How to Roast a Moist Turkey Every Time
If you've been volunteered to cook for Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner or a special family event, you may be worried about that ever-present danger: The DRY Turkey! Let's face it: there's nothing worse than a turkey with the texture of shoe leather. And it's probably every turkey cook's worst fear-- especially for first-timers.
The page below will help you roast a moist turkey in just 10 steps. But you'll also find more tips on how to roast a moist turkey to perfection here.
Still confused? Go here to submit your turkey questions and get 'em answered!
Dry turkey is the pits-- and it's all too common. There are turkey recipes and methods, however, that will insure your bird stays moist and wonderful and juicy. And nice-looking, too, with crisp and golden skin. People eat with their eyes almost as much as their taste buds, after all!
How to Roast a Moist Turkey in 10 Steps
1. Buy WiselyStep one in how to roast a moist turkey is choosing a good bird. Be it fresh or frozen, try not to skimp on quality. One word of caution: avoid buying pre-stuffed turkeys. Pre-stuffing a bird can result in bacterial growth because of contact with the poultry. Plus, they're just not as good.
2. Don't StuffFor safety, it's recommended that a stuffed turkey should wait until the last minute before going in the oven. But my recommendation if you really want to know how to roast a moist turkey? Don't stuff it! Adding stuffing to your turkey increases the cook time. And because the turkey has to stay in longer to ensure that the stuffing gets cooked, it has a much greater tendency to over cook and dry out. Instead, make one of these sausage stuffing recipes that can cook outside the bird.
3. Use Good EquipmentIf you don't already have one, get yourself a meat thermometer. While the pop up timers on turkeys are okay, they can fail or not work completely correctly-- they're far from foolproof! A meat thermometer gives you the ability to roast a moist turkey AND be sure it's done to 165 degrees, which is a safe temperature for eating.
The most accurate and easy-to-use meat thermometers come with a probe that you can just leave in the turkey, like this one. SO easy to us, and really accurate.
In terms of your roasting pan, you don't want this to be too deep. About 4-5" is more than sufficient. In the bottom of the roasting pan put some chicken stock. If you want to keep the bottom of the turkey from cooking off the bone, put a small rack inside (good roasting pans will come with a rack) and rest the turkey on top. This also gives complete air circulation, cooking the turkey more evenly all the way around-- which gives it less time to dry out.
4. Use a Turkey Brine, Rub, or MarinateThe experts who really know how to roast a moist turkey almost always use some kind of brine, rub, or marinade injection. Why? Because these items always add plenty of moisture to the bird. With a brine, you'll soak your turkey in a flavored salt water mixture for a day or two. With an injection, you'll create a marinade mixture (find some great recipes for turkey marinade injections here), and inject it right into the flesh of your turkey, filling it with moisture and flavor.
And my favorite, little-known option for flavoring and adding moisture to a turkey? This wonderful moist turkey recipe made with a dry salt brine. You rub your thawed turkey with a salt-and-spices mixture, and let it sit in the fridge-- it'll brine in it's very own juices. You get none of the sogginess of a traditionally brined turkey recipe, but all of the moisture. Plus, you don't need a giant turkey bucket to do the brining in. Always my favorite choice.
5. Add Fat and LiquidWhether you use a brine or marinade or not, adding fat is a good tip for how to roast a moist turkey with crisp skin. Putting olive oil or butter mixed with your favorite spices under the turkey's skin is a sure-fire helpmate. You can also sprinkle spices on the inside and outside of the turkey. Another trick for moisture is putting apples, oranges, onions, and other high-moisture fruits or vegetables inside the turkey before roasting (pack them very loosely). They will give the bird both flavor and juiciness from inside out.
Any fat and flavoring you add to the bird will also make for wonderful gravy (here's how to make a great turkey gravy) when it's done cooking.
6. Choose the Right Cook Time and MethodMost recipes that specialize in how to roast a moist turkey focus on cook time-- they tend to either cook the turkey for a long time with a low heat (like a slow cooked turkey or a turkey cooked overnight) or a shorter time with a very high heat, as with deep fried turkey or high roasted turkey.
You can find some recipes here that use these techniques to ensure a moist turkey. But you don't need special cooking methods if you use a good brine or the dry brine recipe I linked to above.
7. Cover the BirdTo keep your turkey from over-crisping and drying out while it roasts, tent it with a piece of foil while it's in the oven. This will keep too much moisture from escaping, and keep the skin from burning. Remove your foil tent during the last 45 minutes or so of cooking in order to fully brown the bird. And baste with the liquids at the bottom of the pan during this time, too, for extra flavor and moisture.
8. Check it EarlyEven if you know how to roast a moist turkey, you've got to get the cook time right. You never know when your oven might cook a little faster or a little slower than you expect it to. It's a good idea to check the temperature of your bird a bit before it supposed to be done to be sure it's not about to over cook. I check mine for the first time about an hour before it's supposed to be done, just to be sure. A meat thermometer should read 165 degrees F (in the thickest part of the breast & thigh) for safe consumption.
Check this chart for standard turkey cooking times in a regular oven, or this page for how long to cook a turkey in a convection oven.
9. Let it RestIf you cut into your perfect moist turkey right after you pull it out of the oven, all that juice and moisture you worked so hard to get will just ooze right out. A bad thing! Let your cooked turkey rest for 20-30 minutes so that the juices seep right back into the meat. In the meantime, you can work on making gravy (recipes here!).
10. Carve CarefullyIf you've learned how to roast a moist turkey and you pull it off right, you can dig into the thing with nothing but your teeth (though this wouldn't be polite) and expect it to be delicious. However, carving a turkey improperly can take away some from that perfect texture you've worked to achieve. Get good carving equipment and learn how to carve a turkey properly. This page will tell you how.
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