Lemon-Fennel Turkey Rub

published Sep 19, 2021
Turkey Rub Recipe

Call it a spice rub or a dry brine — this highly seasoned salt and sugar mixture does wonders for your roast turkey or chicken.

Makes1 1/4 cups

Prep10 minutes

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lemon fennel turkey rub in a clear jar with sliced lemon besides it.
Credit: Shilpa Uskokovic

Whether you call it a spice rub or dry brine, you can’t deny that a highly seasoned salt and sugar mixture does wonders for your roast turkey or chicken. In this lemon and fennel rub, a few common ingredients combine together to make a beautifully fragrant mixture. When rubbed on the bird and left overnight, the salt draws out moisture while infusing the flesh with flavor and makes for a beautiful, bronzed roast the next day.

Using a concentrated rub such as this is infinitely easier than brining a large turkey in a vat of salty water. It’s way less hassle, takes up much less room in the refrigerator, and because there’s no extra moisture in the picture, you’re guaranteed a golden-brown skin!

Should I Put Butter Under the Skin of My Turkey?

Slipping soft butter between the skin and the flesh (usually on the breast) of the turkey does the two following things:

  1. As the butter melts, it bastes the turkey breast and gives it a little added insurance against drying out.
  2. Fat helps carry flavor. As the bird roasts, the butter transports fat-soluble flavor compounds deeper into the bird. 

Should I Put the Rub on the Turkey the Night Before?

Marinating the turkey overnight is definitely the way to go for maximum flavor. In a pinch, apply the rub and let the turkey rest for at least four hours before roasting. 

Credit: Shilpa Uskokovic

How Do I Keep My Turkey from Drying Out?

A few helpful tips to prevent your turkey from drying out include the following:

  • Buy a slightly smaller bird. (Between 12 to 14 pounds is ideal; anything larger and it just takes too long to roast, thus increasing the chances of overcooking.) 
  • Remove the turkey from the oven slightly below the desired temperature. This is the single most important takeaway here! Stick a thermometer in the thickest part of the turkey (near the neck) and when it registers 150 to 155°F, remove it promptly. The turkey will come up to 165°F as it rests. 

Turkey Rub Recipe

Call it a spice rub or a dry brine — this highly seasoned salt and sugar mixture does wonders for your roast turkey or chicken.

Prep time 10 minutes

Makes 1 1/4 cups

Nutritional Info


  • 1/4 cup

    fennel seeds

  • 1/4 cup

    packed light brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup

    plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt

  • 2 tablespoons


  • 2 tablespoons

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 teaspoons

    garlic powder

  • 2

    medium lemons


  1. Process 1/4 cup fennel seeds in a spice grinder until finely ground. Transfer to a small bowl. (Alternatively, crush the seeds in a mortar and pestle.)

  2. Add 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar, 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 2 tablespoons paprika, 2 tablespoons black pepper, and 4 teaspoons garlic powder. Whisk to combine. Finely grate the zest of 2 medium lemons into the bowl (about 2 tightly packed teaspoons). Stir to combine.

  3. To use: One batch of spice rub is sufficient for 1 (12- to 14-pound) turkey or for 2 (3 1/2- to 4-pound whole chickens). Loosen the skin from the bird(s) and rub in 1 stick softened unsalted butter on each breast. Sprinkle the rub evenly over the bird(s) and massage it to ensure it adheres properly. (Alternatively, you can skip the butter and mix some olive oil into the spice mixture and rub it on the bird). Place the bird(s) on a rack fitted over a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered overnight. Proceed with roasting the bird(s).

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: Since this rub has fresh lemon zest, it is best when used immediately. Alternatively, refrigerate the rub in an airtight container for up to 2 days.