Christmas Recipes > How to Make the Moist of Your Turkey

Posted On November 2, 2008

Filed under Festive Recipes

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It’s set on the table splendidly golden and glistening. As the first slice of turkey is peeled back revealing the moist, succulent breast meat, you anticipate a savory feast. 

But wait. It’s only a photo on a magazine page.  If only your annual effort looked more like the pictures and less like a football pigskin on a plate.

Once again, it’s time for the yearly challenge: can your turkey be a centerfold? You’ll be relieved to know the answer is yes. You can roast a turkey that’s as good as the ones you salivate over in magazine articles. The key is to not overcook the bird. Many cooks roast a turkey until it’s dry. To ensure a juicy turkey you must use a meat thermometer. The breast should register 170 degrees F and the thigh 180 degrees when done. 

The meat thermometer is your best investment. But there are other measures you can take as well. Thawing methods, roasting pans and resting times all influence a bird’s juiciness, say the experts. You’ll probably buy a frozen turkey, but you should thaw it completely before roasting.

For every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey allow 24 hours of thawing time in the refrigerator at 40 degrees, says a  culinary consultant for the Turkey Federation. Avoid tall-sided roasting pans or cooking bags. All those result in steaming the turkey, not roasting it.

Instead, place the turkey in a shallow roasting pan. You’ll want to arrange the turkey so the quick-cooking breast is away from hot spots on the top and in the back of the oven. Place the roasting pan in the middle of the oven with the legs, which are longer cooking, towards the back.

Despite the careful arrangements, turkey often browns before it’s thoroughly cooked. To prevent this you can loosely tent-do not tuck-aluminum foil over the bird and remove it during the final hour or so of cooking. Or if you see the bird is browning too much lay a sheet of foil over the bird during the last 30 to 60 minutes.

Finally, give the bird a rest. Let the roasted bird sit on the counter, allowing 20 minutes for a small bird; 30 minutes for a large one. Standing time has a purpose. It allows the juices to become redistributed in the meat. If you cut the turkey as soon as you pull it from the oven the juices will end up on the cutting board. 

Frequently asked questions on turkey >

Should you baste a turkey? > Basting does not make turkey meat moist. In addition, if you have raw turkey juices on a basting brush that you dab on a turkey or into the pan drippings you could contaminate the turkey with bacteria. And if that weren’t enough, opening the oven periodically will lengthen turkey roasting time. Despite that many cooks can’t stand a bird that doesn’t require fussing and enjoy basting it. If you must baste use a metal spoon that doesn’t harbor bacteria.

What can you do to make a turkey more flavorful? > Loosen the skin over the turkey breast and arrange fresh herb leaves over the turkey flesh. The flavor will go an inch or so into the flesh.

How do you get that golden skin? > Brush the turkey skin with unsalted butter or oil before roasting.

My mother used to jiggle the drumstick to see if a turkey was done. Can I use that test? > A loose drumstick usually means the bird is overcooked. Your only recourse is to make lots of gravy.

For more turkey information, check the following web sites >

The Turkey Federation at  
The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line at