Good Question: How Do You Cook A Juicy Turkey?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In Minnesota, we raise more turkeys than anywhere. On Thanksgiving, almost all of us eat the bird. However, achieving the perfectly juicy turkey can be elusive. So, how do you avoid a dry turkey and make it juicy?

“We’ve basically got two birds, two parts of meat in one bird,” said St. Paul chef and restaurant consultant Jason Ross. “When you try to cook all at once, the breast is cooked first, and ends up overcooked,” he said.

It’s simple science.

“If you think about it, meat that has bone always takes longer to cook than pure meat alone,” said Ross.

Ross’ solution: pre-searing the legs on top of the stove. He calls it “Tip the Turkey.”

Ross suggests putting butter and vegetable oil in a roasting pan. The oil lowers the cooking point of the bird, preventing it from burning. He says use medium-low heat.

“I take the bird and I cook it on one leg for about an extra 15-20 minutes. Then, I cook it on the back for an extra 15-20 minutes in a pan. Then, I cook the other set of legs and the breast is still raw the whole time,” he said.

Essentially, he’s giving the thighs and legs a head-start, until the entire turkey goes into the oven.

“This is the secret,” he said.

He said it’s really the opposite of how French restaurants used to serve duck, a bird that has a similar cooking challenge.

“They would roast the duck, then a stodgy old waiter would bring it out, remove the breast, then run back into the kitchen to finish cooking the leg,” he said. “They’re doing what I’m doing in reverse.”

Ross said you still have to baste the turkey while you roast it, which is “standard basting procedure,” he noted.

However, simply sticking butter beneath the skin or repeatedly basting doesn’t keep you from making the turkey dry — it may help mask that problem.

“All those ways are trying to counteract that you’re overcooking the breast. I prefer to not overcook the breast,” he said.

Similarly, while cooking a turkey upside down does help keep some of the juices in, “you’re still probably gonna overcook the breast to get the thigh right,” he said.

More from Jason DeRusha
  • gtV

    Ever try using a cooking bag at a lower temperature? Also, besides the trick mentioned, make sure your stuffing is bit moister than you like it. This will help cook the breast from the inside out better. Now comes the clincher–Since you are cooking the turkey at a lower oven temperature, say 275-300 degrees F., monitor the breast meat temperature and the thigh temperature with a good meat thermometer. Postscript: Use the thermometer to check the stuffing temperature which should be 155-160F. Yummy!!!
    Bon Appetite!

    Surprise, though the turkey may take longer to roast you will see that the breast [stuffed] will cooking a bit slower than than the thigh meat. When the white meat temperature reaches 150F and then [thigh] dark meat reaches 170F shut your oven off and let the turkey temps reach 160F white meat and 180F dark meat.

    Now remove the turkey from the oven, place on flat counter, and cut the turkey bag lengthwise to let it cool for 15-25 minutes. The bird temperature may rise a tad but you should have a moist turkey for carving and eating.

    • gtV

      P.S.: May sure you check the stuffing temperature. It should be 155-160 Degrees F. You should have very moist white meat with great tasty stuffing. Yummy!!!

      • Beady

        Thanks for these turkey cooking tips, gtV. I’ve had good success with the cooking bags, too.

  • Leslie

    We solve that problem by purchasing a turkey breast(s). The question then becomes “to brine or not to brine.”

  • Jack

    I have a turkey recipe that I’ve been using, and giving out, for over 25 years and most have said they’ll never cook their turkey any other way again. It’s quick and easy.

    – Lightly coat the turkey in olive oil and season however you like.
    – Pour one can of chicken broth in the bottom of the roasting pan. I go simple with just garlic salt and pepper.
    – Cook at 450*F for one hour. The high heat sears the skin and seals in all the juices.
    – After one hour, if you make homemade gravy from the drippings, pour another can of chicken broth on the bottom of the roasting pan (If you don’t make homemade gravy, skip the second can of broth.) then turn the temperature down to 350*F for one more hour.
    – Do not cover. Do not stuff the turkey. After two hours, the turkey timer will pop up, letting you know it’s done.

    The turkey comes out extremely juicy and is a gorgeous, golden brown. People fight over the skin. I’ve never had one complaint or had anyone ever say it didn’t work for them. I’ve always told people that if it turns out less than incredible, that I’d reimburse them for the turkey. I’ve never had to do it.

    It’s the juiciest bird you’ll ever have and it’s done in two hours, saving valuable oven time for dressing, pies, etc., I once cooked a 24lb turkey and that took 2 hours and 15 min. But, most birds will be done in only two hours.

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  • Mark

    I don’t know why this has to be so complicated. I just cover the whole bird and pan tightly with aluminum foil, bake for 5 hours at 325, then bake uncovered for a hour at 350 for crispy skin. Knife into the thigh to see if it bleeds (or take the temp there). Take it out and let it set for 15 minutes or longer to get the rest of the meal together. As long as the skin is unpunctured around the breast (no stinking white temp popper and never poke it with a thermometer), this works deliciously every time. Beautiful moist white meat, crispy skin, and fall of the bone dark meat.

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