How To Keep Your Turkey Juicy

by zesty on November 23, 2011 · 37 comments

Three years ago ( WOW – I cannot believe it has been that long ) I wrote this post on a few tips I have learned on how to keep your turkey juicy.  With Thanksgiving tomorrow for the folks in the United States, I thought I would share some turkey tips again that I have used in the past and present.

Most turkeys become dry for two basic reasons.

  • The first is that the bird is being overcooked. All meat, fish, and poultry dries out if it is cooked too long.
  • The second cause of dry turkey is the way it is prepared and cooked.

What I would like to go over in this next section are some ways that will ensure your turkey stays juicy the next time you fire up your oven.  I think I am about to go against a lot of traditional techniques, so by all means feel free to comment and tell me that I am losing my mind.

  1. Create a bed for the turkey in the roasting pan – I like to use carrots, celery, onion (slice them large and create a flat surface for the turkey.  Place a rack on the vegetable base.
  2. Flavor the bird. When you buy turkeys they do not come seasoned!  Use your favorite seasonings on it  – flavoring the cavity is a great tip and I also like to throw an apple in the neck cavity.  It keeps it juicy as well as adds a nice flavor.
  3. Use a roasting pan three inches deep or less and a rack for even roasting. If the bird sits on the bottom of the pan, or the pan’s sides are too high, the heat cannot penetrate the bird uniformly. Turn the roasting pan at various intervals to further facilitate even roasting.
  4. If you stuff the turkey with a good moist stuffing, the juice from the stuffing will penetrate the bird from the interior and help prevent drying.
  5. For the first 20 minutes, I like to cook the bird at a really high heat (450 degrees).  This will allow the skin to brown on the outside and lock in the juices.
  6. After 20 minutes reset the oven temperature to 325 degrees, and turn the turkey upside down so the breast is on the bottom and add 1/4 cup of low sodium chicken stock flavored with black pepper (this will act as a basting mechanism for the turkey. Since the breast cooks faster than the dark meat and needs less cooking, situating it on the bottom( breast side down) exposes it to less direct heat.
  7. Do not truss the bird. The dark meat will cook faster unfettered and thus reduce the chance of the breast overcooking by the time the dark meat is done.
  8. Don’t bother basting. The meat, covered by the skin, will not absorb the juices. Also by opening and closing your oven too many times you are losing valuable heat.
  9. DO NOT go poking the turkey with a knife or fork to check for done ness.  You will lose valuable juice.  Some folks like to use the pop up meat thermometers which are fine when they work.  I like to use the leg check technique.  If the leg when you wiggle it is very easy to move and the skin breaks the bird is done.  You can also use the 20 minutes per pound rule for no stuffing and 25 minutes per pound for a stuffed bird.
  10. The last step you need to remember is that once the turkey has reached the proper temperature, remove the turkey from the oven and allow it to sit 20 minutes. This is another step that will help keep the meat moist. If you carve the meat immediately, all the juices will run out and the meat will not be as moist as it could have been.

Well that sounds like a lot of tips and alot of writing for zesty.  I hope you like these tips and as I said earlier – they are just my practices and techniques.  I would love to hear all your turkey roasting techniques so readers can get some great ideas in preparation for the holidays.

Have a great Wednesday and a happy holiday.  Take Care!

zesty

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Megan

What great tips. I think I will try the apple in the neck this year! What a great idea!

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2 Bentoist

I will be baking my own turkey, rather a turducken, for the first time in two weeks for a party. Those tips are valuable and I will certainly save this page as a favorite. Thanks!

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3 dawn

good tips! so many people poke the skin way too many times–not good. and sitting the bird in a bed of veggies, very smart!

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4 Erin

You know how I keep the Thanksgiving turkey juicy? By not letting my mother or grandmother anywhere near it. Those lovely ladies served me overcooked and dry meat for years. I didn’t realize that chicken could be tender, or that steak was amazing when cooked medium rare until I was 25. Well done is the name of their game…and I don’t play anymore ;)

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5 Jennifer

haha, That is great. Cause I grew up the same way! I too no longer play the dry game!

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6 Laurie

Can’t wait for Thanksgiving!

I tried your whole wheat bread last night and it was very good, but I think you must have a larger loaf pan than I do. Or maybe I let it rise too long (one hour) because it rose right out of the pan and then dripped down the sides a bit.

But it sure was tasty – and the toast this morning is awesome!

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7 Bob

My sister in law always brines her turkeys. They come out fantastic every year. Hm, maybe this year I won’t baste it, see if that helps.

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8 Pumpkin

I brined our Christmas turkey last year in a brine flavored with brown sugar, nutmeg, bay, cinnamon and peppercorns. Before putting it in the oven, I stuffed it with lemon wedges, parsley, and garlic cloves. It turned out great- tender, juicy and flavorful!

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9 Biz

I do the same thing – heating the bird at 450 for the first 15 minutes or so.

I’ve also brined my turkey and I think that’s how we plan to do it this year.

We deep fat fried it one year – took A LONG time and it was cold outside – you really can’t set it and forget it with that method!

Happy Friday!

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10 rich

The best tip of them all is to buy the highest quality bird you can…and then don’t overcook it! A good, organic or free-range bird cooks surprisingly quickly.

I cook my turkey upside down for nearly all of the cooking time, turning it breast up for the last half hour or so, just to baste. Also, I remove the legs, bone them out and roll them up, trussing with string. Well, actually, I get the butcher to do that part. You get two joints of dark meat that are much easier to cook properly than legs attached to a breast that cooks in a totally different amount of time. You don’t lose the ‘wow’ factor on the table – the crown still looks magnificent.

20 mins resting isn’t really enough – a turkey will keep it’s heat for double that, easily – the longer the rest the better. I leave the turkey for at least half an hour before carving.

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11 Erin

I’m definitely showing this to my hubcap!

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12 giz

Great tips – thank you.

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13 ValleyWriter

I’ve been hearing the tip about roasting the bird breast-side down a lot lately – but you’re idea of rotating it seems even better. That way it has a chance to get a little brown and beautiful first. Great tips – thanks!

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14 Lindsay

whenever i eventually get the guts to attempt cooking a turkey i will definitely use this helpful tips :)

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15 B_Hlthy

NO NO NO Zesty— You Gotta FRY that bad boy (or 3 of them) to keep it juicy! silly silly
http://runlmo1.blogspot.com/2008/11/deep-fried.html

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16 Culinary Cory

Resting is one of the most important parts of the cooking process. You need to give the bird time to absorb all those great juices.

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17 Gabi

Zesty,

I am going to follow your instructions. The wel-being and peace of my extended family invited for Thanksgiving is in your hands.

What number to call if things don’t turn out as expected? ;-)

Thanks!
Gabi

Cheers,
Gabi @ Mamaliga.com

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18 momgateway

Thanks for the helpful post.

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19 Jay

Zesty,do you cover the bird at all during cooking time?

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20 zesty

Jay – Normally i do not but if you feel the exterior is getting to dark you can cover it with tinfoil for the last little bit of cooking time.

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21 Jay

Thank you for the helpful tips and I’m definitely going to try them out in a few days.Happy Thanksgiving!

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22 Kathleen Richardson

Excellent tips, Zesty. Definitely worthy of a Facebook “Share”.

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23 Heather Jewell

These tips really helped me out since this year is my first year making a turkey.It really gave me some ideas of what i can do.Thank you so much.Happy thanksgiving everyone.Have a safe and beautiful holiday and god bless.

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24 mom2kayta

This is my first time ever cooking a “real” turkey for Thanksgiving. These are great ideas, thank so much!

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25 zesty

good luck with your turkey! :)

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26 Jessica

The 20 minutes per pound, does this mean it will take around 6 hours to cook my 18 pound turkey?

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27 zesty

Yes Jessica you are correct

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28 stac

do you cover your turkey?

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29 zesty

I do after the first hour. I use the first hour to brown the turkey then cover to keep it from drying out

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30 Ingrid

Broke the tradition on how to cook the turkey!!
And everyone said.. Turkey this year is sooo tender and juicy..!
Now they want me to cook the turkey every year.. And i dont mind at all!
I rather prepare it myself and eat a tender moist turkey than an overcooked and dry one..!
And your tips is a secret that i will not share with my mom or grandma!!! Lol!
Thank u sooo much!
Best turkey ever!!!

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31 Damaris Torres

please tell me if i need to cover the turkey with foil thank you

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32 zesty

You can cover at first and then remove the cover to brown the skin

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33 jacob

So line the bottom of the pan with veggies and place the rack on top of the veggies?

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34 zesty

Yes Jacob… that is perfect

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35 Marion

Thank you for the great tips….I’ll try them on Thursday.
In the past I stuffed the turkey with celery, carrots and onions but prefer your tip,putting them on the bottom.

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