How to Choose the Right Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe

A primer on some of the most popular methods.

November 18, 2018

We've partnered with Bosch, makers of high-quality kitchen appliances like the induction slide-in range, to share clever tips and tricks that'll help you prepare a showstopping Thanksgiving turkey, no matter how much time you've got.

The turkey is the star of Thanksgiving, no question about it. Once it hits the table, you can guarantee that beautifully roasted bird will outshine any dish you put next to it. But making a turkey, especially if you're a first-timer, can be complicated. Should you brine it days ahead of time? Should you roast it whole or in parts? Should you make the gravy ahead of time, or wait for the pan drippings? Everybody and their mother has their own best way of roasting a turkey, and consulting the internet will only yield millions of search results that can make the matter even more confusing.

But there's not just one right way to flavor and roast a turkey—there are many. Choosing how you want to cook your bird pretty much comes to down to two factors: how much time you have to prep and how involved you want to be. But the good news is whether you plan on readying your turkey days before Thanksgiving or like to leave things until the day of (or hour before), you can end up with a juicy, crispy-skinned bird just in time for dinner.

From brining to spatchcocking to roasting in parchment, here's a quick primer on some of the tastiest tricks for cooking up a turkey in your oven, to help you choose the best method for your own celebration:


Brining a turkey is exactly what it sounds like—soaking your bird in a salty, acidic solution (much like the kind you'd use if you were making pickles) for at least a day before you roast. Proponents of this method say it all but guarantees super-juicy, tender meat (thanks to osmosis as well as salt breaking down those proteins) and a crispy skin. While you can opt for either a wet or dry brine, both require a day or two of lead time, so neither method can be left to the last minute. For a wet brine, you'll need a container big enough to hold your turkey submerged under the liquid. A dry brine, on the other hand, requires slightly less effort and fridge space. All you do is sprinkle a bunch of salt in the turkey's cavity and skin and let it hang out in the fridge, covered, for a few days. One con is that a brined turkey's drippings will likely be too salty to make a gravy with, but you can always make it with pre-made stock (no turkey drippings necessary) using this easy formula.

Compound Butter Basting

If you don't want to worry about any turkey prep in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, an herb compound butter is going to be your best friend. All you do is mix a few sticks of softened butter with garlic and fresh or dried herbs, then rub it all over the entire turkey. You can rub it over the top of the skin, but most recipes call for you to rub it under the skin, so the buttery juices don't drip down during roasting. You can do this either the morning of Thanksgiving or right before you're ready to toss the turkey in the oven; either way, you'll get those aromatic, herby flavors (think sage, thyme, or garlic, but you can also play around with your favorite combos) and a buttery, crisp skin.

Spice Rubs

Whether you totally forgot about the turkey or are a last-minute cook (like me!), a simple spice rub is your best bet for adding a bit of flavor to your bird at the 11th hour. Similar to brining, you can opt for wet or dry here; wet just means you're also including one or some liquid ingredients, such as oil or wine. Once your turkey is thawed and at room temperature, rub the cavity and skin with your mixture of choice, and pop it in a hot oven. It's that easy! You can take the spice blend in a few different directions, depending on your taste: onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika; or something more classically herby, like dried thyme, rosemary, and sage; or experiment with a mash-up of your favorite flavors.


For a faster-cooking, evenly roasted turkey, give the spatchcocking method a go. What is spatchcocking, you ask? All it means is that the bird has been butterflied and flattened, with the backbone removed; you can ask your butcher to do this for you. There are a ton of pros to spatchcocking your turkey: the bird stays moist, and you don't necessarily need to give it any special treatment (like brining or buttering) in advance; it takes up less vertical space in your oven; and leaving the back of the turkey unbrined actually makes for a more flavorful, less salty gravy. The only caveat here is that it won't look like the classic roast turkey you'd see on the cover of a magazine, so if that part is important to you, keep that in mind.

Use a Roasting Bag

You may have used a roasting bag to cook chicken or pork before, but you may not have thought to use it on a whole turkey. But—spoiler alert—this super-easy method is a sure-fire way to achieve a tender bird, without losing a crispy skin. The sealed bag steams the turkey to keep the meat moist, and gets cut open at the very end to roast the skin to golden perfection. You don't need much of a head start on this method (just make sure to pat the skin dry and season with salt and pepper), so this is one turkey you can easily pull off the day of Thanksgiving.

We're firm believers in the fact that little things can make a big impact. A few clever tips and tricks can take your holiday planning from stressful to simple. And home appliances that are reliable and intuitive—like the induction slide-in range we used to prepare our Thanksgiving bird—can streamline getting turkey on the table, without breaking a sweat. We've partnered with Bosch to celebrate these small but vital boosts during the holiday season, with recipes, videos, and more.

52 Days of Thanksgiving
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52 Days of Thanksgiving

Top-notch recipes, expert tips, and all the tools to pull off the year’s most memorable feast.

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Erin Alexander

Written by: Erin Alexander

Erin Alexander is the Managing Editor of Food52.


Noreen F. November 28, 2018
It was just my Mom and I this year so I had a 7-lb turkey breast instead of a whole bird. I braised it in my biggest Le Creuset dutch oven and it was delicious!
Alexa M. November 19, 2018
Yes!!! Finally some representation for Turkey-in-a-bag. I used this when I roasted my first turkey all by myself in college. It really is the best "turkey for dummies" recipe that produces really consistently great results!