you’d do with any other protein, but to get the most flavor, it’s best to season under the skin. This puts those spices in direct contact with the meat for maximum impact. Plus, if you don’t like the skin you can peel it off after cooking without losing all the herby goodness. Go further than the traditional salt, pepper, thyme and rosemary with this show-stopping cranberry-orange turkey.
Brine Your Bird
To add extra flavor and tenderness to your Thanksgiving turkey, try a basic brine. Soaking the turkey in this saltwater mixture helps to tenderize the meat while adding flavor and moisture throughout the entire turkey. The simplest of brines is plain ol’ saltwater, but we love to add herbs and spices to give the turkey as much flavor as possible—this herb-brined turkey is a good recipe to start with.
But take heed, brining is a plan-ahead trick. Your bird should sit in the brine for at least four hours (though overnight is best, so start a full day ahead).
Season Inside the Turkey
Don’t limit your seasoning to just the exterior of your holiday main. Be sure to get your seasoning blend into all the nooks and crannies of the turkey—even on the inside. This will give your roast the most flavor possible.
Fill with Aromatics
Instead of filling your bird with stuffing, fill it with aromatics. (News flash: Cooking stuffing inside of a turkey can be dangerous.) The basics, like onion, garlic, thyme, rosemary and sage, help lend that traditional Thanksgiving flavor. Take your aromatics up a notch by adding halved lemons or oranges. The citrus will add a nice brightness and acidity to your turkey.
Here’s a full list of all the ways you can stuff your holiday turkey—that don’t include stuffing.
Coat with Flavored Butter
When hasn’t butter made something better? Rub flavored butter underneath the skin of your turkey to add another layer of flavor to your traditional turkey while also crisping up the skin. Best of all—any leftover butter makes a great spread for your breadbasket.
Try a Marinade
Marinades aren’t just for the grill! Try marinading your turkey in a mixture of broth, spices and lemon juice, like in marinaded Thanksgiving turkey for a roast that’s flavorful through and through. Similar to brining, your turkey should sit in the marinade for a few hours to soak up all the delicious flavors.
Glaze the Turkey
Layer on the flavor with a bright and aromatic glaze. Brushing on a glaze takes an already tasty turkey skin to the next level. Glazes are an easy and quick way to give your main course an extra boost. You can make an apricot-glazed turkey with just four ingredients.
Baste, Baste, Baste
Come Thanksgiving, we all have our turkey basters at the ready. But why settle for just basting the bird with its own juices? Try basting your turkey with wine or even beer to add extra flavor. As these basting liquids cook, they help caramelize the outside of the turkey for exceptionally tasty and crispy skin.
Crack Open a Beer
Just like you might use beer to brine a chicken or cook brisket, you can use beer to flavor your holiday turkey. Instead of basting your bird with drippings from the pan, baste with your go-to brew. No need to splurge on anything too fancy here, but make sure it’s good beer that you’d enjoy sipping.
This method might seem a little intimidating, but it packs a serious punch when it comes to boosting your turkey’s flavor. Flavor injectors work by pumping extra ingredients (think broth and melted butter) right into the center of your bird for extra moisture and an extra tasty turkey.
Layer on the Gravy
Go beyond turkey drippings to add flavor to your sauce. This make-ahead gravy recipe adds a sweet, herbal touch to homemade gravy by adding maple syrup, onion and sage. Experiment with your own spice blends. Get more great gravy recipes.