How To Cook A Moist & Delicious Turkey

Cooking a holiday turkey for company can be a daunting task but it doesn’t have to be. You too can make a fantastic, juicy turkey and it’s easy!

A turkey dinner is as much a holiday tradition in many homes as the gathering of family around the table to celebrate together. Unfortunately, most of us cannot say that we haven’t had to endure meals of dried out, tough turkey that leaves us begging for more stuffing so no one notices how little meat we ate.

When it is our turn to cook, we do everything to avoid having to try taming the beast ourselves because who is to say we will do any better than Aunt Jane did last year. Put your fears to rest, you too can make a fabulous turkey that your family and friends will still be talking about months later.

Although you can do a great job on side dishes – and we will explore these in the near future – the bird is the star of the table and it has to come out well for the meal to memorable in a good way. Thankfully, it’s not as hard to do as you think. Follow these simple tips and your holiday turkey will be the one to beat in future years.

1) Keep the Bird Relatively Small

If you have a very large gathering planned, consider cooking two smaller birds rather than one humongous one. The bigger the turkey, the longer it takes to cook and the higher the risk that you dry out the extremities while trying to ensure the centre is cooked. This is one case where bigger is not better.

2) Make Your Stuffing Separately

stuffing vegetables

I know stuffing coming out of the turkey’s hoo-ha is a common sight but I’m going to give you some other items to stuff your bird with to keep it moist and flavourful. Great stuffing can be made on the stove top, I promise.

3) Fresh Is Better Than Frozen

Buy a fresh turkey. You may need to order one in advance, depending on the size you need. Frozen meat has ice crystals form inside it due to the natural water content of the meat. This can damage cells. When thawed most of the water simply leaks out of the bird. Ideally you want to retain this natural moisture to help keep your bird tasting his best. So, fresher is better.

4) Brine Your Bird

A brine is a salt bath basically. It helps keep your turkey moist in several ways. First, the bird absorbs some of the liquid which helps it maintain moisture during cooking. All meat loses some liquid as it cooks, so by making it juicier to begin with it suffers less loss of liquid during the cooking process. The salt water also binds to proteins in the meat in a chemical process whose end result is more moisture. Please don’t ask me to explain the chemistry, just trust me it’s real.

Remove the neck, giblets, and anything else including plastic that may be attached to or fall out of your turkey and rinse it off with water. Rub a cup of kosher salt over the entire bird, inside and out. Take two large oven bags and double them up so one is inside the other. In the innermost one, place your salted bird. Next add one with a gallon of water to the innermost bag and then seal with a twist tie. Close the exterior bag and gently shake it up a bit to ensure that the water moves over the entire bird. Place your bagged turkey in a roasting pan (just in case it leaks) and let it sit for 12-24 hours. Turn it over periodically. When you are ready to cook it, remove it from the bag and rinse it off. Pat it dry with paper towels and you are ready to proceed. Note that purchased kosher turkeys have already been brined – don’t do it again.

5) Butter Baby


Face it, butter makes everything better. Using your fingers, gently run them between the skin and the meat of your bird until you can lift the skin away from the bird ever so slightly. Be careful not to tear the skin. Use softened butter (in a pinch olive oil will work but butter tastes better). Add herbs to the butter if desired. Taking the butter in your fingers, gently massage it over the bird between the skin and the meat. Try to reach as much of the meat as you can.

6) Stuff It

OK, you will not eat this stuffing. It is strictly for your bird’s benefit. You can use the items you wish but I generally use some cut up cloves of fresh garlic, fresh rosemary, a quartered onion, and a quartered lemon. Some people like to use apples or other herbs and seasonings. It’s your choice what flavours appeal to you. Mix your fruit, vegetables and herbs up and then stuff your turkey’s cavity with them. As you cook the bird, these items will give off their own moisture and flavours that will permeate your bird and help keep it moist and tasty.

7) Start Off Upside Down

When you begin cooking your bird, place it breast-side down in the pan. Leave it like this for the first hour of cooking. This allows it to baste itself for that period of time. Once you turn it over the marks will disappear.

8) Use a Meat Thermometer

meat thermometer turkey

Use a meat thermometer to ensure that your bird is properly cooked. Cutting into it to check for doneness will allow moisture to escape so use the thermometer. Ideal temperature is 170 F. Place it in the thickest part of the thigh and make sure the thermometer is not sitting against a bone.

9) Let It Rest

Once your turkey is done, let it rest away from the heat for about 20 minutes while you make gravy and finish off your side dishes. This allows moisture to return to the extremities of the bird since the cooking process causes the juice to hug the centre of the turkey. If you’re concerned about losing heat, tent it with foil.

Cooking turkey only sounds scary. Once you’ve tried these tips your bird will be the talk of the town and people will be begging you to host again next year. Here’s to as moist and tasty turkey!

About the author

Heather B

Heather is an avid traveller, lover of dogs, and baker supreme. She lives in a small town in Ontario, Canada where she raises German Shorthaired Pointers with her family. An explorer at heart, she travels whenever she can, wherever she can.

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