Add spice to your Thanksgiving feast with this mouthwatering cajun turkey recipe! This twist on the classic roast turkey is bursting with flavor and heat. Each slice is juicy and pairs nicely with your favorite side dishes.
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A stunning roast turkey is always the star of the holiday table. But if you’re looking for ways to make your Thanksgiving turkey a little more exciting, spice it up! If you like bold, savory, and spicy seasoning, my cajun turkey is for you! It’s sure to impress your hungry family and friends.
My homemade cajun seasoning blend infuses flavor into a butter spread and dry rub. Plus, my special roasting technique for even cooking yields moist and flavorful slices. You can also use the pan drippings to make gravy.
- Turkey: This recipe was designed for a 12 to 14-pound natural or basted turkey. An injection marinade can be applied to a natural bird for extra flavor. If using a larger-sized turkey, cover the skin with foil once it turns golden brown to prevent burning as it finishes cooking.
- Seasoning: Combination of kosher salt, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, thyme, oregano, and cayenne pepper.
- Aromatics: Oranges, onions, garlic, and thyme sprigs are added to the cavity.
- Fat: Softened butter is used to make a cajun butter that you will spread underneath the skin. Olive oil is applied to help create a crispy skin.
- Liquid: Chicken stock or broth is added to the bottom of the roasting pan. The small amount of steam keeps the turkey moist. The liquid prevents the burning of the drippings in the pan. It makes for a tasty base for turkey gravy.
Prepare the turkey
Remove the giblets and the neck from the cavity of the turkey. The giblet pouch is typically underneath the skin in the neck area. If you plan to wet brine or dry brine a natural turkey, make sure to do it at least 1 to 2 days before roasting.
When you’re ready to cook, dry the surface, undersides, and cavity with paper towels. This will help create a crispier skin.
Make cajun butter
If you have all the individual ingredients, use my cajun seasoning recipe. Otherwise, store-bought products can be used conveniently, but the taste profile may differ slightly. For those who want a mild spice level, try creole seasoning instead. You’ll need about ⅓ cup.
Combine two tablespoons of cajun seasoning with ½ cup of room-temperature butter. I like to slather some on warm biscuits or cornbread! Carefully separate the skin away from the breast and thigh meat. Use your hands to spread the cajun butter over the meat beneath the skin. Use it all!
Add more cajun seasoning
Don’t worry; the extra cajun seasoning will not go to waste! Add 1 teaspoon to the cavity and rub it in. Use the remaining seasoning to rub all over the surface. If needed, make a larger batch if you like a lot of seasoning or if you purchase a turkey larger than 14 pounds.
At this point, you can refrigerate the bird for 12 to 24 hours to essentially dry brine it. This will infuse more salt into the meat for a super juicy turkey. Otherwise, you’re ready to truss!
Truss the turkey
Before roasting, there are a few last preparation steps. Tuck the wings back on the turkey. Add the cut oranges, onions, thyme sprigs, and smashed garlic to the cavity. As the fruit, vegetables, and herbs cook, they release sweet, savory juices and add fragrance to the turkey. The pan drippings will be delicious too! Tie the legs together to secure the fillings inside.
If you’re interested in butterflying the cajun turkey for faster cooking, check out this tutorial on how to spatchcock a turkey. I recommend adding the fruit, vegetables, and stock to the roasting pan to prevent burning.
Prepare the roasting rack
Nobody likes dried-out pieces! Add the stock to the bottom of the roasting pan. Line the V-rack with a piece of foil, then pierce it 30 times with a knife to create small vents. Grease the foil to prevent sticking, then add the turkey breast side down.
Roast the turkey
Roast the turkey breast side down at 375ºF (191ºC) for 1 hour. This will cook the backside and thighs, as these areas take the longest. Slip the foil out from underneath the bird and discard.
Carefully flip to the breast side up using paper towels for grip. Brush olive oil on the surface of the breast, wings, and legs. Roast for about 1 to 2 hours, depending on the size. Baste with the pan drippings every 30 minutes for extra seasoning and color. The paprika in the seasoning mix will give a gorgeous golden hue as it roasts. Alternatively, brush on melted butter.
Checking for doneness
I recommend using a meat thermometer to test for doneness. It’s ready when the thickest part of the breast reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC). The thickest part of the thigh should get between 170 to 175ºF (76 to 79ºC). Rest the turkey for about 45 minutes before carving. I like to use the drippings to make a tasty giblet gravy.
Looking to switch up the cajun spiced flavor? Try these tasty suggestions:
- Heat Level: Reduce the amount of cayenne pepper for a milder flavor. Chili powder tends to be less spicy as a replacement. Increase the cayenne to make it hotter. Try chipotle chili powder for a smoky heat.
- Brine or Marinate: Soak the turkey for 24 hours in a salted wet or dry brine. This makes the meat more savory and retains more moisture. Try my chicken marinade for a tangy citrus flavor.
- Vegetable and Fruit: To season the turkey and pan drippings, try adding onions, garlic, carrots, celery, bell peppers, oranges, lemon, lime, or mandarin.
- Herbs: Add thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano, parsley, cilantro, or tarragon to the cavity or roasting pan.
- Buttermilk biscuits
- Sweet cornbread or cornbread muffins
- Cheesy green bean casserole
- Mashed potatoes
- Sweet potato casserole
- Classic stuffing
- Crock-pot stuffing
- Spicy cranberry sauce
Frequently asked questions
Cajun seasoning is spicier than creole seasoning. It contains a higher amount of cayenne pepper, plus paprika, black pepper, and white pepper. Both have savory spices like onion powder and garlic powder. Creole seasoning also features herbs like oregano and thyme. If you prefer a more mild taste, use creole seasoning.
The bird is seasoned with salt, cayenne, paprika, onion and garlic powder, black pepper, thyme, and oregano. Other seasonings can be added to customize the flavor. My recipe uses the mixture to create a flavorful skin on the outside of the turkey and cajun butter to flavor the meat.
Yes! The recipe would work great for a whole roasted chicken, pork loin, pork chops, or shrimp. Adjust the seasoning level based on the size and weight of the poultry or seafood.
Brining the turkey before applying the cajun seasoning
It’s not necessary to brine, but optional. The turkey can be wet or dry brined before adding the cajun seasoning. This will make it saltier in flavor and retain more juices in the meat. Alternatively, season the bird according to the recipe and then refrigerate uncovered for 24 hours for a light brine. Another option is to use salted butter for the cajun butter to increase the salt levels slightly without having to brine. Do not brine pre-basted turkeys like the Butterball brand.
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- Remove Giblets and Neck – Place turkey on a sheet pan. Remove the giblets and the neck from the cavity. Reserve them if used to make gravy. Thoroughly dry the surface and inside the cavity with paper towels.
- Make the Cajun Butter – In a small bowl, add the softened butter and 2 tablespoons of the cajun seasoning, and stir to combine.
- Add the Cajun Butter – Carefully lift the skin from the breast and leg area. Rub the cajun butter underneath the skin, onto the breast and thigh meat.
- Add the Cajun Seasoning – Rub 1 teaspoon of the cajun seasoning into the cavity of the turkey. Evenly rub the remaining cajun seasoning on the skin of the breast, wings, legs, thighs, and back.
- Preheat the Oven – Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position. Preheat to 375ºF (191ºC).
- Truss the Turkey – Tuck the wings back on the turkey. Add oranges, onions, sprigs of thyme, and garlic cloves inside the cavity. Tie the legs together with butcher's twine, or tuck the legs under the skin at the tail if still connected.
- Prepare the Roasting Rack – On the bottom of the roasting pan, add the chicken broth. Place the V-rack inside the pan and then line it with foil. Spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray or grease with vegetable oil to prevent sticking. Use a knife to poke 30 holes in the foil to vent.
- Oil the Surface – Gently brush the oil on the skin of the breasts, wings, legs, and thighs. Place the turkey breast side down on the foil-lined V-rack. Brush the oil over the back, legs, and thighs.
- Roast the Turkey – Roast the turkey for 1 hour, then remove from the oven. Carefully remove the foil and discard it. Use two large wads of paper towel, and tilt the turkey, so the juices drain from the cavity. Then flip it over to be breast-side up.Brush the breast, wings, legs, and thighs with olive oil. Baste with the pan drippings. Roast the turkey, basting every 30 minutes with the drippings. Add more broth or water if the liquid is getting low in the pan. The process will take about 1 to 2 hours, depending on size. If the skin is browning too quickly, loosely tent the areas with foil.This turkey is ready when the thickest part of the breast is 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC), and the thickest part of the thigh reaches 170 to 175ºF (76 to 79ºC).
- Let it Rest – Transfer the turkey to a cutting board and rest it for about 45 minutes before carving. If desired, use the drippings to make a turkey gravy.
- Homemade Cajun Seasoning: 2 tbsp kosher salt, 1 tbsp smoked paprika, 1 ½ tsp garlic powder, 1 ½ tsp onion powder, 1 ½ tsp black pepper, 1 ½ tsp dried oregano, 1 ½ tsp dried thyme, 1 ½ tsp cayenne pepper.
- For More Seasoned Meat: After adding the cajun seasoning and butter to the turkey, place the breast side up in a roasting pan with V-rack or on a wire rack set over a rimmed sheet pan. Refrigerate uncovered for at least 12 to 24 hours. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting.
- Storing: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Freeze for up to 3 months.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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