9 Secrets to Cooking the Perfect Turkey


November 23, 2009   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

It is that special time of year again, when we spend lots of time in our kitchens, and make fabulous feasts for our family and friends. Whether you are cooking for a crowd, or just having an intimate dinner with your significant other, it pays to incorporate some turkey cooking tips to help ensure a juicy and tasty bird.

Roasting a turkey is much more difficult than many other types of poultry. A turkey has a much larger breast in comparison to the rest of the size of the bird. This means that the breast of the turkey will dry out before the rest of the bird cooks through. Commercial turkeys have been breed to have huge breasts because that is what consumers want. The modern commercial turkey’s breasts are much larger than those of wild turkeys.

This is a dish that you only prepare once or twice a year, and you will probably be entertaining many friends and family too, so why not try to make it as perfect as possible? Here are some tips that I have picked up over the years:

  1. Pick the right Turkey
    The first secret to the perfect bird is to get a good quality turkey. If you have a large budget, there are online stores where you can purchase wild turkey breeds. You can also find a free range organic bird at your local organic grocery store. Or, for a small budget, just get the frozen sale bird from your local grocer. After all these tricks, we will make even the cheapest bird juicy and delicious.

Another consideration when picking a bird is its size. It is much better to use two little birds, than one huge old bird. Large old birds are tough, and will be very difficult to keep juicy through the long cooking process.


  • Brine
    The next secret to the perfect bird is to use a brine. Using a brine helps to moisten and flavor the bird. Most brines are made with 2 gallons of water, 1 cup of salt, 1/2 cup or more of sweetener, and any spices and herbs that you would like to add. When preparing the brine, you dissolve the sugar and salt in the water, and then ice it. When the brine is ice cold, you add the turkey , and let it sit in the brine for at least 6 hours, and up to to 24 hours. When you remove the bird from the brine, you have to rinse it very well. If you do not, the bird will be too salty.



  • Flip it
    Another secret to a perfectly juicy bird is to roast it upside down. Placing the breast side down will allow the juices from the fatty part of the bird to baste the breast during the cooking process. This does not produce a very pretty bird at all, but it tastes great. I have only done this method once, because appearance is important to me for my holiday turkeys.



  • Where to cook
    The next secret to a juicy bird is to use a counter top portable roaster. This will free up your oven for your other items. There are many people that swear by this method. I started using mine a couple of years back, I couldn’t be happier with it. You do have to use a smaller bird with the roaster, but the bird won’t dry out, and stays much juicier.



  • Changing Heat
    The fifth secret to a delicious bird is to first start the roasting process in a very hot oven, about 450-500 degrees for the first 30 minutes of cooking. For a perfectly browned bird, rub some cooking oil on it. Rub the oil all over the turkey, after you have patted the skin as dry as possible.



  • Cover it
    The sixth secret to a perfect bird is to cover just the browned breast for the rest of the cooking time in aluminum foil. This will protect the breast more from not drying. Be sure to leave the rest of the bird exposed.



  • Know the temperature
    The next secret to a perfect turkey bird is to use an internal thermometer during the cooking process. An oven probe thermometer with an external wire and digital read is the perfect way to keep tabs on your bird, without opening the oven repeatedly and losing your precious heat. This will ensure more even and faster cooking. You put the thermometer in the thickest part of the breast and set the thermometer to 161 degrees. The turkey’s internal temperature will continue to rise to the magic 165 degrees while it is resting outside of the oven.



  • Hold the Stuffing
    The eighth secret to the perfect bird is to never ever put the dressing in the bird. By the time the center of the stuffing is up to temperature, the bird has been overcooked, and the breast will inevitably be dry. Instead, use fruits, vegetables, or herbs and wine in the breast cavity to help moisten the bird. You can even do a beer can turkey, but you will have to use a small turkey, about 8-10 lbs. If you insist on using a giant bird, you will have to use a big beer can, like Foster’s.



  • Don’t rush to eat
    The last secret to the perfect bird is to let it rest when it comes out of the oven. You should tent he whole bird with aluminum foil, and let it rest for at least 15 minutes. I have read an ideal resting time is half the amount of the cooking time. So I make sure to rest the bird for as long as I can hold my family back.


Using all or some of these secrets will hopefully help make your holiday bird a bit juicier this year. Hope you have a tasty Thanksgiving turkey bird.

Written on 11/23/2009 by Angelia McGowan. Angelina is the author and site owner of Southern Grace Gourmet, a family friendly food and cooking blog with many recipes, easy to follow instructions, and photographs. You will also find many delicious recipes for your Thanksgiving celebration. Photo Credit: iLoveButter

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