The Best-ever Thanksgiving Turkey Starts With a Surprising Pantry Ingredient

November 18, 2023
3 mins read

Thanksgiving is nearly here, and the run-up to the feast is all about selecting the right combination of sides (mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and rolls?), choosing the right dessert for your crowd (it’s gotta be pie) and making sure the turkey comes out of the oven moist, delicious and gorgeously golden. 

When roasting a turkey, many people go the butter route, tucking it both under and on top of the skin. And while that’s a delicious method, we have a better, easier solution for you: mayo. 

While you’re likely spreading mayo on your leftover turkey sandwich, did you consider using the creamy condiment on your roast turkey, too? The method became popular a few years ago and celeb chef, cookbook author and Master Chef finalist Nick DiGiovanni was one of the main folks to bring the method to home cooks. We sat down with him recently to talk turkey—and all things holiday cooking—and the unorthodox method came up. 

“I would say my family keeps the Thanksgiving meal fairly classic, although I’ve been roasting a turkey with mayonnaise for a
couple of years now and I love it,” he said. “I get a lot of crazy looks, but I think it’s great. It gives the turkey a really unique almost creamy flavor.” It’s also easier to coat a turkey in mayo than in butter or oil. “The butter, if it’s melted, it’s going to fall off,” he says. “If the oil, there’s not going to be enough on there, but the mayonnaise, it just perfectly coats the bird and you can see it.”

And DiGiovanni isn’t the only fan of this method. New York Times contributor J. Kenji López-Alt created a mayo-roasted turkey for the Times last year, and none other than Kevin Bacon made it for his Turkey Day feast. They all say that mayo adds great flavor, keeps the meat moist and tender and helps with browning. Plus, it’s super easy to apply, unlike slippery softened butter. 

Need more convincing? If you search “roast turkey recipe mayo” on TikTok you’ll get tons of videos and see that the term has more than 220 million views. To encourage you to take the plunge, we quizzed DiGiovanni about the method so you’ll have all the tips and tricks you need should you decide to give it a shot this year (and you totally should).

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Top Tips for Making a Mayo-Roasted Turkey

While DiGiovanni waxed poetic about mayo-roasted turkeys we took notes. Here’s what you need to know. 

Pat it dry. This is good advice no matter how you’re topping your turkey before roasting. To make sure the mayo or butter or flavorings stick to the bird, start by drying it off well with a paper towel.
Start inside. Before you add anything to the outside of the turkey, tuck some tasty things inside the cavity, so the meat is flavored from the inside out. Last year, Nick added some butter, a halved onion, some large pieces of lemon and dill (or were those fennel fronds?). Carrots, shallots, parsley, thyme, oregano and sage are all other delightful options. Use what you like—and what you have.
• Season the mayo or season the turkey. DiGiovanni says that you can season the turkey and then rub the mayo on the bird or stir the seasoning into the mayo and then slather it on.
• Keep it simple—or spice things up. You can’t go wrong with simple salt and pepper, but this is Thanksgving, so you might want to take things up a notch (or seven). Add your favorite seasoning blend to the mayo, stir in some fresh or dried herbs and/or add a little zing with some lemon zest. 
Add some butter. If all mayo is too much for you, use a 50/50 mix of softened butter and mayo. You can also divide and conquer like DiGiovanni has done in the past. “I’ve done some melted butter or just regular butter that I’ll shove under the skin in between the skin and the meat of the turkey, and then on the outside I’ll put the mayo,” he says. 
Don’t be shy. This is no time to be stingy. You don’t want the mayo to be caked on, but you do want a nice layer. “Mayo is great because you can see where it is,” says DiGiovanni. “It’s almost like putting on sunscreen.” 

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