How to Make the Crispiest-Skinned Turkey

To fully flavor the turkey skin and make it especially crispy, push very thin layers of cured lardo ​beneath the bird’s skin.

Lardo-Crisped Roasted Turkey

Greg Dupree / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Christine Keely

Active Time:
45 mins
Refrigerate Time:
12 hrs
Total Time:
15 hrs 35 mins
10 to 12 servings

To make turkey skin extra feast-​worthy, I like to push very thin layers of cured lardo — ​or, alternatively, seasoned slices of fresh pork fatback — ​beneath the skin. The pork fat has two important jobs. First, it protects the breast meat from drying out in the tanning bed that is your oven. Theoretically, shoving cold butter under the breast skin should do the same thing, but in real life, the butter melts within the first 20 minutes and runs down between the legs of the turkey. Subdermal fatback, on the other hand, softens but doesn’t melt; it self-​bastes the turkey for the duration. More important, though, fatback doesn’t contain any water, as butter does, which means that the skin will fry in both directions, from the top and the underside, and become as light and flaky as a wafer. Basically, the fatback turns the skin into one giant chicharrón.

As I see it, there are two keys to the kingdom when it comes to feeling like you’ve won Thanksgiving: doing your best not to overcook the turkey and making a nice rich, runny gravy. You’ll never regret the time you take during the rush of pulling the whole meal together to stand at the stove and carefully scrape up all of the accumulated bits of caramelized meat and juice stuck to the bottom of the roasting pan with your wooden spoon.

Frequently asked questions

What kind of turkey is best? 

For the best turkey flavor, look for a heritage turkey. These tend to be slow-growing breeds that develop richer, more concentrated flavor on smaller frames. Many butcher shops and grocery stores (like Whole Foods) will carry heritage turkeys around the holidays. You can also mail-order heritage turkeys.

What wine should I pair with Lardo-Crisped Roast Turkey?

A dark-berried, supple Pinot Noir, like Alma de Cattleya Sonoma County, is the perfect match for this richly flavored roast turkey.

Notes from the Food & Wine Test Kitchen 

You can often find frozen uncured fatback from pig farmers at the farmers market, or buy cured lardo from a butcher shop. If you don’t have access to either, substitute bacon fat or even rendered lard or duck fat — any kind of dense animal fat will bring the same crisping magic to turkey skin.


  • 1 (12- to 14-pound) fresh whole turkey

  • 4 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt, divided

  • 1 tablespoon black pepper, divided

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, plus 3 thyme sprigs, divided, plus more for garnish

  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 8 cloves), plus 6 smashed garlic cloves, divided

  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest, plus 1 halved lemon (preferably Meyer lemon), divided, plus more lemon halves for garnish

  • 3 ounces lardo or fatback, thinly sliced using a mandoline

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

  • 1 sweet onion, quartered

  • 2 fresh bay leaves, plus more for garnish


  1. Fit a wire rack inside a roasting pan. Place turkey, breast side up, on wire rack. Run your fingers under breast and thigh skin to loosen from meat. Sprinkle turkey all over with 4 teaspoons salt and 21/2 teaspoons pepper, rubbing into skin, around joints, and inside cavity. Sprinkle turkey skin all over with 4 teaspoons chopped thyme, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, and 2 teaspoons lemon zest. Refrigerate, uncovered, at least 12 hours or up to 36 hours. (If refrigerating more than 12 hours, cover turkey with plastic wrap; uncover for final 12 hours of refrigerating to let the skin air-dry.)

  2. Stir together lardo, 1/2 tablespoon oil, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper, remaining 2 teaspoons chopped thyme, remaining 1 tablespoon minced garlic, and remaining 1 teaspoon lemon zest in a medium bowl. Mix together with your hands until lardo is fully coated in seasoning. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use or up to 36 hours.

  3. Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in bottom third of oven. Remove turkey from refrigerator, and blot with paper towels to remove any excess moisture. Push seasoned lardo slices underneath turkey skin, covering breast meat with a single layer and placing remaining slices over thigh meat. Bend the turkey wings back at the elbow, and tuck them behind the back. Insert 1 lemon half into turkey cavity; add onion, thyme sprigs, smashed garlic cloves, and bay leaves. Insert remaining lemon half. Crisscross turkey legs at the ankles (the ends of the drumsticks), and tie together using kitchen twine. Rub turkey skin all over with remaining 11/2 tablespoons oil.

  4. Roast turkey in preheated oven 45 minutes. Remove from oven, and brush turkey with pan juices. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F. Return turkey to oven, and roast, basting with pan juices every 20 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest portion of thigh registers 160°F and skin is crispy and dark golden brown, about 2 hours.

  5. Remove turkey from oven, and transfer to a platter. Garnish with thyme sprigs, lemon halves, and bay leaves; let turkey rest 20 minutes before carving.

This recipe is adapted with permission from Company: The Radically Casual Art of Cooking for Others, by Amy Thielen.

Originally appeared in Food & Wine magazine, November 2023

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