Hi everyone, Carlos here! I’m one of the senior food editors at Better Homes and Gardens. Years ago, one of my first work assignments after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America was to develop the ultimate Thanksgiving Day turkey recipe. Talk about a daunting task!
See, the problem with poultry is that white meat and dark meat taste best when cooked to different temperatures. The white breast meat is moist and succulent at about 165°F, while thighs and drumsticks are much better at 180°F. But the oven roasts everything at the same temperature so that’s impossible, right?
Well, turns out it is possible. It took me three weeks and 20 turkeys to crack this holiday nut, but I eventually hit upon several unique strategies that can help every part of the turkey cook to perfection. Start with this Classic Roast Turkey recipe, then try one or more strategies from my personal bag of turkey tricks.
- Help the drumsticks cook.When preparing the turkey, use a sharp knife to cut through the skin and tendons all the way around the bone just below where the drumsticks end. This allows the skin and meat to pull away during cooking, exposing bone. The bone conducts heat deep into the meat of the drumsticks, which makes them cook faster.
- Dive in, legs first.Position the turkey’s legs toward the back of the oven, if your roasting pan will fit that way. The back is hotter, which will help cook the legs a little faster.
- Flip the bird.My favorite technique is to start cooking the turkey breast-side down on the roasting rack. This slows the cooking of the white meat because it’s under the body, while elevating the hard-to-cook hindquarters so they can roast faster. Halfway through the cooking time, remove the turkey in the roasting pan to your stovetop or a secure spot on the counter. Then, use kitchen towels or oven mitts to grab hold of the turkey at the tail end and gently pivot the bird up and over until the breast is facing up. That way, it can get golden brown and crispy. (Note: I recommend limiting this maneuver to smaller, 12- to 14-pound turkeys. Larger birds can prove difficult to turn).
By implementing these tactics, the dark meat will have an internal temperature up to 15° hotter than the breast meat. All that’s left to do is finish cooking per your recipe’s directions and then carve and enjoy a perfectly cooked turkey! To round out your Thanksgiving Day meal, find more excellent holiday recipes at BHG.com.