Add this one ingredient when cooking your Thanksgiving turkey for a major boost of unexpected flavor and texture.

By Ananda Eidelstein
November 06, 2018

Traditions are hard to break. It’s a nostalgic experience serving up and eating the same holiday dishes every year. Yet people still want twists to pique their interest and awaken their taste buds, whether the Thanksgiving turkey gets a slight makeover or the pumpkin pie skips the oven. In this case, this year’s Thanksgiving turkey won’t divert too far from tradition, but one sneaky ingredient will bring so much flavor to the table and keep the meat so juicy and tender that it might just become the Thanksgiving turkey recipe you’ll be making for years to come.

That simple ingredient available at any grocery store is—wait for it—pepperoni. Pepperoni can do way more than sit on top of a slice of pizza. This Italian salami made of pork and beef is generously seasoned with black and red pepper, so it’s no surprise it can yield an immense amount of flavor to a piece of meat like a Thanksgiving turkey (which is often considered dry and bland).

But the magic continues in this Pepperoni-Butter Turkey and Gravy recipe when pepperoni and butter come together. Sliced pepperoni goes into the food processor with fresh rosemary until it almost turns into a paste. Then, softened butter gets added. The resulting pepperoni butter gets stuffed under the turkey skin not just for flavor, but to improve the texture of the meat for a very juicy Thanksgiving turkey.

It’s easy to see how pepperoni can provide so much flavor–but there’s another secret that explains how pepperoni can improve the texture of your Thanksgiving turkey. It's called barding. Barding is a classic culinary technique in which meat is wrapped in fatty meat (think bacon) to retain moisture and prevent overcooking. The fatty meat (pepperoni butter in this case) surrounds the main-event meat (Thanksgiving turkey) and naturally bastes the meat as it cooks. The turkey skin adds an extra layer of protection so the meat stays juicy and flavorful while the skin crisps to golden brown perfection.

To stuff the pepperoni butter under the skin, start with the turkey breast facing up. Starting from the neck end, slide fingers under the skin to loosen and lift until you reach the end of the breast, being careful not to tear or totally detach the skin. Use a rubber spatula to help loosen harder-to-reach places, if necessary. Use the same technique for the thighs and legs. Then, gently rub the pepperoni butter evenly under the skin of breast, thighs, and legs, grabbing that rubber spatula to get into hard-to-reach places again. Pat down on top of the skin to help smooth out the pepperoni butter and distribute it evenly under the skin. For the full recipe and method, head here.

This recipe will surely lead to the most exciting Thanksgiving turkey you've tried in years. Here are more tips for a smooth (and delicious!) Thanksgiving and a list of the tools you need to pull the holiday off like a champ. Just don’t forget the pie.