9 Secrets To Garnishing a Turkey Platter

We’ve already tackled the 6 Secrets to the Perfect Pie Crust and 7 Secrets to the Juiciest Thanksgiving Turkey. Now it’s time to talk about making that turkey pretty on the platter! You put in a lot of effort when preparing a Thanksgiving turkey — roasting it for hours and hours, lifting the heavy pan to rotate the turkey, making sure it doesn’t burn, checking the temperature, etc, etc. All that work and everyone devours it in a matter of minutes? I know. It’s just how things are. Everyone is hungry.

But before guests dig-in, you might want everyone to stop and take a good long gander (pardon the bird pun) and admire that beautiful turkey with its crisp, brown skin and tantalizing juiciness. A well-roasted, heavily browned turkey is a piece of art, no? Norman Rockwell seemed to think so, and I do too.

My advice: think like Martha. Dress up that platter! Gild that lily! Make that turkey pretty! Make those hungry mouths wait just a darn second and admire that 4-5 hour beauty you just (literally) threw your back into.

Here are some ideas to make the turkey platter look extra pretty, whether you’re a food blogger like me, an Insta-maniac, you simply like your food to be attractive, or as I said, you just want everyone to stand back and admire your work.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom
How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom
How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom
How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom
How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom
How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom
Turkey Platters

Let’s begin with talking about platters. You’ll want to keep a few things in mind when selecting which platter to use. The first thing is your personal style. Secret #1: You’ll want a platter that matches what you already have in the way of serving pieces, dishes and flatware. You do not have to take this as seriously as picking out a sofa, but think of a platter that will keep along with a theme — for instance if you have all white dishes and serving bowls, just about any white platter will fit in well. Another example, if your dishes are really modern, an ornate floral platter might look out of place unless you have other pieces to pull together an eclectic look (which is also a great look!). It doesn’t have to be matchy-matchy to look put together.

If you don’t own a giant platter, but you want to, start checking places like thrift stores, TJMaxx, Home Goods, Bed Bath and Beyond, IKEA, and department stores. You can often snag a good one for a good price at this time of year. Another wonderful option is a large cutting board or a nice looking roasting pan. You can dress those up too!

Secret #2: Whichever platter option you choose, make sure it is large enough and can support the weight of a turkey without being too heavy for someone to carry, i.e. you don’t want to be cleaning up turkey off the floor.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

After you pick your platter the real fun begins and you can let your creative side take the reins. Secret #3: These are things you want to start thinking a few days before your dinner so you’re not trying to throw something together at the last minute. Last minute can work too though (said from experience).

There are dozens of ways you can go about garnishing your platter. You may want to begin by thinking about a color scheme first, along with the feeling or mood you want to create. And we’re talking about turkey here, but this advice goes for anytime you’re garnishing a platter or any kind.

Think about things like the time of day you’ll be eating. Later in the evening or the middle of the day? Also, is your table extra fancy with your great-grandmother’s china and real silver, or is it more casual. Are you someone who does things over-the-top, or are you more simple? From there, you can decide which garnishes best suit the look and feel of your Thanksgiving dinner. Here are some examples of creating a mood:

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

The turkey on this simple white platter is garnished with roasted vegetables, mushrooms, pears, and herb sprigs.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

They didn’t cook alongside the turkey, but they could have. You could maybe garnish the turkey this way for a later, possibly candlelit, Thanksgiving dinner.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

Now, if the meal was a little earlier in the day with the sunlight pouring through my windows, you might want something bright and cheery like the platters shown above and below.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

This one on the aqua metal tray is especially lovely because it features fruits and veggies in the colors of the rainbow.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

Now let’s move on to the garnishes themselves. You can garnish your platter with just about anything you can imagine, but here’s a great list (below) of common and very pretty platter garnishes that will make your turkey look extra special.

You can go with garnishes that match the flavors used to season your turkey during brining or that were stuffed inside the turkey as an aromatic. Things like fresh herbs, onions, garlic, and apples. Like I showed above, these could also be roasted vegetables, fruits, and/or mushrooms.

Secret #4: Greenery is a great, fresh garnish to place around the base of the turkey on a platter. Lettuces, kale, leafy herbs, and other salad greens are particularly lovely.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

The platter above starts with an even layer of watercress around the perimeter.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

It looks simple as is, or other things can be added, such as different varieties of citrus fruit.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

Now let’s talk about all of the things to add in for different colors, shapes and textures.

Nuts are a favorite to decorate with at this time of year — the different shades of brown and the contrast of rough and smooth shells. It would be neat to decorate a monochromatic platter using only browns and tans.

red berries, pomegranates, grapes

The pop of color from reds and oranges against the dark brown turkey and the leafy greens is so great. Pomegranates and cranberries are favorite holiday garnishes, but you could also include roasted beets or clusters of grapes.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

The grapes give the feeling of a bounteous feast when mixed with other gorgeous fruits.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

Secret #5: Also you can think about what’s in season. Pick up persimmons and gorgeous satsumas with their leaves still attached. Or little golden apples and winter squash. Take advantage of what’s available to you!

persimmons, squash, yellow apples, satsumas


Fruits and nuts:
pomegranates, cranberries, quince, pears, persimmons, grapes, berries, currants, crab apples, citrus, figs, whole unshelled nuts (almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts), chestnuts (fresh or canned)

squash, root veggies (potatoes, beets, carrots, parsnips. celery root), fennel, onions, garlic

Fresh herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, parsley, etc.), lemon leaves

It kind of goes without saying, but make sure you’ve washed the produce well before you use it on the platter.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

Now let’s talk about how to begin arranging and building the platter. Secret #6: You’ll want to do this in layers. Most of the time, you’ll start with placing the turkey on the platter first. Then I give it a brush of olive oil so it looks fresh. You can do that at the very end too.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

Then you’ll start adding the greens. Here the first layer on the platter is sturdy, dark green lacinato kale.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

Or depending on the kind of green you’re starting with, you might want to place them first and then place the turkey on the platter.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

Once the greenery is basically in place, you can start adding the different elements starting with larger items and ending with the smaller ones. Secret #7: Place them at different and sort of random intervals so it doesn’t look too ordered.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

Other things to think about include the turkey cavity. Secret #8: If the turkey isn’t stuffed, you might want to place something inside so it’s not a gaping hole. An apple, a bunch of herbs, an onion, etc.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

Secret #9: Use some whole and some cut items. Pomegranates are beautiful when they are whole, but cut them open and they are absolutely stunning. Use a nice mix.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom
How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

Don’t be afraid to move the items around and rearrange. Fill in little holes with smaller items. Remove a piece of fruit that’s too large and looks out of place. Add in some texture! Play around and have fun.

Then bring it to the table and delight your family and guests while you bask in their oohs and aahs!

Happy Roasting! Happy Thanksgiving!

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

26 thoughts on “9 Secrets To Garnishing a Turkey Platter”

  1. Your photography is simply stunning. I’d love to be a guest at your home this Thanksgiving! ( or anytime – maybe you could pack me a lunch ;) )

    And I’ve never heard of giving the turkey a final brush of olive oil. I’m going to try that next week.

  2. My oh my. Our Canadian Thanksgiving is past but your turkeys look divine! Lindsey, you have a real craft for making the ordinary seem extraordinary. Although I enjoy all your posts this one really made me pause; to appreciate the art of preparing and serving food for family and friends, stunning but not at all pretentious. Happy Thanksgiving to your and yours.

  3. What a stunner! I always wish we could leave the turkey uncut and styled because it’s simply so damn pretty. I love the layering and those persimmons remind me so much of my Korean mom. She’s the only person who ever gave me a persimmon and I remember loving it so much.

  4. These are lovely – enchantingly lovely – and I totally agree in principle that a feast deserves that kind of care and attention, but I’m puzzled about the logistics.

    I’ve always carved the turkey in the kitchen (or more accurately, I’ve coerced my husband into doing so) and brought it to the table on the platter already carved, since the job takes about twenty minutes and is awfully messy. At your Thanksgiving, does somebody carve the bird at the table with everybody already sitting there and watching them? Isn’t that messy and also a bit stressful for the carver to have an audience? (My husband would certainly not enjoy that.) What does everybody else do during the time it takes? And how do you carve on the platter? Don’t you need a carving/cutting board for quite a few parts of the process?

    Or is the turkey briefly presented and admired, then taken back to the kitchen to be carved while everybody eats a first course? I guess that might work, though I can’t imagine adding an extra course onto the already over-the-top traditional meal.

    I not trying to nitpick – I really want to know, because I’d love to do an artful garnishing like that, but I just can’t picture how it would work in the context of an actual dinner.

    1. Great questions, Anna!

      We’ve done both things in the past. Usually I make the turkey pretty and then take it back to the kitchen. It really is too messy to carve at the table! You could maybe cut one or two slices from the turkey breast and then take the turkey back to the kitchen.

      I do think a platter full of juicy turkey can be just as pretty as the full turkey with the garnishes. :)

      1. Ah, I see. I’m very impressed and inspired that you’re so committed to beauty and ceremony that you’d dress the turkey up just for that minute or so. Maybe I’ll try it too. (And maybe the time when the turkey goes back to the kitchen could be cocktail time. . .)

      2. I came across your blog while looking for turkey platters. Your reply makes sense. I was wondering how one would carve a turkey with all the garnish in the way.

        On a side note, I’m more of a practical-functional female so while I tremendously admire lovely table settings and garnish on platters, my mind has a hard time figuring out how to eat with so much clutter and decor on a table.

        Anyway, I have a real question. Do guests eat the garnish or are the garnish just for decoration? When I do garnish a dish, what I usually have in mind is that the garnish will be eaten. I know that doesn’t always happen in restaurants but would it be different in homes? See, I can’t shake off the rules drilled into me since childhood (I can still hear my now elderly aunties delivering their “sermons” to us wee cousins :)) – Don’t waste food. It is God’s gift. Think of all the children from XXX (insert continent here that is the current poster child for world hunger) who have nothing to eat.

        When I was already working, we were planning on having a pie throwing game during a party. Our boss vetoed it down. She’s a very religious person who didn’t want to see the pies go to waste for a game. I can see her point and my aunties’ point. To many people, including me, it’s sacrilegious to waste food when so many go without. I try to eat the garnish when I eat in a restaurant but they just put way too much garnish. Anyway, going back to my question. Do guests eat the garnish or what do you do with the garnish? Do you include them in a dish that you cook later?

        1. I’m with you – I hate wasting food! I guess the guests could eat the garnish if they want. I usually save it to use later rather than serving it up right then, but I don’t think that’s a bad idea. The roasted veggies are the garnish and the side dish, so they get eaten with dinner. Why not tailor the garnish to be edible and part of the meal?

          Thanks for the comment!

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  6. We are butterflying our turkey this year, which significantly cuts down on cooking time. I wonder if using your same garnish ideas would still work even though the turkey is flat. Wonderful photos!

  7. Lindsey, I love the decorations. I was very interested in Anna’s question.What do your guests do when you take it back to the kitchen to carve. Like Anna’s husband I’m not a fast or neat carver. Help please!

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  10. I love the persimmons! Thanks for all the wonderful ideas & beautiful pictures. I used green apples & pomegranate Last year as they went with my magenta, apple green & gold color scheme. In my house my husband. smokes 2 Turkey’s. One we carve & set out with the rest if the food buffet & the second I make pretty & we place it in the middle of the table fir everyone to admire while we eat. I have a very large family, so the second turkey gets carved up & sent home with leftovers. Trust me, there is nothing wasted. I love doing it this way because it really feels like thanksgiving the whole time we’re eating.

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  15. This is great inspiration. We have enough people that we need to serve from a buffet anyway. My plan this year is to buy a pre-smoked turkey and heat it. After looking at your fantastic ideas, I’ll just split the turkey in the kitchen. Half gets sliced and put onto a platter ready to eat, with a little bit of decoration but mostly down to business. The other half gets put on a platter primarily to be decorative. No need to worry about a gaping hole without stuffing, either, as I will just put the cut side down.

    I expect we will eat both halves on Thanksgiving so part way through the meal I’ll whisk the uncut half away and carve it. I hope it will stay warm longer by being half a bird instead of individual slices, but if not, I can easily pop it back into the oven for a quick recharge without so much risk that it would dry out.

    Thanks very much for your great website. Oh, the photos!

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