If you're looking for something new and inspiring to flavor your turkey this year, it's hiding in your liquor cabinet. Reach for that bottle of bourbon and turn it into a glaze for the bird that not only makes it glisten like one from a Norman Rockwell painting, but also infuses it with a touch of nutty, caramel, vanilla-like flavor that's enhanced with brown sugar and offset with a bit of fresh orange zest. A splash more bourbon in the gravy ensures these flavors sing even when the turkey is cozied up with stuffing and mashed potatoes on the plate.
A Boozy Bird Makes Thanksgiving Even More Festive
This turkey feels effortlessly festive — it needs no prep work or brining until you're ready to throw it in the oven. An easy mixture of softened butter, brown sugar, and fresh orange zest is rubbed under the skin on the bird before it heads into the oven to immediately infuse it with flavorful goodness. As it begins to cook, the remaining butter mixture is combined with bourbon and transformed into a fragrant glaze when brushed all over the turkey to caramelize the skin and practically make it candy-like (although not so sweet that it's overpowering).
While the alcohol cooks out of the glaze as the bird cooks, meaning the meat remains safe to eat for diners of all ages, it's useful to note that the flavor of the bourbon still lingers, which might still make it best for those with a taste for it. No matter what, though, it's a Thanksgiving centerpiece that will win praise — pour yourself a shot of bourbon and toast to that.
Bourbon-Glazed Turkey Breast
To adapt this recipe for a 3- to 7-pound bone-in turkey breast, make a half recipe of the butter and brown sugar mixture, then rub half of it under the skin of the turkey breast (you might not need all of it if you have a small turkey breast). Season the turkey breast all over with salt and pepper. Use the remaining butter mixture to make half of the amount of glaze.
Follow the same roasting directions as below, including placing broth in the bottom of the pan. Brush the turkey with the glaze every 20 minutes. Start checking the turkey for doneness after 1 hour of roasting time. Proceed with making the gravy with the same amounts and method as below.
Bourbon-Glazed Roast Turkey
For the turkey:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
2 cups low-sodium chicken or turkey broth
1/4 cup bourbon, such as Bulleit, Jim Beam, or Makers Mark
For the gravy:
Vegetable oil or unsalted butter, as needed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup low-sodium chicken or turkey broth
Up to 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken or turkey broth, as needed
1 tablespoon bourbon
Freshly ground black pepper
Roast the turkey: Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven, remove any racks above it, and heat to 450°F. Have a roasting pan fitted with a roasting rack ready. (If you don't have a roasting rack, crumple up a few sheets of aluminum foil and place them on the bottom of a roasting pan.)
Combine the butter, brown sugar, orange zest, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl and smash together with a spoon or rubber spatula until combined; set aside.
Remove the turkey's neck and giblets, or save for another use. Pat the cavity and the outside of the turkey dry with paper towels and place breast-side up on a cutting board or rimmed baking sheet. Loosen the skin on the breast and the legs by gently sliding your hand between the meat and the skin and separating it without tearing it. Distribute half of the butter evenly under the loosened skin. Season the outside and cavity of the turkey generously with salt and pepper.
Place the turkey breast-side up on the roasting rack. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine if desired. Pour the broth into the roasting pan.
Place the roasting pan in the oven. Immediately turn the temperature down to 350°F.
While the turkey roasts, make the glaze. Melt the remaining butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. Add the bourbon and bring to a simmer. Stir occasionally until the glaze has reduced slightly, about 10 minutes.
After 1 1/2 hours, brush the turkey with the bourbon glaze every 20 minutes. Start checking the temperature after 2 hours total roasting time. The turkey is ready when a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh not touching bone registers at least 165°F, 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours total (about 13 minutes per pound).
When the turkey is ready, place the roasting pan on the stove or heatproof surface. Lift the neck end of the turkey up at an angle with a wadded-up paper towel so that the juices in the cavity pour out into the roasting pan. Transfer the turkey to a clean cutting board or serving platter and let rest at least 30 minutes before carving. Meanwhile, remove the roasting rack and make the gravy.
Make the gravy: Fit a fine-mesh strainer over a heatproof medium bowl. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the roasting pan. Pour the pan juices through the strainer and discard the contents of the strainer. Set aside for a few minutes for the fat to rise to the surface.
Spoon off 1/4 cup of the fat from the surface of the pan juices into a medium saucepan (if you don't have enough fat, add oil or butter as needed to get to 1/4 cup). Spoon off and discard the remaining fat. Measure the remaining juices, known as drippings, and add broth as needed to get to 2 1/2 cups (if you have more than 2 1/2 cups of drippings already, that's fine); set aside.
Place the saucepan over medium-high heat until the fat is shimmering. Whisk in the flour and cook until slightly darkened in color, about 1 minute. Pour in the reserved pan juices and bourbon, whisk to combine, and bring to a simmer. Simmer until thickened to the desired consistency. Taste and season with salt and more coarsely ground pepper as needed. Pour the gravy into a serving bowl or gravy boat and serve with the carved turkey.
- Thawing instructions: The simplest and safest way to thaw a whole frozen turkey is in the refrigerator. It will need 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey.
- Make ahead: The compound butter can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance. Let come to room temperature before using.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.