Making the perfect turkey meal is not as difficult as it seems, however many people experience a problem when it comes time to eat: dry turkey meat that has lost most of its flavor. Meat becomes dry in the oven because of two simple reasons: the meat is overcooked, and it is not prepared properly. There are many simple things you can do to ensure a flavorful, juicy turkey for your thanksgiving dinner.
Flavor your bird before you cook it
Before you stuff your bird and stick it in the oven, create a blend of your favorite seasonings and spread it around the outside and inside of the turkey body.
For extra flavoring, try these extra steps:
- Carefully slide your fingers between the breast meat and the skin, creating a gap between the skin and the meat. Go slowly and use the rounded ends of your fingers to avoid breaking the skin.
- Take a blend of herbs and spices (fresh chopped rosemary and basil works well) and rub it in the meat beneath the loose skin.
Use a rack in your pan
Cook your bird in a pan that is no more than three inches deep and place it on a rack inside the pan to ensure even cooking.
Use a moist stuffing rather than dry stuffing to add extra moisture as the turkey cooks. Add the stuffing after you have flavored the meat with your seasoning blend.
Initially, cook the bird at a higher heat, approximately 450 degrees, for about 30 minutes. This will brown the skin and make it less likely to allow valuable juices to escape. After 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 325 degrees and turn the turkey over onto the breast, adding 1/4 cup of chicken stock to the bottom of the pan. This chicken stock will baste the turkey, and turning it over will keep the breast meat from overcooking, as it requires less cooking time than the dark meat.
Instead of poking the turkey with a knife to check doneness, which will allow juices to leave the bird and dry the meat out, check the progress of the turkey by wiggling the legs. If the leg is very easy to wiggle and the skin breaks, the turkey is finished cooking. If you prefer, use a pop-up meat thermometer to check the temperature of the bird. Avoid opening and closing the oven too many times, as this will cause you to lose valuable heat, extending the cook time.
Carving the turkey
Once the turkey has reached the appropriate temperature and doneness, take it out of the oven and allow it to sit for 20 minutes before carving it. If you cut the meat immediately after taking it out of the oven, more juices will escape the bird.