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Padma Lakshmi shares her 4 tips for a perfect Thanksgiving turkey

It all starts with a buttermilk brine.
Follow Padma Lakshmi's top tips for the best turkey ever this Thanksgiving.
Follow Padma Lakshmi's top tips for the best turkey ever this Thanksgiving.TODAY/Getty Images

As we prepare our Thanksgiving menus, Padma Lakshmi just helpfully resurfaced a 2014 "Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" appearance in which she shares her turkey-cooking tips.

On Instagram Friday, Lakshmi said she uses those tips every time she makes a turkey — and even published the recipe in The New York Times.

Cook your turkey early

Lakshmi's first piece of advice is straightforward: Start cooking your bird early. A whole turkey will take hours to cook, depending on its weight, and you can reduce stress by making sure you give yourself enough time to make it before your guests arrive.

Lakshmi recommends starting in the middle of the night.

"When we cook turkey at my house, we cook it at midnight the night before," says Lakshmi. "We do it on Thanksgiving and on Christmas. We start cooking at midnight and then we finish cooking at 6:00 a.m. It's exciting getting up early in the morning and making sure that turkey is beautiful, and that way the hard part is done."

The "Taste the Nation" host says she's never understood why some hosts delay on the bird and have to continue cooking even as guests are arriving.

"It's like a nail-biting experience," she says.

Soak the turkey in a buttermilk bath

In addition to cooking the bird early, you're going to want to start flavoring it days before the holiday. Lakshmi recommends letting the turkey soak in a buttermilk bath for three days.

"You want to soak the turkey in buttermilk, not milk, that's salted (and has) sugar," Lakshmi says, adding that buttermilk has "more enzymes" than regular milk, which will "break down" the meat.

When soaking the bird, make sure the legs and thighs are completely immersed and that the turkey is in a "tall, narrow" container, standing leg-down.

"You're going to do that for three days and then cook that stuff overnight," she says.

Fill the turkey with fruit

When it comes time to cook the turkey, make sure you fill the bird with fruit like apples and oranges.

This step "gets rid of the gaminess," Lakshmi says, and sets you up for success with her final tip.

Make an easy gravy with leftover juices

Between the buttermilk, the fruit and the bird, you're going to have "all this juice" when you're done cooking, according to Lakshmi.

"Don't be afraid of the juice when you're done!" the "Top Chef" host says. "Take that juice and add some butter and flour to it, and that's your natural homemade gravy."