Have you ever pulled your Thanksgiving bird out of the oven, only to slice into it and find it’s lost all of its delicious moisture? We’ve all been there — but there’s a simple trick we can use to prevent dry turkey this year.
This issue occurs because dark meat needs to be cooked to a higher temperature than light, which then dries out the lighter meat. Sure, you could simply slice those sections away from each other and roast them separately. But if you’re hoping to keep the whole bird intact, a few ice packs can easily solve the problem.
Before popping your turkey in the oven, place ice packs over the light meat of the breast area while keeping the legs and wings clear to warm up to room temperature. Then when you cook it, the dark meat will be able to reach a higher temperature while the white meat stays lower since it’s starting from a cooler temperature than the dark.
Harold McGee, a food scientist and author of Keys to Good Cooking (Buy on Amazon, $20), shared this tip with NPR back in 2011. He advised, “Take the bird out [of the fridge] ahead of time and let the legs warm up a little bit while you keep the breasts covered with ice packs. That way, you keep the breasts cold. The legs warm up by maybe 10, 20 degrees, and that way, when you put the bird in the oven, you’ve already built in a temperature differential.”
McGee admitted it might look a little weird sitting on your counter before you put it in the oven — especially if you use Ace bandages to keep the ice packs in place like he does — but the initially strange appearance will result in a gorgeous, juicy turkey after you roast it.
Justin Wangler, the executive chef at Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens, tested McGee’s theory with two turkeys: one prepped with ice packs and one without.
He started by letting them both warm up to room temperature (aside from the iced section on one), which took about 15 minutes. The chef then removed the packs and noted an eight degree temperature difference between the breast and thigh meat of the iced bird. He roasted both birds in an oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours.
After taking the turkeys out and letting them rest, Wangler said the one that had been prepped with ice packs were able to retain more moisture which “added a little something extra to the tenderness of the turkey.” In fact, it convinced him to always use the method for his annual bird.
Grab a few ice packs to give this simple technique a try with your bird and we’re sure you and your family will be just as pleased by the results!