All those hours invested in cooking a turkey, and too often, the bird emerges from the oven dried out. Dry turkey isn't flavorful and is difficult to chew and swallow. It's the last thing you want from the centerpiece of a big meal.
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How to Moisten or Fix a Dry Turkey
There are a few factors that can lead to a dry turkey:
- Opting for a frozen bird instead of a fresh one. "The process of freezing and thawing can result in moisture loss and contribute to a drier finished product," says Chef Wyatt Evans of the restaurant group Jester Concepts in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- A turkey is ill-suited for the tradition of cooking a bird whole. "Turkey legs take much longer to cook than the breast — and in order to reach the proper internal temperature for the leg, the breast overcooks and dries out in the process," Evans says.
- Timing is hard. Plus, with that white meat, there's a slim margin between perfectly cooked and overcooked, Evans says. That's because the breast is so lean.
- Being impatient. Being too quick to carve can lead to the bird drying out and losing moisture, Evans says. Make sure to build in time for the bird to rest after cooking.
But all is not lost if your turkey comes out of the oven slightly dry. Try these tactics to restore moisture and tastiness.
1. Add Broth
Think of this as a way to restore moisture rather than disguising the meat's dryness.
This moistening method will make the meat look and taste as though it was perfectly roasted — and while it's ideal for turkey, this also works to moisten a dry chicken or duck.
Things You'll Need
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Step 2: Cut away the meat from the turkey carcass with a carving knife. Place the carved turkey meat into a casserole dish.
Step 3: Pour 1 cup of chicken broth over the meat for every 2 cups of turkey.
Step 4: Cover the casserole dish with aluminum foil and place the turkey into the oven.
Step 5: Allow the turkey to heat for 10 minutes so the broth soaks into the meat.
Step 6: Remove the casserole dish from the oven and transfer the turkey to a serving platter. Serve the moistened turkey while hot.
Another approach using stock: Heat up turkey or veggie stock in a small pan, recommends Chef Quiaufa Royes of HUNGRY, a platform for local chefs and food delivery. "Next, add turkey slices to the stock and heat on both sides. The turkey will absorb the stock and become juicier," Royes says.
2. Add Gravy
This is likely your best bet, Evans says. Aim to "drown the turkey in gravy," he says. Instead of serving the gravy on the side, top your platter with the luscious substance.
Try it with this Mushroom Thyme Gravy recipe.
Things You'll Need
Step 1: Carve the turkey.
Step 2: Place a layer of gravy on top of your serving platter.
Step 3: Place the carved turkey on the serving platter. You can also top with a bit of additional gravy.
If the methods above didn't add enough moisture to the bird, try combining the two! Start with the broth method and then douse the turkey in gravy for extra juiciness.
3. Reheat in a Bag
Chef Aron Schwartz of California's Ranch 45, has a variation on the broth-adding tactic above.
"Once you've determined that the bird is overcooked, the trick is to put it back in the oven," Schwartz says — the beauty of this tactic is that the bird remains whole. Here, Chef Schwartz breaks down the steps to revive a dried-out turkey.
Things You'll Need
Juices from the pan
Step 1: Preheat the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Step 2: Take the whole turkey out of the roasting pan and place it in an oven bag.
Step 3: Carefully pour the juice from the pan onto the turkey. Slather with butter.
Step 4: Tie the oven bag shut and place the turkey back in the roasting pan.
Step 5: Gently roast for 20 minutes or until heated through.
Step 6: When it is done, take the bird out of the oven, flip it over so the juices reconstitute the breast meat.
Step 7: Let it sit for 10 minutes, then carve.
If All Else Fails, Transform the Bird
Turkeys are somewhat notorious for turning out on the dry side. But don't despair if that occurs.
"If, for whatever reason, the bird is not to your satisfaction, do not throw out the meat," Schwartz says. First, check on the dark meat, which may still be moist, Evans recommends.
Or, go a different route altogether:
- Turkey soup: Use the meat in a soup the next day, Evans suggests.
- Sandwiches: "If your turkey does turn out dry it will still make good leftover turkey sandwiches (with lots of mayo)," Evans says.
- Get creative. "Take the meat off the bone and pivot by creating an alternative dish for your holiday meal or for leftovers the next day," Evans says. For instance, you can make a hash by using it with onions or potatoes. Or, try a salad with cranberries (very Thanksgiving-appropriate). You can also use pantry items such as mole to top the bird with a delicious sauce, Evans suggests.
How to Prevent a Dry Turkey
"The best option for a flavorful and moist turkey is to plan ahead," Evans says. Both Evans and Schwartz recommend brining a bird to lock in moisture.
"Brining a turkey will always result in an end product with more moisture and flavor," Evans says. Add the herbs and spices of your choice — garlic, rosemary, black pepper and thyme are good options. "The flavor profile is up to the cook," Evans says.
The basic salt and water combo of the brine is key for a moist bird. "Submerging meat in a salt and water solution denatures the protein structure, allowing it to retain more moisture through the cooking process," Evans says.