top of page
  • Writer's pictureMikey

20 Best Thanksgiving Turkey Hacks For The Most Flavorful Bird Every Time

Updated: Nov 20, 2022


20 Best Thanksgiving Turkey Hacks For The Most Flavorful Bird Every Time

The turkey is an essential part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal. The turkey is front and center of the family table. Cooking, roasting, frying, or smoking a Thanksgiving turkey is a serious undertaking.


But before you pop your dream turkey into the oven, you definitely want to read our Top 20 Thanksgiving Turkey Hacks. That's right, this is the year you deliver a Thanksgiving turkey to the table that everyone will talk about for years to come.


If you are competitive and hosting this Thanksgiving, you've come to the right place! The team at Smoked Bros plays for keeps, and the sole reason for hosting is to show off your unique culinary insights.


Let's not get too cocky yet, because a tiny error can mean disaster, and you and your family will have to deal with a dry, overcooked bird for the holiday. People will talk about you, but NOT in a good way.


Our network of expert chefs and pitmasters have delivered ingenious Turkey hacks to help you put a perfectly cooked Thanksgiving turkey on the table!



1: Buy the Right Turkey at the Right Time

  • Look at the breasts: Please pay attention to the shape of the turkey before you huck it into your cart. You want to look at the breasts, well-rounded, firm, and full breasts—they will turn out juicier and make jaws drop. Watch out for flat spots, indicating the bird has been thawed and refrozen. This not only increases the chances of freezer-burned meat, but it also raises the risk of foodborne illness.


  • Buy the right size: Once you know the exact number of attendees, use this formula: Number of guests x 1.25. You’ll want to plan on about 1.25 pounds of turkey per person attending. Nothing is worse than under-calculating the amount of turkey to serve.

Number of Guests

Turkey Weight

6

8 lbs

8

10 lbs

10

13 lbs

12

15 lbs

15

20 lbs

20

25 lbs

25

32 lbs

  • Buy your turkey early: If you’re buying a frozen turkey, ensure you have enough time to thaw it properly. The loose math for thawing is 1 x day for every 4 lbs. Buying early ensures you’ll be able to brine the turkey and avoid dealing with turkey shortages. Be careful with fresh turkeys. After purchasing a fresh Turkey, it can only be stored in the fridge for up to two days.


  • Hen vs. Tom: Hens are female turkeys, and toms are males. Toms are, on average, larger, so if you're going for a turkey over 18 pounds, you'll likely end up with a tom, whereas if you're looking for a turkey 14 pounds or under, you're likely to buy a hen. Other than size, there isn't a real difference. Some people claim toms are more flavorful.

  • Self-Basting or Pre-Brined: Self-basting and pre-brined turkeys have been injected with broth, salt, seasonings, beer, and/or other flavorings. Do not salt or brine self-basting turkeys; it could lead to the opposite effect, and you'll end up with an overly salted and dried-out bird.


  • Heritage Turkeys: As heirloom is to tomato, heritage is to turkeys. It’s a step back to how things used to taste. Strict standards apply to labeling animals “heritage.” Heritage turkeys are smaller than their commercially bred counterparts (all Broad-Breasted Whites) and have a more robust—some say gamy—flavor. Less breast meat and more highly exercised thighs and wings mean heritage turkeys benefit from longer, slower cooking times.


2: Brine your turkey:

Brining means treating your meat with salt or a salty water mixture. This process is a method to infuse flavor and break down the proteins to make them tender and juicy. Most people underestimate the power of bringing poultry. Brining your turkey will deliver a juicy and tender interior. We recommend brining your turkey for a minimum of 12 hours before baking, frying, roasting, or smoking your bird.


Turkey Brine Times | Hickory Smoked Salt Smoked Bros

Smoked Bros Brine Recipe:

  • Add brine to a large container. Add the brining mixture –2 gallons of water, 3/4 cup Smoked Bros Hickory Smoked Sea Salt, 3/4 cup canning salt, 3/4 cup Smoked Bros White Knight, 1 tablespoon ground black pepper, and 1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable stock to a pot or container that’s large enough to hold the brine and the turkey.

  • Add the turkey to the brine. Submerge the turkey and transfer the container to the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.


  • Dry the turkey. Remove the turkey from the brine, let it stand for 20 minutes and pat it dry. You can let the turkey rest uncovered in the fridge for up to 1 day so the skin dries out and becomes crispier in the oven.




3: Spatchcocking is a significant time saver

A Spatchcocked turkey cooks more evenly and more quickly than non-butterflied versions. This technique isn't for appearances but for stunningly crisp skin and perfectly cooked white and dark meat.


Smoked Bros Spatchcocked Turkey Thanksgiving

Why does it work?

  • Removing the backbone makes it easy to flatten the turkey into a single plane, promoting even cooking in the oven and ensuring the light and dark meat reach their optimal cooking temperatures simultaneously.


  • Since the skin of a spatchcocked bird is all on top, it all crisps up beautifully, giving you more crispy skin than a conventionally cooked bird.


  • The removed backbone can give your gravy an extra dimension of turkey flavor.


4: Flip the bird - halfway through

It would help if you started your roast with the Turkey upside down (breast down). The turkey breast isn’t directly exposed to the heat when roasted upside down. Being inverted means it’s protected and insulated by the rest of the turkey. Instead, the dark meat is exposed with the thighs cooking faster in this position.


In short, here’s why we recommend starting the roast with the turkey upside down:


  • It cooks faster.

  • The white meat has less of a chance of drying out.

  • The drippings from the dark meat run down over the top.

Having the thighs exposed over the breasts comes with a few added benefits. As the turkey roasts, the fatty dark meat of the thighs renders fat and juices that drip down onto the breast meat, slow-basting the bird through the whole cooking process. Halfway through your cook time, carefully rotate the turkey with the breast side up. Your focus, on the flip, will be creating crispy skin and not allowing the breast to dry out. Remember, everyone loves firm, moist, and well-rounded breasts to make that Turkey pop on the dining room table.


*If it is difficult for you to flip the bird, please see #17.


5: Do Not Baste

Basting the skin is not necessary to flavor the meat. You'll flavor the skin, but you'll also let heat out of the oven each time you open it to baste. That means a longer cooking time. Time + Heat = greater chance of you getting dry meat. Also, the drippings you're dumping back on top of the skin can lead to soggy/fatty spot that is less desirable in appearance.

Basting the turkey skin is bad and makes soggy skin

6: Washing your turkey

A common misconception is that rinsing the raw turkey will remove the harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning, but the opposite is true. Rinsing the turkey puts you at risk for contamination because washing it can cause the bacteria to spread all over your kitchen. The USDA encourages everyone to wash their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds before and after handling a turkey. The only natural way to kill bacteria is to cook to the proper internal temperature.



7: To stuff or not to stuff

Stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey has been a tradition for many years. Stuffing can also be prepared and baked in a separate dish. There are pros and cons to each method as you plan Thanksgiving. W will ask one question; What is more critical, the Turkey or the stuffing? Turkey is the focal point, and we will look at this from that lens.


The most significant advantage of not stuffing the turkey and baking the stuffing separately is the turkey will take less time to cook. A 12 to 14-pound stuffed turkey will take 3.5 to 4 hours to bake, while an unstuffed bird will take 3 to 3.75 hours at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember from earlier... Time + Heat = greater chance of you getting dry meat. The goal is to reach a minimum internal temperature of 165 F in the shortest time possible, balancing a crispy (not burnt skin) and moist, fully cooked bird. With this approach, we recommend forgoing any stuffing.



8: Things you should put in your Turkey that aren’t stuffing

Here are a few things you can place inside to help add some additional flavor. But do not stuff the cavity full. Allow the heat to pass through the cavity and the bird to cook evenly.

  • Onions, shallots, and garlic (Be careful with garlic because if it burns, you'll have bitterness throughout your turkey).

  • Apples & Pears

  • Wedges of lemon, orange, lime, and even grapefruit

  • Fennel

9: Use a roasting rack

The roasting rack helps keep the bottom of your turkey from sitting in the drippings and sticking to the bottom of the pan. No rack? Create a bed of celery stalks and carrots to elevate your roast, and you'll have extra flavorful veggies to use later.

Bed of carrots and celery in roasting pan

10: Move the oven rack

The middle rack is the best position for cooking a turkey if you want it to cook evenly. The heat circulates around the turkey, cooking it evenly on all sides.


If you want your turkey to have crispy skin, cook it on the lower rack. The skin will be closer to the heat source, so it will cook faster and get crispier.

The middle rack is the best position for cooking a turkey

11: Simple steps for crispy skin

  • Dry the skin thoroughly after brining

The drier the skin, the better; some cooks will leave the skin uncovered for several hours before roasting their Thanksgiving turkey to air-dry the skin after blotting it dry. Less water on the skin's surface means more opportunity for the skin's moisture to dry out in the oven, resulting in crisp skin. After drying the turkey, let it sit in the roasting pan for about 20 minutes and pat dry again.


  • Rub the skin with fat.

Once you’ve carefully dried off the skin, the next step to guarantee perfectly crispy turkey skin is to rub it with a fat, like butter or oil. Oil will yield crispier skin than butter because butter is at least 20 percent water, while oil contains no water.


  • Don’t cover the turkey

At this point, you probably understand that moisture is the enemy of crispy skin. If you don’t believe me, picture the leftover turkey that you stored in a humid plastic container in the fridge last year (or in a bag): The skin on that leftover turkey didn’t have any crunch left to it, did it? The same goes for freshly roasted turkey. Don’t cover your freshly roasted turkey with foil to let it rest before carving.


12: Create your own infused oil

Creating your own infused oil is relatively simple. Our team tends to make small quantities of infused oil for special events or holidays. The best type of oil to use is extra virgin olive oil. To infuse oils at room temperature, takes 2 to 10 days. The intensity of the flavor increases the longer it is infused. Oil may be heated to 140°F for 5 minutes to speed up the process. Any temperature greater than 140 degrees Fahrenheit will break down your oils.


Directions

  1. Place three different herbs or spices that complement each other in a clean, dry-quart bottle. Leave at least 1 to 3 inches of open space above your herbs to cover with oil.

  2. Fill the remaining space in the jar with the oil of choice, making sure to cover the herbs by at least 1 inch or more. If the herbs emerge above the surface of the oil at any point while infusing, pour more oil on top to ensure the herbs remain covered.

  3. Cap the jar tightly and shake well.

  4. Place the jar on a sunny, warm windowsill and shake once daily.

  5. After 2 to 10 days, strain the herbs out of the oil using cheesecloth or a mesh strainer. Make sure to squeeze out as much of the flavored oil as possible!


13: Create flavored butter

Having your premade butter on hand makes prepping the turkey much easier.


You can create your flavored butter very quickly. The first thing you do is make sure the butter is at room temperature. Mix the butter and seasonings in a bowl with a rubber spatula. Once thoroughly mixed, scrape the butter onto a piece of parchment paper. Roll it up into a log, then twist the ends of the parchment paper to form it. Place in the fridge for at least 2 hours before using it.



14: Season Under the Skin

It can be tempting to sprinkle your seasonings on top of the turkey as you’d do with any other protein. However, it’s best to season under the skin to get the most flavor. This is our greatest tip for teaching anyone how to season a turkey.


This puts those spices in direct contact with the meat for maximum impact. Plus, if you don’t like the skin, you can peel it off after cooking without losing all the herby goodness.


Having flavored butter or infused oil makes this process relatively simple. Pull up on the skin and work a small utensil underneath, painting the meat with your butter or oil.

Butter underneath the turkey skin using an utensil

15: Season Inside Turkey

Don’t limit your seasoning to just the exterior of your holiday main. Be sure to blend your seasoning into all the nooks and crannies of the turkey—even on the inside. This will give your roast the most flavor possible.



16: Inject Flavor

This method might seem a little intimidating, but it packs a serious punch to boost your turkey’s flavor. Flavor injectors work by pumping extra ingredients (think low-sodium vegetable stock and melted butter) right into the meat for extra moisture and an extra tasty turkey. But, it would be best to let the turkey sit for at least 12 hours after injecting flavor, allowing the liquid to be absorbed.

Flavor injectors work by pumping extra ingredients (think low-sodium vegetable stock and melted butter)

17: Cover with foil

We’ve found that covering a turkey in foil yields moister results than without, and we favor covering up the breast to even out cooking time. Roasting a turkey breast side down and flipping it halfway through achieves the same results as a foil-covered breast. However, it’s pretty hard to flip a heavy, piping-hot bird without the right tools. And sometimes, the roasting rack can leave marks or indentations on the breast that detract from a stunning centerpiece presentation. To deliver that delicious crispy skin, you must uncover the bird for the last 90 mins of the cook.


18: Serve with gravy or a sauce

Gravy and sauces seem to be an afterthought in planning. We recommend having a few different options. There are so many delicious things to drizzle atop your Thanksgiving turkey, from the classic giblet gravy to a modern version made with peppercorns and sweet Riesling. Or you can zest things up with a flavorful orange-cardamom cranberry sauce, a chive butter sauce for the mashed potatoes, and an apple cider chile butter sauce that goes with just about anything. We recommend having a few different sauces to modernize classic dishes.



19: Let the turkey rest

The turkey needs to rest before carving. About 45 minutes or so gives it time to reabsorb the juices; otherwise, they'll dribble out when you slice, and the meat will be dry. Please don't put a tent of foil over the turkey to keep it warm while it's resting; it's unnecessary and will make the skin soggy.


First off, don't carve the bird before the guests arrive. This is a surefire way of ending up with a dry turkey. Also, don't carve the turkey at the table. This is stuff for the movies, and it will get messy. Carve your turkey in the kitchen and transfer the pieces nicely to a serving tray.


20: Plan your turkey cooking in detail

It would help if you planned backward from the time you want to carve the bird through the thawing process to ensure you have given yourself enough time. With the example below, the latest we could start the thawing would be Sunday at 11:27 pm.


Example: 20 Lbs Turkey


Serving Time: 5:30 pm - Thursday


Rest Time: 4:45 pm - Thursday (-45 Minutes)


Cook Time: 12:12 pm - Thursday (-260 Minutes, 13 minutes per pound at 350°F)


Seasoning/Prep Time: 11:27 am - Thursday (-20 Minutes)


Dry Time: 11:27 am - Wednesday (-24 hours)


Brine Time: 11:27 pm - Wednesday (-Minimum 12 Hour Brine)


Thaw Time: 11:27 pm - Sunday (4 Days - Refrigerator Method - 1 day for each 4 - 5 lbs of turkey)



About Our Company:

Offering Veteran Spices and BBQ Rubs, Smoked Bros is a Special Forces veteran-owned spices & seasoning company serving craft flavors to people who love the All-America pastime of cooking. We develop our kinetic flavor profiles with the same surgical precision as our military missions, defending the greatest country on the planet.


At Smoked Bros, we use the highest quality ingredients ethically sourced from around the globe and deliver them to your front door. The quality of our craft seasonings at our price point is unmatched. We give back to America’s warfighters, first responders, and underserved communities with every purchase.


Smoked Bros Craft Spices and Dry Rub | Grill Gifts and Christmas Gifts







166 views3 comments

Recent Posts

See All

3 Comments



Pure Smoked Bros recipe

Like

reidlantrip09
reidlantrip09
Nov 14, 2022

I have used the spatchcock method the last few years. The turkey comes out perfect. This year it will get a nice healthy seasoning of “Knuckle Dragger” to add to the perfection.

Like

bottom of page