Cooking a turkey is often a big deal. It’s something few people do regularly, and it’s often done in preparation for a special Thanksgiving meal – meaning there’s a lot hanging on whether it tastes good. It’s not surprising many people are uncertain about the process, so let’s look at how to season a turkey properly.
Should you season turkey overnight? Yes, it’s best to season a turkey overnight, and you can do this by creating a seasoning with various herbs and spices, and then rubbing these into the meat. This allows time for the flavors to soak into the bird before cooking, improving the penetration. Some people even season the turkey beneath the skin to maximize the flavor absorption.
Should You Season Turkey Overnight?
Ideally, yes, you want to season turkey the night before you cook it. If you forget and season it on the day, it will still taste nice, but the meat will not have absorbed the flavors to the same degree.
Allowing the turkey to rest with whatever herbs, spices, and other flavorings you have added for twelve hours or more is the best way to ensure that it is delicious. Additionally, the outside of the turkey should be fully defrosted by this stage, meaning that there will be minimal water residue, which will allow the flavors to be absorbed more effectively.
Seasoning a turkey overnight is definitely the best option. There is no point in seasoning a half frozen bird, because the flavors won’t go in, but seasoning it just before you stick it in the oven will also result in poor flavor absorption. Overnight is the best of both worlds!
How Do You Season a Turkey?
First, you create the seasoning using whatever ingredients appeal to you (butter, oil, rosemary, garlic, lemon, etc.). Next, this needs to be rubbed into the skin of the turkey. Cover it all over and make sure you get into all the edges and dimples. Take the time to do this thoroughly and be generous with the coating.
You can also spread your seasoning inside the turkey to coat the interior of the meat, which again improves the flavor and ensures as much of the meat as possible is in contact with those flavors.
How Do You Season a Turkey Beneath the Skin?
Putting the seasoning under the skin is a great idea, and you can do this quite easily. You will need to loosen the skin, starting at the neck end, and sliding your fingers beneath the skin until you reach the breasts. Work slowly so that you do not tear the skin.
The reason this works so well is that it increases the penetration of the seasoning. The skin of the turkey is quite tough and will be hard for the flavor to work through. By placing the seasoning beneath the skin, you massively speed up the process and ensure that the taste spreads right through the meat.
This will make for a particularly flavorful and delicious meal, and everyone will be impressed. The additional benefit is that if you (or your guests) choose to remove the skin of the turkey rather than eat it, the seasoning can remain against the meat and is not lost.
You can do this with any seasoning, including butter, garlic, and herbs of all kinds.
What Can You Use in Turkey Seasoning?
There are no rules here; you just want it to taste good. However, if you’re after some ideas, consider trying things like parsley, rosemary, salt, brown sugar, smoked paprika, and chili powder.
If you aren’t sure what to put in your turkey seasoning, spend a bit of time thinking about the flavors that you enjoy, and decide what overall approach you would like to take. If you like honey-glazed meat, could you make a maple syrup glaze? Would you enjoy a brown sugar coating?
If savory flavors appeal more, consider onion powder, garlic powder (or crushed garlic), or chili or paprika.
Alternatively, think about olives, seasonal herbs, and smoked salts. Remember, the idea is to enhance and complement the flavor of the turkey meat, not to hide it, so you don’t want really strong flavors like cheese or secondary meats.
It’s best to try some seasoning recipes from online or experiment well in advance of your planned holiday meal to ensure that you get the balances right and you don’t end up overpowering the turkey. You can experiment on other cooked fowl, like chicken, if you want an idea of how it will taste without having to cook a turkey.
What Other Options Are There for Your Turkey?
If you don’t want to season your turkey, you could try marinating it or brining it. Brining creates a very moist and succulent turkey, while marinating will help liquid flavors soak into the meat (seasoning tends to be dry). Glazes or alcoholic basting can also be good options.
Brining should also be done in advance, and it involves soaking the turkey in salt water to tenderize it. You can also add spices and herbs, which will soak in alongside the salt. This doesn’t have to be complicated, but it can be very delicious! This needs to be done at least four hours in advance, but it is better done overnight.
Marinating is a simple trick that you have probably done with other meats, and it too involves a bit of preparation in advance, although you can go for shorter marinating times of a few hours, as opposed to overnight. Try traditional Thanksgiving spices to add to your marinade, and go for some lemon juice for tenderness.
You can baste your turkey with alcohol to caramelize the outside of the turkey while it cooks, or create a glaze to add once the meat is done – either of these will also add plenty of flavor and make your meal memorable.
You should season turkey overnight if possible, as this allows time for the meat to absorb the flavors more deeply and fully. However, if you have forgotten to do this, try marinating the turkey in the morning before you cook it, or add a glaze post-cooking!