If you are planning to have a traditional meal these holidays, you might be wondering what herbs go with turkey. In this article, we reveal what we think are the best herbs for turkey, as well as some of our favorite ideas for using them.
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What herbs go best with turkey?
Roasted turkey is a classic dish, and it’s become a staple for holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. One of the most important steps in preparing a roasted turkey is to get the seasoning right.
Turkey is best when seasoned with lots of fresh herbs since they add to the meat’s mild flavor. And because the flavor of turkey is mild, it works well with lots of different herb combinations.
Make your own flavorful turkey seasoning or homemade turkey rub using fresh or dried herbs. You could use a classic herb mix recipe like herbs de Provence, or get creative and craft your own signature blend.
To get you started, here are some of the best traditional herbs that go with turkey. You can use any of these or a combination (they all work together), to create your ideal turkey herb seasoning mix.
Best herbs for turkey
Rosemary is a traditional herb that pairs well with turkey. The sharp, piney notes of rosemary go very well with poultry (and most meats actually). Rosemary is guaranteed to add a Christmassy aroma to your house during cooking, getting everyone in the festive mood!
If using fresh rosemary, the leaves need to be stripped off the stems before using.
To use rosemary for seasoning turkey, either finely chop and mix with butter, use in a seasoning rub, and/or place whole sprigs of rosemary inside the cavity.
Thyme is another traditional holiday turkey seasoning herb. It has a delicate and woody flavor that’s a good match for turkey, but it also works well with other poultry, meats, and vegetables.
Lemon thyme is a variety of thyme with citrus notes to its flavor. This is a great match for turkey because citrus is another flavor that goes really well with turkey.
To use thyme or lemon thyme to season your turkey, strip the leaves from the stems, finely chop and mix with butter or use in a seasoning rub. You can also place whole sprigs of thyme inside the cavity to boost flavor from the inside.
Sage is another classic herb that people think of at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The peppery, slightly lemony flavor pairs well with turkey (and all poultry), and is said to reduce the slightly sour taste that turkey can sometimes have.
Make sure you remove the leaves from the tough stalks first before finely chopping and adding to seasoning rubs, herb butter, or inside the turkey cavity. You can also use dried rubbed sage instead of fresh if you don’t have any fresh sage to hand.
4. Bay leaves
Bay leaves have a fresh, fruity (almost minty) flavor. They are generally used dried and whole. Bay has a subtle aroma, but adds another level of flavor to the dish, and is best used in combination with other herbs.
When seasoning a turkey, bay leaves are generally used by placing a few into the turkey cavity during roasting so that the flavor infuses into the bird from the inside.
Parsley is a classic herb used in many types of cuisine. Parsley is valued for its role in blending other flavors, so use it in combination with other herbs for best results.
If using fresh parsley, flat-leaf parsley (or Italian parsley) is typically preferred over curly parsley, as it has a stronger, richer flavor.
Finely chop parsley and add to herb seasoning mix or compound butter. If you’re looking for a more intense flavor, try adding some of the stems as well.
Oregano has a mild sweet, aromatic flavor, similar to sweet basil. This herb is great with turkey, and pairs well with garlic, lemon, and pepper.
Use oregano in a herb seasoning rub, or a compound butter.
Tarragon has a pungent, almost licorice flavor, and goes with dishes containing vegetables like tomatoes, onions, and peppers.
To use, chop the leaves finely, or add whole springs to the cavity of the turkey while it is roasting.
This herb has a woody pine and citrus flavor. It is related to oregano but has a sweeter flavor profile.
Finely chop fresh marjoram and then add to the turkey towards the end of cooking to preserve the delicate flavor.
Yes I know, garlic isn’t a herb, but it is (IMO) so essential for seasoning turkey that I thought I would include it on this list anyway.
Whether you use freshly crushed garlic cloves, garlic powder, garlic salt, or just throw a whole bulb in to roast with the turkey, find a way to add some garlic to your turkey seasoning, your taste buds will thank you!
Ways to season turkey with herbs
You can select your favorite herbs from the list above, and use them to season your turkey in a few different ways, depending on your choice of cooking method.
Make a seasoning rub
To make a herb turkey seasoning rub, either use dried herbs or finely chopped fresh herbs. Add some salt and pepper, and other seasonings if you like (try onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, or chili pepper flakes).
To use a seasoning rub, drizzle the turkey with olive oil, then sprinkle the herb seasoning mix over the top and rub it into the skin.
You can also rub some inside the cavity and under the skin to ensure the herbs are well infused into your turkey.
Ideally, and if you have enough room in your refrigerator, you should refrigerate the bird for around 24 hours to allow the flavors to really infuse into the meat.
I have included a recipe for my favorite herb turkey seasoning mix below.
Make a herb butter
One of my favorite ways to season turkey is to make a herb compound butter. To do this, simply mash the chopped or dried herbs with cubes of butter and a little salt.
Then you can either refrigerate the butter until it is firm and place slices of it under the turkey skin, or just slather the butter over the top of the turkey.
Like with using a herb seasoning mix, it is best if the turkey is seasoned a day ahead of time and allowed to infuse in the refrigerator for 24 hours before roasting.
>> Related post: Compound butter for turkey
Fill the cavity
Seasoning your turkey liberally is the key to making it taste extra delicious at Thanksgiving. A great way to add some extra herb flavor to your bird is to fill the cavity with a small bundle of your favorite herbs.
Halved or sliced lemon is also a good addition. This will infuse flavor into the meat from the inside, ensuring that every slice is perfectly seasoned.
- 3 teaspoons rosemary 
- 3 teaspoons thyme 
- 2 teaspoons sage 
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon paprika
If using fresh herbs:
Make right before you need to use it, or up to 2 hours ahead of time, and store in the refrigerator until needed.
- Rinse the herbs under cool water and pat dry with paper towels.
- Strip the leaves from the stems, and finely chop. Discard the stems.
- Then simply mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl.
- You can make this recipe a few hours ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator until needed.
If using dried herbs:
You can make this herb mix ahead of time and store it in an air-tight container in a cool dark place until needed.
- Place all the ingredients in a small jar with an air-tight lid. Invert the jar a few times to mix the herbs together thoroughly.
- Store in a cool dark place. The seasoning mix should keep for up to 3 months (though this depends on how new your dried herbs were).
- Use fresh or dried. If using dried sage, choose rubbed sage.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 3Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 126mgCarbohydrates: 1gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g
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