Here’s Exactly How to Season That Turkey

If you're tired of making the same recipe every year, we've got options on how to season your turkey and snazz up your technique.

You want to make your bird a feast to remember. But do you really need to mess with the turkey that much? It all depends. Perhaps you want to try a new cooking technique and want a new recipe to go with it. Or you might want to spice up your traditional roasted bird with seasonings that go beyond salt and pepper.

Whether you’re frying, smoking or roasting the star attraction of your family dinner, we’ve got you covered. And we’ve got your turkey covered—in herbs, spices, maple syrup, teriyaki sauce and more. There’s definitely a seasoning technique to please everyone at your dinner table.

How do you season a turkey?

You have three choices: brining, injecting and using a dry rub.

Brining

To achieve the deepest flavor, brine is often best. And it’s a process you’ll want to plan ahead for: brining a large turkey can take up to two days. Read up on our favorite brining tips before you begin.

To brine a turkey, simply combine one tablespoon of salt for every cup of water. You’ll need enough water to completely cover the meat, and usually 4 cups of water (and 1/4 cup of salt) will do the trick. You can also add whole spices to impart extra flavor.

You can go for a citrusy apple brine or a savory herb brine, or get the best of both worlds with a sweet and salty maple-sage version.

Injecting

If you’re out of time to brine, a flavor injector filled with melted butter will do the trick. Don’t be afraid of the surgical appearance—the flavor will be worth it.

To inject a turkey, fill the injector with melted butter (or your favorite marinade) and insert it into the turkey breast. Inject the turkey in a couple of different spots for best flavor. Minimize holes by poking the needle through the skin, then shifting around the injector. We inject our deep-fried turkey, but you could use this technique with any cooking method.

Dry Rub or Spice Paste

What’s the difference? A dry rub is mostly dry seasonings, while a spice paste includes more liquid.

To make an easy rub for a turkey, combine your desired seasonings.You’ll need about one tablespoon of the spice mixture for every pound of meat. (You can even do this ahead of time and keep them in an airtight container.) Rub the mixture evenly onto the surface of the uncooked turkey, under and over the skin. For bolder flavor, cover the turkey and refrigerate it for at least 4 hours.

If you want to go this route, check out our Spice-Rubbed Turkey, slathered with a heady mix herbs and spices including cayenne, garlic and chili powder.

Learn how to cook your turkey every which way with this expert guide.

What do you put in a turkey for flavor?

When it comes to turkey flavorings, pick a couple of ingredients that will complement the rest of your meal.

  • Fats: Butter and olive oil add luscious flavor and help the skin get crispy.
  • Aromatics: Garlic, onions and leeks are all good choices.
  • Sauces: Cranberry sauce, orange marmalade, honey and soy sauce are all good go-to’s.
  • Herbs and Spices: Use fresh herbs, dry spices or a combo of the two.

If you’d rather not play it by ear, we have a couple of favorite recipes for you to use. Our Cranberry-Orange Roasted Turkey recipe is has a triple-threat flavor combo of cranberry, teriyaki and orange. When they find out, your family will be fighting over first seats at the dinner table.

If that doesn’t float your gravy boat, try something a tad more traditional, like our classic Herb-Glazed Turkey recipe. This one calls for honey and rosemary. The mixture of savory herbs and a sweet glaze tastes like home.

Can I season my turkey the night before?

Yes, it pays to be an early bird—especially if you plan to brine it beforehand. This extra step may take more than overnight, so plan ahead. Trust us, though: the moisture that the meat will retain is so worth it. Yay, no more dried-out turkey breast!

No matter what ingredients you use to season your turkey, follow these tips and you’ll be having quite the feast.

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Colleen DuVall
Colleen is a writer/editor/podcaster who has made it a lifelong hobby to collect and try out new recipes. After another October has come and gone, she starts counting down the days until next Halloween.