This simple technique is a total game-changer.
For many home cooks, Thanksgiving is the only time of year when they actually cook a large roast. Combine that with turkey being one of the most difficult meats to cook properly (nobody wants a dry turkey) and the seemingly endless hacks created to fix this problem—brining, injection marinating, and spatchcocking are a few that come to mind—and it’s understandable why people feel overwhelmed.
Roasting turkey doesn’t have to be this difficult or anxiety-inducing. In fact, there’s a simple technique you can use this Thanksgiving that will be a total game-changer.
Angle That Pan
It’s as simple as that! As a culinary professional who has cooked dozens of turkeys over the years, there’s one incredibly simple trick that I use to solve the problem of the dry breast and undercooked, stringy dark meat: all you have to do is reposition your roasting pan in the oven.
Whatever approach you take to seasoning your bird, whether that be brining, dry brining, or injecting, proceed as planned. Once the turkey is ready to go in the oven, place the roasting pan on the middle rack, but instead of positioning it parallel to the door as you normally would, rotate the pan so the turkey legs face the rear corner of the oven and the breast is closer to the door. That’s it.
This technique comes from Samin Nosrat’s book, “Salt, Fat, Acid Heat,” a cookbook with revelatory moments on nearly every page. Nosrat uses this technique for her buttermilk-marinated roast chicken recipe, and it’s just the kind of simple, smart treatment the cookbook author is known for. It’s not a “hack,” it’s just a good idea.
Why Turkey Is So Hard To Cook Evenly
The pan-angling method solves one big problem for those trying to roast a turkey: turkey legs actually need to be cooked to a higher internal temperature than the breast. Turkey legs cooked to 165 F are safe to eat, but they will not be delicious because they contain a lot of collagen.
Collagen needs time, heat, and patience to break down, soften, and become succulent for tender, juicy dark meat. As a result, turkey legs are better cooked to an internal temperature of 175 to 180 F at a minimum. But if you cook the breast even a shade over 165 F, you’re flirting with dryness.
Why The Pan-Angling Method Works
The reason this technique works is because the back of the oven is almost always hotter than the front. By turning the legs toward the back, you’re exposing them to higher heat than the breast. The legs can take hotter cooking temperatures because all that fat and collagen protects them from drying out (remember: they also need to cook to a higher internal temperature than the breasts).
Meanwhile, because the breasts are facing toward the cooler door, they will cook more gently. This means that your turkey is more likely to be perfectly cooked.
What If the Legs Still Aren’t Done?
If the breasts finish cooking before the legs are done, don’t panic! Take the turkey out of the oven and carve off the legs. They should come off fairly easily at the hip joint with the help of a large knife because they’re mostly cooked, but you can use a silicone oven mitt or wrap the ends of the drumsticks in foil to help you handle them while they’re hot.
Then put the legs back in the oven while the breast rests. I usually set the legs on top of my pan of stuffing, which I bake at the same time as the turkey. The legs get to keep cooking to juicy doneness while the stuffing gets a nice basting of turkey fat and juices. You can also just put them on a baking sheet and throw them back in. The good news is that the turkey breast needs to rest for at least 15 and up to 30 minutes, so you have time.
The bottom line? Stop worrying so much about cooking your turkey. Not everything needs to be hacked. Sometimes you just have to look at the problem from a slightly different angle.
Read Next: Cooking a Turkey for Beginners
Read the original article on The Spruce Eats.