Perfectly Moist Turkey, Every Time

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Perfectly Moist Turkey

Experience has shown me that we end up with fabulously moist turkeys (even Heritage birds) by cooking our turkeys exactly the opposite way recommended by 1-800-BUTTERBALL. The helpful home economists there recommend cooking your turkey breast side up and uncovered. At least they don’t recommend stuffing the bird; I agree with that for retaining moisture.

I cook the turkey breast side down and in a bath of chicken stock. This way the breast meat bastes itself in its own juices during baking. I also keep the roaster pan covered almost the entire baking time, which allows steam to circulate and keeps the entire turkey moist, not just the part that is bathed in the stock.

About a week prior to cooking a 12 to 14 pound Heritage turkey, I cook two chickens in order to make chicken stock. I use a big pasta pot (mine is 11 quart). In the pasta insert, I put the chicken bones from 2 chickens, a generous splash of raw apple cider vinegar, 2 inches of ginger root, a few bay leaves, a quartered onion, and about 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Then I put the insert into its base and fill with water to within 3 or 4 inches of the top. All of this I bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer, covered, for at least half a day. After the hours of simmering, I take it off the heat and pull out the pasta insert, letting it drip well before transferring it to a big bowl or the sink to catch remain drippings. Then I salt it to taste and let it cool.

If you’re reading this really close to Thanksgiving and haven’t time to cook some chickens, hopefully you have some bones tucked away in the freezer you could turn into stock right quick today. Or use purchased stock, preferably from free-range, organic chickens (or turkey). You need 4 to 8 cups of stock.

I prefer smaller turkeys, like 12 to 14 pounds. I figure on 15 minutes per pound for an unstuffed bird, cooking it at 325 to 350 degrees. You may brine your turkey (start this several days before cooking day).

I preheat the oven to 425 degrees while I rinse the fully thawed or fresh turkey and empty the inner cavity. I put the bird — breast side down — in a stainless steel roaster pan, preferably on a shallow rack. I add 8 cups of stock into the bottom of the roaster pan (one can also use 4 cups of stock and 4 cups of filtered water). Then I generously brush all the exposed skin with raw, virgin, unrefined coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil. Then I put the cover on and transfer the pan to the oven, where I let it cook at 425 degrees for one hour.

After one hour, it is time to lower the temperature to 325 or 350 degrees. A 12-pound bird should need about 3 hours total baking time. About every hour or every half hour, I will pull it out of the oven and brush more oil on the skin. When I think it is supposed to be done, I check the internal temperature by inserting a meat thermometer into the deepest part of the thigh. I am looking for 170 degrees, or even 5 degrees below (it will continue to cook from its own heat even out of the oven). If it has reached this internal temperature, then I remove the roaster pan lid, set the oven to broil, and brown the exposed skin. Then, if I am able to maneuver the turkey, I will turn it over and brown the breast skin under the broiler, too.

Now the turkey is done and boy, is it moist! I do let it sit on the counter for about 15 minutes before carving, to let it calm cool down a little. Then it is carving time. My main goal with this is to do it as quickly as possible so as not to lose moisture. I cut off the thigh/drumsticks and the wings and lay them flat in a glass dish (I love my Anchor Hocking refrigerator storage dishes for this). I ladle the broth/drippings from the roaster pan to fully cover these parts and cover the dish. Now it is time to carve the breast. I slide the carving knife under the meat to carefully remove each half breast from the bones. Usually it works allright, but I’ve never done it perfectly. 😉 I move each half breast to a cutting board and slice into strips, against the grain of the muscle, transferring these pieces to another glass dish (or dishes). I cover the breast meat with more broth from the roaster pan, adding the dish’s cover when it is full.

Now the turkey is all ready to go. The covered dishes of turkey meat are ready to serve, and any leftovers are already prepared for refrigerator storage after the meal, too. It is time to make the final preparations now — finishing off the gravy by adding broth from the roaster pan to the pot that has been simmering all afternoon with the gizzards; smashing the potatoes; tossing the salad.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I have much for which to be thankful and will surely be thanking God this year for good, healthy, local food and my special family! I am also thankful for you, my internet friends. God bless you and your families!

This post may contain affiliate links. We only recommend products and services we wholeheartedly endorse. Thank you for supporting Traditional Cooking School by GNOWFGLINS with your purchases. Our family thanks you!


  1. Jean Myers says

    Wardee, my favorite way to cook the stuffing is inside the bird!! :-( It has more flavor that way, but I want to try your way of cooking the bird, so how do you cook your stuffing, if you make stuffing, so that it is not dry?

    Love, jean

  2. says

    Jean, I make stuffing in bread loaf or casserole pans. Use broth for the liquid and it will taste just like it was cooked in the turkey. I’m sorry I didn’t see your comment until just now. Somehow, email notification isn’t working so I didn’t know about your comment until today (Saturday).

  3. Elena says

    Wardee,you said that you put the cover on and transfer the pan to the oven. What kind of pan are you using? My roasting pan doesn’t have a cover. Is foil cover good enough for this method? Thank you.

    • says

      Elena – My roasting pan has a lid. I think you should use foil instead – though I hate to say it because of the aluminum. But, if you have unbleached parchment paper, put a sheet of that over the turkey, then the foil, so the foil doesn’t touch the turkey. The main goal is to seal in moisture, so yes, the turkey should be covered in some fashion. Enjoy!

  4. Jenny says

    I always follow my Joy of Cooking instructions and use a butter soaked cloth to protect the breast. I may try upside down sometime.

  5. says

    I always cook all poultry breast-down! No point in having crispy skin on the breast if the meat itself is dry and unappetizing. I also don’t have a roasting pan, so I cook the turkey in a deep Pyrex dish. The breast sits in the drippings the whole time, and ends up perfect every time.

  6. Leslie says

    I’ve had my crockpot with perpetual stock going all week from two chickens. I keep skimming some off and saving it and then adding more water to the crockpot.

    I’ll be trying your method this Thanksgiving. Thanks, as always, for the great tips.

  7. Stacy Rager says

    Thank you so much for posting this! I followed your directions to the letter (although I opted not to mess with brining this year) and my turkey turned out perfect!!!! Thank you so much!

  8. kisssthecook says

    I tried this technique for my Christmas bird after seeing it done on foodnetwork. LET ME TELL YOU…..i let it rest for 30 minutes after flipping it breast side up at last 30 of bake time….oh my god in heaven!!!!
    Ive never had a slice of turkey that layed on my plate in its own juice. Tender(no knife needed) and juicy. I will always roast upside down. Who knew?

  9. Trish says

    Thank you so much for sending this recipe. In past years We have had Butterball, but after learning of all the “junk” that is in a processed chicken we opted to get an organic turkey. Once I had a fresh chicken ( it wasn’t organic) and when we cooked it it tasted terrible, all dried out with no taste. So, I was afraid that this was going to be a repeat this year. That is until your wonderful recipe arrived. We will definitely try your recipe.
    We also have much to be thankful to God for. God is good…all the time!!
    God bless you.

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