Experimenting with tea as a spice rub for your turkey

As the holiday season nears, many of us look back to family traditions.  So even as a nominal vegetarian, I’ve ordered a free-range turkey, and am experimenting with salt-rubbed poultry techniques, since that’s the way my Mom prepared our amazing Thanksgiving turkeys.  They were moist and tasty, without fail.  Amidst the brined turkey recipes rage, her salt-rubbed technique seems so much easier, and yields a more tender meat than I’ve ever achieved with brining.  And who wouldn’t welcome a few less stressful hours in preparing the holiday feast – giving us more time to sip some tea – or tea-infused beer – on the holiday?!

Roasted Turkey

Each generation might add their own twist to the traditional recipes, and my addition, of course, involves loose-leaf tea.  Thanks to its tannin content, tea is known for its meat-tenderizing qualities.  Two of my three techniques use real tea, and the third uses an herbal mate blend.  Each resulted in very flavorful meat, and all are entirely different. Interestingly enough, my favorite is the one I threw into the mix out of whimsy, and thought from the beginning would flop – the green jasmine salt rub!

Tea-Rubbed Roast Turkey

Salt-rubbing a turkey is the easiest way you can go!  The prep is less than a half hour, although you do need to start the Monday before Thanksgiving – as well as clear space in your refrigerator.

Prep Time: Less than 30 minutes; Refrigeration time: 3 days; Roasting time: about 3 hours


  • One 15-pound turkey
  • Ingredients for salt rub (choose one of the three options below
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter

Three Tea+Salt Rub Blend Options

Green  Jasmine Salt Rub: 1/2 cup kosher salt or sea salt, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup Green Jasmine Petals organic tea leaves, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary

Smoky Salt Rub: 1/2 cup kosher salt or sea salt, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons organic Lapsang Souchong tea leaves, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Tangy Salt Rub: 1/2 cup kosher salt or sea salt, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup Mate Limon Chai organic tea leaves, 1.5 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper


Combine the salt rub ingredients and crush with a mortar and pestle.  Remove everything from inside the turkey cavity, and rinse – inside and out.  Pat the turkey dry.  Sprinkle about 1/4 of the salt rub inside the cavity, and with the rest of the rub, coat the entire exterior of the turkey well.  Cover the turkey tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 3 days.  Turn it over once a day.  You’ll see liquid accumulating in the plastic.


To roast the turkey, first pat it dry, then rub it with olive oil or melted butter, inside and out.  You don’t need to stuff it, but if you choose to, stuff it lightly.  You don’t need to baste it either.  Begin roasting the turkey, uncovered, at 450 degrees F to brown it and seal in the juices.  After a half hour or so, and once you see it browning, cover the turkey lightly with foil and reduce the heat to 325 degree F to cook it through, about 2.5 to 3 hours, until a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the bird shows 165 degrees F.  Uncover the turkey for last 20-30 minutes of roasting.

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