When the holidays roll around, people’s thoughts turn to big family dinners. For most people, whatever else those dinners include, a roasted turkey is the centerpiece. Unfortunately, that often means eating dry, tasteless turkey for the sake of tradition. It doesn’t have to be that way. Follow a few simple tips, and you can serve a delicious, moist turkey this holiday season.
A moist holiday turkey starts by not buying a bigger bird than you need. Many people like to roast the largest turkey they can find, hoping for lots of leftovers. However, the larger your turkey is, the longer you need to cook it, and that can lead to dry meat. For moister turkey, buy a smaller bird. One pound for each dinner guest will be plenty.
Prepare your turkey properly. Let it defrost in the refrigerator for about two days before you plan to cook it. To prepare it for roasting, rinse it inside and out with cold, running water. Be sure to remove the neck and giblets from the cavity.
Stuffing your turkey before cooking can help keep the meat moist. Even if you don’t like to eat stuffing cooked inside the bird, you can improve the flavor of the meat by filling the cavity with an herb-flavored stuffing. Prepare the stuffing as directed on the package and spoon it loosely into the cavity until it’s about half full–the stuffing will expand during roasting.
Place your stuffed turkey breast-side-up in a roasting pan. Pour about 1/2 cup water around the turkey. Sprinkle the bird with any desired seasonings, then cover it loosely with aluminum foil. The foil should make a tent over the turkey, and you should leave an opening on the sides. When you add water and use foil, your turkey probably won’t come out as pretty as the golden brown turkeys pictured in magazines, but it will retain its moisture and be much more flavorful. This also makes your turkey self-basting, so you don’t have to remember to do it.
Cook your turkey at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes per pound. Don’t overcook it. You can check to make sure it’s done by sticking a knife into the leg joint. If the juices run clear, your turkey is done. Cooking it past that time will only dry out the meat.
For truly moist turkey, don’t slice it until you’re ready to eat. The meat will dry out quickly once it’s removed from the bones.