Why Your Turkey Is Dry and How to Make It Juicy, According to an Expert

Is basting really that bad? Does fresh or frozen actually matter? Does the brand make a difference? Get the answers to these perennial questions about roasting turkey, plus a foolproof method from an expert. (We'll also do some myth-busting!)

an image of someone taking a turkey out of an oven
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For many home cooks, roasting a turkey so it's juicy and not dry can be a struggle every year—especially since many of us only do it once a year! So we tapped an expert, Shawn Matijevich, lead chef of online culinary arts & food operations at the Institute of Culinary Education, for some tips and tricks. Here, the chef-instructor answers basic questions definitively, dispels myths and offers up his own surefire method for a juicy turkey every time. Take it away, Shawn!

Is there a brand of turkey that will come out less dry?

No, here's why: All major brands purchase their turkeys from farmers who are contracted to raise birds to a certain standard for them. They are pretty much the same breed of turkey (broad-breasted white turkey) and are fed the same and slaughtered when they reach the desired weight range. This means that they are all pretty much the same.

Before I roast my turkey, is there anything I can do for juicier results?

It's more about your oven temperature and not overcooking your bird. If you are buying a standard grocery store turkey, it has often been brined as part of the slaughter process. I see a lot of people advocating for brines, but unless you are getting an air-chilled or heritage bird, the brining may have already been done. Check your turkey labels for additives like salt or words like "enhanced" or "self-basting," which often indicates that the bird has already been brined.

Does it matter whether my turkey is fresh or frozen?

Only a little bit. If the turkey was properly frozen and held at the proper temperature, then you probably won't notice the difference. Freezing them also kills parasites, so that is one thing on the side of freezing that might bring people comfort (although parasites aren't that common in turkeys these days). If you are trying to cook your bird and it is just even a little bit still frozen, that will impact the dryness, simply because it will take longer to cook.

What can I do to the turkey while it's cooking to make sure it stays moist?

Basting is a waste of time. When the juices get squeezed out through the cooking process, they can't be added back. The main factor that will contribute to a juicy bird is cooking it for the right amount time for the oven temperature you're using (see my method below). You also can't sear in the juices; that is a myth.

How long should a roasted turkey rest before carving?

At least 30 minutes—this is not a myth. If you let the turkey rest a bit, the juices reabsorb into the meat rather than running out of the bird and landing on the cutting board. Carve it to order. The longer you let it sit after you slice it, the drier it will be. If you need to slice it, cover it with foil or plastic wrap to keep it from drying out.

Are there any sides you should serve to make a turkey taste less dry?

Nothing can make an improperly cooked turkey less dry. If you overcooked the turkey, the gravy may also not turn out correctly. For example, there may not be enough liquid to make the gravy solely from the drippings, or the salt may have become to concentrated, or the bottom of the roasting pan may have burned. However, stuffing, candied yams, mashed potatoes or anything creamy may help a turkey taste less dry.

My method for a juicy turkey

Season your turkey to your heart's desire. You can even place aromatics like herbs in the cavity. You might even rub softened butter between the skin and the meat, which works really well to get crisp skin while the fat protects the meat. But, although my favorite method may seem a bit unorthodox, I find that it makes for a very juicy turkey.

Preheat your oven to 500°F and roast the turkey until the skin begins to brown. Remove the bird and let the oven cool to 325°F. Put the turkey back in the oven and cook until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 160°F (the temperature will rise to 165°F due to carryover cooking, trust me). Simple, delicious, juicy. It is not meant to be complicated. Then pair your turkey with an outstanding gravy and you have a home run. For a 15-pound turkey, this will take about 2 1/2 hours from start to finish, but rely on your thermometer to tell you when the turkey is done.

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