Good seasonings enhance the mild flavor of turkey.

What Seasoning to Use for Baking a Turkey

by Maria Christensen

Despite what you may read, there's more than one way to cook the perfect turkey. Whether or not you tent it with foil during cooking, deep fry it or spend a lot of time basting it, you always start out by seasoning the bird before you cook it. The seasonings you use can enhance the flavor of the bird subtly or dramatically, depending on your choices, and there aren't any hard-and-fast rules on what works best, so feel free to indulge your own preferences.

Herbs and Spices

The most basic of seasonings for a turkey is salt. Purists can use a salt rub and let the bird sit for a day before baking. Curing in salt keeps the meat moist and makes the skin crispy. If you want to add more flavor than that, try a traditional poultry seasoning blend, typically comprising sage, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, pepper and nutmeg. While you can purchase a ready-made blend, try making your own and adjusting the mix. Parsley, basil and paprika also work with turkey, or use a blend like herbes de Provence for a really aromatic dish.

Nontraditional Flavors

A turkey may be the traditional centerpiece of a holiday meal, but that doesn’t mean you have to stick with tradition for your flavor profile. To kick things up, use a Cajun spice rub or make your own heat-filled mix of herbs and spices with any combination of cayenne pepper, dried chili peppers, garlic and onion powders, paprika and oregano. Drawing inspiration from the other side of the world, rub your turkey with curry spices. Use a combination of coriander, cumin, turmeric and ginger, or buy a premade curry rub or paste. Jamaican jerk spices and sweet teriyaki are also options.


If you don’t want to go to a lot of trouble to rub spices into your turkey, you can stuff the cavity with aromatic herbs, spices and other ingredients. This works particularly well if you tent the turkey with aluminum foil while it cooks, allowing the flavors to really penetrate the meat. Fresh, whole herbs work well with the method. Throw a couple of bay leaves in the cavity, along with a garlic clove, to keep things simple. Sprigs of rosemary, sage leaves, whole peppercorns, whole cloves, lemons, onions and apples sliced in half all add flavor to turkey without over-stuffing the cavity, which can lengthen cooking time.


If you’re rubbing your turkey with herbs, spices or other ingredients, such as minced garlic, do it under the skin so the flavors infuse the meat rather than sit on top of the skin. Loosen the skin on the breast without removing it and use your hand to spread the seasonings between the skin and meat. Another method to flavor turkey without much trouble is to use a roasting pan with a rack, add liquid, such as broth or apple juice, to the bottom of the pan and add aromatic ingredients to the liquid, such as fresh herbs.

About the Author

Since 1997, Maria Christensen has written about business, history, food, culture and travel for diverse publications. She ran her own business writing employee handbooks and business process manuals for small businesses, authored a guidebook to Seattle, and works as an accountant for a software company. Christensen studied communications at the University of Washington and history at Armstrong Atlantic State University.

Photo Credits

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