Kitchn Love Letters

This Flavor-Packed Thanksgiving Turkey Is the Only One I’ll Make

updated Apr 27, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Real talk: Thanksgiving Turkey often feels more like a necessary evil than a dish I look forward to making or eating. It would be highly unusual to have Thanksgiving without it, but turkey is typically background noise to the sides — the mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and green bean casserole, among others — that really make the holiday for me. But a couple of years ago I was assigned to turkey duty, so I decided to make a turkey I wanted to eat, and all that changed.

My extended family is 20 deep, so cooking a turkey that would please everyone was stressful. I needed to satisfy all the varying tastebuds around the table, including my own. Most of them are Thanksgiving purists who expect a classic, Norman Rockwell-style feast. There are also a couple of picky eaters who need to know what’s in everything, and are skeptical of the unfamiliar. Then there’s a growing segment of folks, myself included, who yearn to jazz things up and introduce some unexpected dishes to the spread. It’s a tough balance.

So when Christine Gallary developed a recipe for citrus-herb roast turkey for Kitchn a few years ago, I had my eye on it. I had a feeling it was going to be a hit. Boy was I right! It delivered everything that I was looking for and more: Our traditionalists got the beautiful, ready-to-carve bird they wanted to see, our picky eaters didn’t find anything too weird, and our more adventurous foodies had a super-flavorful, interesting-tasting plate of turkey that didn’t just disappear into the background among the sides. Now it’s the recipe we cook every year.

The Secret Is Under the Skin

This turkey gets big points for being extra juicy, but what makes me excited is that it tastes like it’s flavored from the inside out, with the most wonderful aroma of citrus and fresh herbs. Some of that comes from the lemon and orange quarters stuffed into the cavity, but the smart trick that really makes this turkey so delicious is that compound butter is rubbed under the skin.

Compound butter is just butter that’s been flavored. For this recipe, a stick of softened butter is mixed with orange and lemon zest, chopped fresh thyme, oregano, and sage (the latter isn’t included in the recipe, but I usually have some left over from other recipes). You use your fingers to loosen the turkey skin, then rub the compound butter under the skin. It bastes the turkey as it roasts and gently infuses the meat with the herbs and citrus flavor. And it doesn’t stop there! The drippings at the bottom of the roasting pan are also perfumed with citrus and herbs, which makes for an even more flavorful gravy.

If you’ve got a family with a wide range of needs, and are looking for something to satisfy as many people as possible, give this recipe a try. You won’t be sorry you did.

Get the recipe: Citrus-Herb Roast Turkey

At Kitchn, our editors and contributors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.