Herbed Rub for Thanksgiving Turkey

In previous postings I described how to brine a Thanksgiving turkey, and how to roast a Thanksgiving turkey.  Now I describe the step in between those to activities, rubbing an herbed mixture of butter and olive oil under the skin of the turkey.

This step makes the turkey self-basting and imparts delicious flavor to both the turkey itself as well as the pan juices which will go into gravy and possibly soup.

Herbed Rub for Thanksgiving Turkey

The first ingredient in this recipe, Dijon mustard, is listed as optional.  I personally do not care for it because I find the flavor out of place with the traditional Thanksgiving palate.  That said, I have prepared turkeys with the mustard for hundreds of people who swear by it and love it.  You be the judge.

  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard (optional, see note above)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 oz melted butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs lemon zest
  • 2 tsp dry thyme
  • 1 Tbs fresh sage, chopped

Coarsely puree all ingredients in a food processor.

Reserve half the mixture and store in refrigerator.

Rinse turkey and pat dry.  Season inside and out with salt and pepper.  If you followed my brining recipe, remove the orange quarters from the cavity.

Slide your hand under the skin of the turkey to loosen it from the breasts, thighs and drumsticks.  You may need to pierce a small opening with a paring knife but do your best to maintain the integrity of the skin to the bird.

Using your hand, spread the herb mixture under the skin of the turkey.  Spread it evenly over the breast, thighs, and legs.  (You may be surprised at the level of primal satisfaction this delivers!)

When the mixture has been spread evenly under the skin, take the remainder of this half of the mixture and put it in the cavity of the turkey.

Place the bird in a roasting pan and cover the whole thing with a large plastic bag or trash bag.  Store it in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.  (This enables the mixture to work itself into the bird somewhat.  If your schedule does not permit this amount of time, that’s fine.  True, it could have been even better, but your guests will never know.)

At roasting time, spread the second half of the mixture over the outside of the skin, evenly all over the bird.

This bird will now baste itself for the first 90 minutes to 2 hours that it roasts.  The mixture will flavor the pan drippings as well as the skin and flesh.  Be prepared, this is going to be a really great meal!



  1. I’m happy to have discovered your interesting blog. The mustard is an Unusal ingredient which I love. I tend to agree with you that the flavor might overpower the flavor of turkey.

    1. Looks like I already have one! Thank you Elise, I will repair those right now, and will post the Pumpkin Soup with Pumpkin Seed Pesto recipe right after Thanksgiving. In fact, when I do I will bring over a sample!

    2. I wonder if the “palate” vs. “palette” question is up for debate? Palate is certainly the right word when referring to the roof of one’s mouth, or more figuratively, one’s preferred tastes. A wine might be said to be too delicate for one’s palate.

      Palette, on the other hand, is the board a painter uses to mix colors in a painting. In my use of the word (which I have changed to “palate” I was referring to the mixture of flavors for the herb butter.

      Can I make the argument that either was correct? Thoughts?

  2. This was my first time hosting Thanksgiving solo–with no supervision of my mom or grandma! This Herb Rub was shared with me–and let me tell you, the guests raved at how delicious the turkey turned out (and the other dishes). They even said, gravy wasn’t necessary with the bountiful flavor! DELICIOUS!

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