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What is Poultry Seasoning?

By Nick Doniger
Updated May 17, 2024
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Poultry seasoning refers to any mix of herbs, spices, oils, and other flavorings that may be applied to turkey, chicken, cornish hens, duck, game birds, or goose. Such seasonings, often including ingredients like thyme and sage, may be used as a dry rub, mixed with liquids into a baste, or added to a bread-based stuffing. When poultry seasoning is added inside of a bird rather than directly onto the skin, the actual meat will be flavored more intensely. Poultry seasoning usually refers to types of seasonings applied to a whole bird or bone-in segments, rather than chunks of meat used in stews, soups, or salads.

A typical poultry seasoning consists of a blend of herbs and spices, often applied as a dry rub. Such a rub may either be used for roasting in an oven or barbecuing. Most poultry seasoning rubs include thyme, sage, rosemary, salt, and pepper, and could also include marjoram, ground clove, nutmeg, parsley, or basil. Different herbs and spices are likely to vary greatly by country or culture. Generally, such blends of herbs and spices are applied less liberally than other types of dry rubs due to the potent and pungent nature of the herbs used.

Basting is often performed as a poultry seasoning for larger birds, such as turkey, that tend to dry out easily over a long cooking period. The same herbs and spices used in a poultry dry rub may be mixed with liquids such as vinegar, brandy, or orange juice. The addition of oil, most typically olive oil, will also help the bird from drying out. Fats, such as those found naturally in meat or in oils and butter, keep meat moist over long cooking periods.

Sometimes poultry seasoning is applied to a stuffing to be put into a bird, which is also quite typical of turkey or goose. This method allows the meat to be seasoned from the inside, as well as providing a well seasoned side dish. Standard stuffing is comprised of bread pieces, celery, and onions mixed with spices. Additives such as sausage and chestnuts may also be present in stuffing, particularly in traditional Thanksgiving Day stuffing in the United States.

Aromatics such as bunched herbs, lemon wedges, small onions, or garlic cloves can also be stuffed into the cavity of a chicken or other small bird. This is another type of poultry seasoning which ensures that the meat is flavored all the way through, as some seasonings and spices may not penetrate far past the skin. Garlic cloves and herbed butter may also be applied directly under the skin rather than simply above it.

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Discussion Comments

By Scrbblchick — On Feb 11, 2014

In my opinion, a good poultry seasoning includes a healthy amount of sage and marjoram. These two herbs just bring out all the flavors in poultry and poultry seasoning is one of my favorite spice blends.

I use it for chicken soup, cornbread dressing, chicken pie and chicken casserole, as well as for baked or roasted chicken.

One good thing to do for chicken breasts is brush them with olive oil, add a little salt, pepper and poultry seasoning and then roast the breasts for about 20-30 minutes or until they're done. The oil keeps the meat juicy and the seasonings stay on during the cooking process.

Poultry seasoning is one of those pantry essentials.

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