Thanksgiving Turkey Taste Test with Three Marinades

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test run turkey legs

What’s Up, Hungry People?

Now, I know what you’re thinking – why on earth would someone do a ‘test run turkey’ before the big day? Well, let me tell you, it’s like a dress rehearsal for your taste buds. It’s your chance to sidestep the holiday hullabaloo and nail down that perfect recipe that’ll make your Aunt Carol ask for seconds (and maybe even thirds).

Whether you’re hosting for the first time or just tired of playing poultry roulette, a practice turkey helps you sort out the timings, tweak the seasonings, and avoid the dreaded dry bird disaster. Plus, let’s be real – more turkey trials mean more turkey dinners, and who’s going to argue with that?

Feeling the Thanksgiving pressure? Don’t fret, because I’m dishing out the details on how to whip up a turkey that’ll make you the talk of the town—well, at least the dinner table.

marinades for turkey

The Thanksgiving Game Plan

Don’t wait until the eleventh hour to decide how you’ll tackle your turkey. Take a leaf out of my book and give it a whirl before the big day. Trust me, it’s a game changer.

Last year, I did my first ever test run turkey and tried out a cayenne honey glaze. This year I decided to up the ante and cook THREE different marinades, especially because this is the first year where Thanksgiving will be held in my own home!

turkey legs marinating

Brine Like a Boss

Here’s What You Need: a tried-and-true brine. My go-to is the Pioneer Woman’s recipe—never fails. This year, though, I zeroed in on the glaze. Each set of turkey legs lounged in their glaze for an hour at room temperature before they hit the oven.

Spicy Cranberry Apple Glaze

cranberry turkey legs

Ingredients: Butter, cranberry juice, apple cider, cayenne pepper, brown sugar, fresh cranberries (optional), salt, and pepper.

This glaze is a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, blending classic autumnal flavors with a punch of heat that’ll wake up every last one of your taste buds. It’s like Thanksgiving and Mardi Gras had a baby, and that baby is delicious. The cranberry and apple lend a tart sweetness, while the cayenne pepper kicks it up a notch, offering a fiery contrast. It’s a nod to those traditional cranberry dishes we all know but with a twist that’ll make your turkey the talk of the town.

Classic Garlic Herb

garlic turkey legs

Ingredients: Butter, thyme, parsley, basil, stuffing mix.

Here’s to the purists, the traditionalists, the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” crowd. This garlic herb glaze is a homage to the timeless Thanksgiving turkey. With herbs plucked right from the garden’s last stand, it’s as fresh as it gets. Think of it as a classic rock hit—it never goes out of style, and everyone knows the words (or in this case, the flavors). It’s your grandma’s turkey, only better (shh, don’t tell her I said that).

Honey Ginger & Soy

baked turkey legs

Ingredients: Butter, honey, soy sauce, Chinese five spice, salt, and pepper.

And now for something completely different. This marinade pulls its zesty character from Asian-inspired flavors, creating a sweet and savory profile that’ll make your turkey leg stand out from the crowd. Honey for smooth sweetness, ginger for a little zing, and soy sauce for that umami depth—this trio brings your turkey into uncharted, but absolutely delicious territories. It’s like taking your taste buds on a roundtrip flight to Asia, no passport needed.

Each of these marinades brings its own story, its own culture, and its own set of flavors to the table. Whether you’re craving something spicy, something traditional, or something out of the ordinary, these glazes have got you covered. Now, who’s ready to give these birds a bath?

Here’s What You Need:

  • Turkey leg: The star of the dish; provides a rich, meaty base for the glazes.
  • Butter: Adds richness and helps browning; carries flavors of marinades.
  • Cranberry juice: Offers tartness, complements turkey in the cranberry glaze.
  • Apple cider: Sweet and tangy; brings out the fruity flavors in the cranberry glaze.
  • Cayenne pepper: Gives the cranberry glaze a spicy kick.
  • Brown sugar: Adds a touch of sweetness and aids caramelization.
  • Fresh cranberries: Optional for tartness and sauce-like consistency; festive.
  • Salt & pepper: Seasoning essentials; enhance all other flavors.
  • Thyme: Earthy and slightly minty, pairs well with turkey.
  • Parsley: Fresh, light taste; adds color and balances rich flavors.
  • Basil: Sweet and aromatic, complements the garlic herb mix.
  • Stuffing mix: Adds texture and absorbs flavors; provides traditional taste.
  • Water: Needed to moisten stuffing mix for optimal texture.
  • Honey: Natural sweetener; creates a sticky, caramelized exterior.
  • Soy sauce: Umami depth; balances honey’s sweetness in the glaze.
  • Chinese five spice: Warm, aromatic spice blend that enhances the honey ginger soy marinade.

Tips for a Test Run Turkey:

  • Balance Your Flavors: Experiment with the amount of cayenne pepper and Chinese five spice. Each spice pack can vary in intensity, so start with less and add to taste.
  • Marinade Matters: Allowing the turkey legs to sit in the marinade for longer than an hour can deepen the flavors, but be mindful of the salt content in the soy sauce marinade to avoid over-seasoning.
  • Room Temperature Rule: Bringing your turkey legs to room temperature before roasting ensures even cooking. However, limit this to no more than an hour for food safety.
  • Basting Basics: Baste with the reserved melted butter halfway through cooking for a juicier, more golden-brown skin.
  • Resting Is Crucial: Rest your cooked turkey legs for at least ten minutes before serving to allow the juices to redistribute. This results in a moist, succulent meat.
  • Stuffing Strategy: If you prefer a crisper stuffing texture, consider baking it outside the turkey in a separate dish. This allows for maximum crispness without overcooking the turkey leg.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Alright, Hungry People, let’s wrap this up with some turkey talk. Whether you’re a fan of that spicy kick, a traditionalist at heart, or ready to mix it up with a hint of Asian flair, these marinades are your ticket to a fantastic Thanksgiving feast. Remember, the real secret to a great test run turkey is not just about choosing the right glaze but also about embracing the quirks of your oven and getting that timing just right. Experiment away, and who knows? Your test run might just take center stage this holiday season. Keep those basters ready, trust your taste buds, and let’s make this Thanksgiving one for the books. Enjoy!

turkey trial

How to Make Test Run Turkey Legs

The Starving Chef
Savor a turkey leg three ways with bold cranberry, classic garlic herb, and sweet honey ginger soy glazes.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 2 hours
Course Thanksgiving
Cuisine American, Holidays
Servings 3



  • 8 oz turkey leg
  • 4 tablespoons butter melted
  • 2 tablespoons cranberry juice
  • 4 tablespoons apple cider
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • ½ cup fresh cranberries optional
  • salt & pepper to taste


  • 8 oz turkey leg
  • 4 tablespoons butter melted
  • 3 teaspoons thyme
  • 3 teaspoons parsley
  • 3 teaspoons basil
  • ½ cup stuffing mix + water as needed per instructions on box


  • 8 oz turkey leg
  • 4 tablespoons butter melted
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon Chinese five spice
  • salt & pepper to taste


  • Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a shallow roasting dish with foil, creating three separate sections to allow enough room for each turkey leg. If using, place the cranberries in one section and the stuffing mix, prepared with water as needed, in another. Position the turkey legs in each section, avoiding touching the sides, if possible.
  • Season the turkey legs with salt and pepper if using the Spicy Cranberry Glaze or Honey Ginger Soy. In three separate bowls, whisk together the ingredients for each marinade—including the brown sugar in the Spicy Cranberry Glaze, and the salt and pepper for the respective glazes.
  • Pour the marinades over the turkey legs, ensuring they are completely covered. Brush each leg with the reserved tablespoon of melted butter.
  • Roast the legs, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Brush on the remaining melted butter and continue to cook until the internal temperature of the legs reaches 160°F and the skins are golden brown.
  • Allow the legs to rest for ten minutes prior to serving. Enjoy!
Keyword marinade, turkey
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