The Secret to Roasting a Moist Turkey

Hi, Amy here again! I started making Thanksgiving dinner for my family when I was in high school, but I always just sliced a precooked turkey breast for the meat because I didn’t have a clue about how to roast a turkey (and this was back before they had online diy tutorials)! ;-) However, when I went to college, I met a guy who used to work as a chef at a 5 star restaurant in San Fransisco, and I decided that I was going to roast my own turkey that year — and he was going to tell me how to do it! If you have never roasted a bird before, I will include the instructions he gave me below, so that you can feel empowered to roast your own moist turkey, but first I want to share with you the secret to roasting a moist turkey!

There are all kinds of ways to finagle your way to a moist bird: roasting the bird in a plastic bag, injecting it, grilling it over a beer can, stuffing the bird with celery and onions to release steam while cooking, frying it, drenching the cooked meat in gravy, etc. However, the real trick (and probably the more “green” way to roast a moist bird) is understanding more about how different types of poultry meat cook. In general white meat takes less time to cook than dark meat, so if you cook the bird until the dark meat is done then you are going to overcook and dry out your white meat! What I generally do is take the bird out of the oven once the white meat is done (usually about 3/4 the way into the suggested cook time on the package), cut off the legs, wings, and thighs, and throw those pieces back in the oven for another hour or so. BUT, we always take a picture of the bird BEFORE we mutilate it! (I am not going to make an awesome Thanksgiving turkey and not take a picture of it!!!)

A picture of me, my sister-in-law, and my baby sister with one of my birds!

Now, here is how I was told to roast a turkey:

You will need: 1 bird (figure about 1 lb. per person), 1 batch of dressing (if desired), some bay leaves (I have also used whole basil leaves and crushed rosemary, sage, thyme, and lemon pepper), and string (if you are stuffing the bird)

First you need to defrost the bird (usually takes a day or two in the fridge). Pull out the neck an giblets found in the neck and body cavities. (They can be used to make broth and gravy or you can discard them if they gross you out.) Rinse the bird in the sink under cold water. Next gently separate the skin from the breast meat (that’s the part that is on top when you are roasting it — opposite the backbone). Place bay (or basil) leaves under the skin (makes it look pretty and seasons it). Stuff body and neck cavity with dressing and tie wings over neck and the legs together to hold stuffing (if dressing is desired). Paint with oil before cooking. (You could also sprinkle some crushed rosemary, sage, thyme, lemon pepper, etc on top of the bird before putting it in the oven.) Pulling the skin up and painting it with vegetable oil creates a natural bag to keep the juices in. Cook according to package directions. If you want moist white meat, take the bird out after about ¾ of the time has passed. The time on the package is how long the dark meat needs to cook. You can then cut off the dark meat, and put the dark meat back in the oven for the rest of the time indicated on the package.

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Owner/Editor at Ahh~Mazing Reviews
I'm a SAHM to my son, Davey who is starting Kindergarten in the fall. I am a writer, blogger, and brand ambassador. I have been blogging since the days of LiveJournal in the late 90s, and started Ahh~Mazing Reviews in January 2010. My favorite products to review are technology and electronics, items for the home, and toys for my son. You can contact me at You can also check out my fitness blog, Plexus Slim and Fitness With Lisa K.


  1. tiffany dover says

    Thanks for this post. This will be my first year doing Thanksgiving dinner for the family and this info is very helpful!! :)

  2. lfogde says

    Interesting :) This is also my first year doing a turkey–i’m trying to simulate a “deep pit” result from the oven–my mom said it works great!! Hoping it turns out otherwise I’m sure a McDonalds will be open somewhere, right? :)

  3. heather stewart says

    interesting about cooking the dark meat longer. I’ve never cooked a turkey…always go someplace else for the dinner.

  4. urbanpioneerwoman says

    Glad you all found it interesting! Two things I didn’t mention: 1) the package should list different cook times for stuffed versus unstuffed and 2) if the juices look a little pink when you take it out to cut off the dark meat, that’s OK! The juices might be pink since the dark meat is still cooking, but the white meat sitting on top of the bird is going to be fully cooked and just fine! Best of luck with your birds, and I hope you don’t have to rely on McD’s because in years past they have not been open!!! (I only know that because we used to travel on Thanksgiving and nothing was open!!!) :-)

  5. jan Messali says

    I have cooked turkeys in oven bags. This year I’m thinking of grilling it, so my oven will be free for the side dishes. I’m sure loosening the skin and putting oil & spices on top would help when grilling it, as it does in the oven. Thanks!

  6. Janet W. says

    Thanks for the tips on cooking a turkey! We’re more of a honey baked ham kind of family for thanksgiving. ;)

  7. Gladys Parker says

    I’ve been baking turkey’s for years, my daughter took it over to my illness and every year the white meat is a tad dry. Either I drown it in gravy or go for the dark meat both unhealthy choices. I have never thought of or heard of removing the dark meat and cooking it longer. Wonderful suggestion, we’ll try it for Christmas along with our ham.
    Happy late Thanksgiving,
    Gladys P

  8. Mary Dailey says

    I never thought about the white and dark meats needing different cooking times. It makes sense though. I sent this to myself so I can print it.

  9. turq says

    Very interesting about cooking the dark meat longer. I’ve never heard of anyone doing thay, it sounds like it would work. I sure am proud of how pretty my turkey always looks when I bring it to the table I would miss that, but it would be nice to have all of it really tender. I may try it.

  10. Tanaya Syx says

    My turkey didn’t come with a popper this year. So after I thought it was done and checked the temperature in the breast, I pulled it out and started cutting. It wasn’t done. Then I remembered reading this post. I carved the white meat off and stuck the rest back in. Wow!!! It was the best white meat ever! So juicy and moist! Thanks for the tip!

  11. Cheryl says

    I also find cooking it with the breast side down helps because the drippings from the dark meat flow through it. This year, I did mine on the BBQ and injected it with marinade. Best turkey I have done!

  12. Katie O. says

    Thank you for this post! I usually don’t make turkey because it turns out dry and bland. This makes me think I will give it another try.

  13. Danielle Mann says

    What a beautiful bird! We were recently inquiring as to how my in-laws make their turkeys so moist at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ll have to try out your recipe to ensure ours looks and tastes as amazing as yours next year!

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