roast turkey with potato wedges

Although its alleged presence at the first Thanksgiving dinner in 1621 may be an ahistorical fabrication, there’s no denying turkey’s place as the centerpiece of any American Thanksgiving spread. That doesn’t mean everybody’s happy about it. A Mashed survey found that almost 18% of people would gladly stop serving it at their Thanksgiving dinners if they could. Many people say that they hate cooking turkey, and it accounts for more Thanksgiving day fails than any other dish. Turkey is a lean, gamey bird, and it’s unforgiving for home cooks who may only roast whole poultry once or twice a year.

Despite turkey’s unsavory reputation, we’re here to tell you that America’s native fowl is misunderstood. If treated with care and affection, turkey can be just as delicious and succulent as its beloved little brother, chicken. Proper turkey cookery requires some judiciously applied technique, generous seasoning, and careful timing. We’re not going to lie and say that it’s the easiest cooking project in the world, but it is worthwhile. Most of us have to eat turkey on Thanksgiving, so we should try our best to make it taste good. With this guide, you should be able to roast a tasty turkey every Thanksgiving or any other day of the year.

Dry brining seasons your turkey to the core

salt coming out of a grinder

Brining is the secret to creating moist, well-seasoned turkey, but traditional wet brining methods come with some annoying drawbacks. For one, to brine a whole turkey you need a very large food-safe container, larger than many people have in their kitchens at home. Wrangling an unwieldy bucket filled with saltwater and a whole turkey is an opportunity to make a big mess and splash salmonella juice all over your kitchen. Also, all the extra water from the brining process can make the turkey skin paler and less crispy. For all these reasons, dry brining is the best, easiest way to make your turkey more delicious before cooking (via The Kitchn).

In a dry brine, you take all the basic components of a brining solution like salt, sugar, and spices, and sprinkle them on the skin and inside the cavity of your turkey at least a day before Thanksgiving. (Several days of curing time is even better.) The salt will penetrate the interior of the meat, seasoning all the way down to the bone if you give it enough time.

Dry brines can be as basic as just kosher salt, but ingredients like brown sugar, ground spices, herbs, and even MSG can help take your turkey to the next level. If you want to switch up the Thanksgiving formula this year, you can try Tasting Table’s recipe for dry-brined Sichuan-spiced turkey.

For crispier skin, add fat

golden brown roast chicken

Unlike richer birds like duck and goose, turkey doesn’t have much subcutaneous fat. The fat in duck skin melts as the bird roasts, almost frying the skin and making it naturally crispy. Turkey skin needs some help to achieve the shatteringly-crisp, golden-brown finish we all want. Adding fat to the outside of the turkey will prevent the skin from sogging out and promote even browning. PopSugar talked to America’s foremost turkey experts at Butterball, who recommended coating turkey in neutral oil or clarified butter to encourage browning. Butterball’s set it and forget it method of brushing the turkey with oil at the beginning of the cooking process asks very little of the cook, but you can achieve even better results if you apply fat throughout the cooking process. This recipe from Bon Appétit suggests basting the turkey with butter infused with soy sauce, garlic, and herbs every 15 minutes to produce an evenly-burnished glow.

instant read thermometer
white pan of stuffing
turkey on a platter
turkey in a pan on a rack
spatchcocked turkey on a pan
raw turkey on white background
turkey on pan with thermometer
family celebrating thanksgiving
slicing turkey breast
thermometer with 165 degrees on screen
electric knife with white handle