Mix-and-Match Turkey

Make the bird the way you like it: This step-by-step guide from Food Network Magazine leads to thousands of possibilities!



Photo by: Yunhee Kim

Yunhee Kim

1: Pick a Turkey

To choose the size, plan on 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per person.

  • Standard: Regular supermarket turkeys. They can be brined.
  • All-Natural: Turkeys without added coloring or flavoring. The meat can be dry, so brining is key.
  • Heritage: Old-fashioned varieties that tend to be small, with a lot of dark meat. They can be brined.
  • Self-basting: Turkeys that have been injected with a salty flavored liquid. Do not brine.
  • Kosher: Turkeys that have been salted as part of the koshering process. Do not brine.

2: Thaw

If you are using a fresh bird, skip to step 3. If the bird is frozen, leave wrapped and put on a rimmed baking sheet in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours thawing time for every 5 pounds. For a quicker thaw, submerge the bird in a cooler of cold water for 30 minutes per pound, changing the water every 30 minutes.

3: Brine

If you are using a self-basting or kosher bird, skip to step 4. Otherwise, unwrap the turkey and remove the neck and giblets (reserve for Classic Turkey Gravy). Rinse the turkey under cold water and pat dry. Prepare your brine.

Orange-Tea-Bourbon: Fill a large pot with 2 quarts water; add the zest (in wide strips) and juice of 5 oranges, 2 cups kosher salt, 1 cup sugar, 12 black tea bags, 4 bay leaves, 6 cloves, 12 peppercorns and 1 cup bourbon. Bring to a boil, then simmer 10 minutes. Add 4 quarts cold water and let cool. Submerge the turkey in the brine, adding water to cover, if necessary. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.

Dry: Combine 1/3 cup kosher salt, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon pepper in a bowl. Rub all over the turkey and inside the cavity. Put on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, at least 8 hours or overnight. Rinse well and pat dry. (A dry brine is a good choice if you're short on fridge space.)

Juniper: Fill a large pot with 2 quarts water; add 2 cups kosher salt, 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, 2 tablespoons juniper berries, 1 tablespoon peppercorns, 3 bay leaves and the zest of 1 lemon (in wide strips). Bring to a boil, then simmer 10 minutes. Add 6 quarts cold water and let cool. Submerge the turkey in the brine, adding water to cover, if necessary. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.

4: Make a Butter

Remove the turkey from the brine; rinse and pat dry. Make your choice of flavored butter; reserve 4 tablespoons, then rub the rest under the turkey skin on the breasts and legs. Rub 2 tablespoons of the reserved butter on the skin; chill and save the rest for your gravy. Let the turkey stand 30 minutes at room temperature before roasting.

Honey Mustard: Mix 2 sticks softened butter, 2 tablespoons honey and 3 tablespoons each dijon and spicy brown mustard.

Chipotle-Maple: Pulse 2 sticks softened butter, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, 1 garlic clove and a pinch of salt in a food processor.

Asian Ginger: Mix 2 sticks softened butter, 4 chopped scallions, 1 1/2 tablespoons grated ginger, 3 grated garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon each sesame oil and soy sauce.

Classic Herb: Mix 2 sticks softened butter, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon each dried sage and dried thyme, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1/4 teaspoon paprika and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves.

Paprika: Crush and chop 2 tablespoons coriander seeds, 2 teaspoons cumin seeds and 6 garlic cloves. Mix with 1 tablespoon paprika and 2 sticks softened butter.

Rosemary-Lemon: Mix 2 sticks softened butter, 5 minced garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary, 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

5: Roast the Bird

Put the oven rack in the lowest position; preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put the turkey breast-side up on a rack in a large roasting pan, tucking the wing tips under. Tie the drumsticks together with twine. Roast until the skin is golden brown and a thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 165 degrees F, about 15 minutes per pound. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 30 minutes before carving. Whisk the reserved 2 tablespoons flavored butter into your gravy just before serving, if desired.

Next Up

What Temperature to Cook Turkey

Say goodbye to serving a dry turkey on Thanksgiving. Use these tips to ensure you cook the bird perfectly on the big day.

How to Carve a Turkey

This easy, step-by-step guide has everything you need to know to carve turkey like a pro.

How to Deep Fry a Turkey

Follow these smart tips to safely fry up a golden, juicy bird.

Your Complete Guide to Preparing and Cooking a Turkey

A detailed guide to preparing perfect roast turkey, starting with which turkey to buy and ending with the best way to store leftovers.

10 Tips for Cooking the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey [Infographic]

Armed with our top 10 turkey tips, you'll come out looking like a pro on Thanksgiving Day. Whether you're hosting your first Thanksgiving dinner or your fiftieth, these indispensable tips will help you turn out a terrific turkey.

How to Brine a Turkey Two Ways

Prepare your holiday main event by locking in moisture.

Just What Exactly Are Giblets?

They're the secret to better flavor from your bird.

Quick Turkey Fixes

When it comes to a successful Thanksgiving dinner, being prepared is half the battle. With these quick turkey fixes up your sleeve, you'll be feeling calm, cool and collected, no matter what surprises the day may bring.

How to Adapt Your Turkey Recipe

When it comes selecting and cooking the bird, even the most experienced Thanksgiving hosts can feel overwhelmed. Here are a few helpful workarounds for some common turkey conundrums.

Turkey Buying Guide

How to choose the perfect holiday turkey

Latest Stories