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Here’s How to Season a Turkey So It Actually Tastes Like Something
Photo: Liz Andrew/Styling: Erin McDowell

Whether you’re roasting a whole bird or just the breast this Thanksgiving, you want it to taste juicy and flavorful…not sad and bland. How to avoid a turkey that tastes like sawdust? It all comes down to seasoning, and there are a few ways to do it. Here’s how to season a turkey so it actually tastes like something.

1. Season Your Turkey in Advance

Just like you shouldn’t wait to thaw your turkey the day of (please, we implore you), don’t salt your bird the day of either. At least one day—and up to three—before Thanksgiving, pat the turkey dry with paper towels, then season it generously with kosher salt, sprinkling enough to coat the surface or rubbing it all over to ensure every part of the turkey is covered. This way, the salt has a chance to soak into the flesh of the bird and the turkey will taste well-seasoned throughout (instead of just salty on the surface). And unlike wet-brining (soaking the turkey in saltwater) this method ensures crispy skin. Once you’ve seasoned your turkey, leave it uncovered in the fridge until you’re ready to roast. (Covering it will lead to a soggy bird.) 

2. Don’t Be Shy with Salt

When we say season generously, we mean generously. According to the experts at America’s Test Kitchen, you should use 1 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of turkey (and ¾ teaspoon per pound if you’re cooking just the breast). So if you’re cooking a 12-pound turkey, that’s about ¼ cup of salt for the whole bird. This is not the time to sprinkle delicately.

3. Season the Entire Turkey, Inside and Out

Sure, it’s important to salt the outside of your turkey. But are you overlooking the inside? When salting that bird, don’t skip the cavity or under the skin. This gives the salt even more surface area to soak into the meat.

Once you’ve got the salt basics down pat, you can add flavor to the seasoning process in the form of spices and herbs. Need some inspiration? We’re partial to a barbecue-esque blend of paprika, black pepper, cayenne and brown sugar, or the classic combination of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (heh).

RELATED: How Big of a Turkey Do I Need for My Thanksgiving Dinner?

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