Spice-Rubbed Turkey


Confession time:

I’m terrible at roasting birds.

In my life, I’ve made one Thanksgiving turkey (successful), roasted duck (disastrous in process; delicious to eat), and one roasted chicken.

So much as I’d like to lay some major hard-won wisdom on you about how to roast  totally kickass Thanksgiving turkey, I’ve got nothing… except my reliance on Cook’s Illustrated. The year I made a gorgeous T-Giving turkey was the year I followed Cook’s Illustrated instructions. CI introduced me to the magic of brining, and if you’re wondering: Yes, it’s totally worth the added hassle. And don’t skip their “drying, uncovered, in the refrigerator” step — that’s what makes the skin crispy!

This year, I’m trying their recipe for Spice-Rubbed Roast Turkey. Here is it, in case you want to give it a go, too.

Spice-Rubbed Roast Turkey

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Turkey & brine
  • 2 cups table salt

  • 1 turkey (12 to 14 pounds gross weight), rinsed thoroughly, giblets, neck, and tailpiece discarded

Spice rub
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds (or 2 teaspoons ground coriander)

  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds (or 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin)

  • 2 teaspoons mustard seeds (or 1 teaspoon dry mustard)

  • 3 tablespoons sweet paprika

  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger

  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coconut oil, melted


Dissolve salt in 2 gallons cold water in large stockpot or clean bucket. Add turkey and refrigerate 4 to 6 hours.


Meanwhile, if using whole spices, toast coriander, cumin, and mustard seeds in small skillet over medium heat, shaking pan occasionally, until fragrant and wisps of smoke appear, 3 to 5 minutes. Cool mixture to room temperature, then grind to fine powder in dedicated coffee grinder or spice grinder or with mortar and pestle. Transfer mixture to small bowl, stir in paprika, ginger, thyme, cayenne, cinnamon,and allspice; cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.


Remove turkey from brine and rinse under cool running water. Pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Place turkey breast-side up on flat wire rack set over rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan and refrigerate, uncovered, 8 to 24 hours.


Mix 1-tablespoon spice rub with coconut oil and set aside. Remove turkey from refrigerator and wipe away any water collected in baking sheet; set turkey on baking sheet. Carefully separate skin from breast meat and rub oil/spice rub mixture directly onto breast meat. Rub 3 tablespoons dry spice rub inside turkey cavity. Apply remaining spice rub to turkey, beginning with back-side up and finishing with breast-side up, pressing and patting to make spices adhere, and picking up and reapplying any spice rub that falls onto baking sheet. Tuck wings behind back and tie ends of drumsticks together with twine. Set turkey on wire rack, set wire rack on baking sheet, and refrigerate, uncovered, 6 to 24 hours.


Adjust oven rack to lowest position; heat oven to 400 degrees. Place V-rack in large roasting pan and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set turkey breast-side down on V-rack. Reapply any spice rub that has fallen off. Roast 45 minutes.


Remove roasting pan with turkey from oven; using thick wads of paper towels or potholders, rotate turkey leg/wing-side up. Roast 15 minutes longer. Remove roasting pan with turkey from oven; using thick wads of paper towels or potholders, rotate turkey second leg/wing-side up. Roast 15 minutes longer.


Remove roasting pan with turkey from oven; using thick wads of paper towels or potholders, rotate turkey breast-side up. Roast until thickest part of breast registers 165 degrees and thickest part of thigh registers 170 to 175 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 30 to 45 minutes longer. Transfer turkey to carving board; let rest 20 to 30 minutes. Carve and serve.

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  • Kathryn says:

    That sounds yummy, and I plan to alter it to accomodate the use of a roasting bag. I’ve used one for years to cook a 20+ lb. bird and it never fails me and I’m kind of attached to it. I’m gonna rub the bird, without brining, and see how it goes. I’ll let you know!

  • Ruby says:

    I would love to try this recipe, but as thanksgiving will only be my husband and I this year, we are thinking instead of buying a couple of turkey breasts and stuffing those instead of a whole bird. Am I still able to brine individual breast pieces? How much water should I use instead of two gallons this recipe calls for? Thanks!

  • Tricia says:

    If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend the book All About Roasting by Molly Stevens. Everything you ever wanted to know about roasting with enough “why” behind it to satisify the food/science geek.

    • Mel says:

      Thanks for the tip! Sounds awesome… and added to my Xmas list!

      • Elizabeth says:

        Her book All About Braising was my Xmas gift last year and is also awesome. Braised moose roast, yum! Like CI, she includes lots of instructions and info as to the “why” of doing certain things!

  • Becky says:

    Brining is totally worth it! My former roommate worked magic with turkey breasts: let dethaw (for 2-3 days, really) in a brine of various liquids (orange juice, cider) and spices, pat dry, wrap in bacon and roast. The exact recipe varied year to year, but they were consistently the best turkeys I’ve ever eaten.

  • Melodie says:

    This is a super easy trick I learned from my mom… do not throw all the extra “pieces” of the turkey into the trash! Instead, put them in a container in the freezer and when you have amassed enough parts, make stock. It’s simple, easy and less wasteful! Plus, it’s delicious!

  • mspickle says:

    So, I just realized I won’t be home to take the turkey out of the brine by the 4-6 hour window. More like 10. Too long? I can make my husband come come and take it out if necessary.

  • Donna says:

    Since I bought Well Fed less than a year ago I have made Best Chicken Over more times than I can count and it is absolutely my favorite chicken recipe. That said I have a few whole chickens in the freezer that need to be cooked..No matter the recipe I use they end up dry…would it work with the Best chicken ever recipe or this one here for turkey? any modifications that you would recommend?

    • I have two ideas for you:
      1. You can brine a whole chicken. Double the brining ingredients in my recipe and let the chicken brine 4 hours or overnight.

      2. This is how I roast my whole chickens; it usually means tender breasts AND dark meat. Combine 1 tablespoon salt, 2 teaspoons lemon pepper, and 1 teaspoon paprika, then rub it all over the outside of the chicken. Throw a little inside the cavity with a few slices of lemon. Roast at 450F, breast-side down for 25 minutes. Flip the chicken breast-side up and roast 25 minutes, then reduce heat to 250F and roast for 60-90 minutes, until the wings easily pull away and juices run clear when you poke the thigh and breast.

  • Donna says:

    Thank you so much!! I brined it yesterday for 4-6 hours and used the rub pretty much as above minus coconut oil since I was out the lemons and lemon pepper…It was absolutely the Best roasted chicken I have ever made! Your cooking instructions were completely different than anyI have used before and the chicken came out AMAZING!!!