Anyone who has roasted a turkey before knows what a challenge this process can be without few special tricks. While a traditional, breast up, whole bird makes a beautiful image, the result can have dry, overcooked white meat, undercooked dark meat and a ridiculously long cooking time.
Here is a quick look at the problem and tips for a delicious turkey.
A hot oven is basically a hot dehydrator. The longer the cooking time, the more water will evaporate and the drier the meat will be. Turkeys are big birds, and most need four hours or more for the whole bird to reach a safe temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. While it is helpful to research cooking times in advance, a meat thermometer is the best way to ensure your meat is fully cooked. Be sure to test the upper thigh, inserting the thermometer at an angle, carefully avoiding contact with bone.
The breast is especially prone to drying out since it is low fat, and it is traditionally cooked facing upwards, allowing hot air to dry it out. Gravity pulls moisture downward towards the bonier, slower cooking legs. What you get is overcooked, dry white meat, and undercooked dark meat.
This is why it is important to slather the whole bird thoroughly with a mixture of butter and poultry seasoning before putting it in the oven, and many cooks prefer to roast the turkey breast down.
My mother, who cooks meat better than anyone I know, has decided that it is preferable to cook turkey in pieces rather than a whole bird. Cooks Illustrated agrees with her, and even gives advice on how to disassemble a bird.
While turkey parts don’t have the same visual impact as a whole bird, the advantages outweigh the less glamorous presentation.
- Turkey pieces cook in about two hours, about half the time of a whole bird
- You can cook as much or as little meat as you want.
- If your grocery store offers a good selection, you can chose only the cuts your family loves most.
- You no longer have to over cook the breast to get perfectly cooked dark meat. Remove the pieces from the oven as they finish cooking. Test for doneness with a meat thermometer.
- Brining is a popular way to ensure delicious, tender meat. It is much easier to fit pieces in a brining solution than a whole bird.
- Pieces can be easily arranged in pot if you choose to braise your bird. This is my mother’s preferred method.
I hope your turkey is delicious, and you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your loved ones.