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Cooking a Turkey Breast Side Down – Best Practices

It’s tough to cook a turkey and get it to come out just right. It seems like parts of it are too juicy and other parts are too dry, and striking that balance can be tough. How do you get your turkey to come out just right? Is there a trick you can use that most people don’t know?

There is a rather unconventional method you can try- cooking a turkey breast side down. Now, most people will cook their turkey in a way that is considered right side up- with the breast up and the legs down, but there is good reason to try flipping it over and seeing how the bird turns out.

You may want to try this with a smaller bird, because no one wants to spend hours on a turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner and then have it not turn out okay because they tried something new. This method of turning the bird over is not how most people cook their bird, and it may be challenging for you at first. Still, it’s worth giving it a try, and we’ll explain why that is.

Why Flip Your Turkey over?

You might have never heard of cooking a turkey breast side down. Most people don’t even ask themselves the question of, “When cooking a turkey breast, breast side up or breast side down?” Cooked turkeys, plucked of all their feathers and deprived of their head, are always photographed with the legs down and the breast up. That image of the turkey is pervasive during the holiday season- a browned turkey resting breast side up and surrounded by vegetables and some leaves. This is how we all envision turkeys, so it probably never even occurs to most people to try to flip things over.

There is something to be said for trying a new tactic with your cooking, though. If you are finding that your turkey is too dry in some parts, the easiest way to fix that may just be adjusting the position of the turkey in the baking pan.

What this does is cook the thigh meat faster. That way, you won’t have undercooked thighs and won’t have to wait for the thighs to be the last part to be cooked. Your bird will cook more evenly.

Another benefit of flipping the turkey over is that the breast meat won’t dry out. It will soak in its own juices, and that keeps it nice and moist. How many times have you bit into a turkey breast and been disappointed with how dry it tasted? We have all experienced that, and the simple solution is to simply flip over the turkey and let it cook upside down. You don’t have to serve it that way, but you can cook it upside down without any issue.

Cooking a turkey breast side down is also beneficial because it cuts down your cooking time overall. You can decrease the amount of time the turkey spends in the oven since the thicker pieces will cook first. No one likes to plan their entire day around cooking the turkey, so now, you can decrease some of that wait time and get the bird done faster.

By cooking your turkey this way, you don’t need to baste it. Basting ensures that the meat comes out moist and tender, but if the entire turkey is going to be tender because you’re cooking it upside down, then there isn’t any need to bother basting it. Just take one more step out of the process with upside down turkey cooking.

How to Cook a Turkey Upside Down

Because of how strange and foreign this method may sound to you, you might think that it would be complicated or require some level of finesse. Not to worry, though- it’s very simple. Cooking a turkey breast side up or down, the procedure is the same.

Be sure to thaw the turkey out the day you’ll be roasting it. If it isn’t thawed before you cook it, then you’ll need to wait to stick it into the oven. A good rule of thumb is to transfer the turkey from the freezer to the fridge two days before it is supposed to be cooked. That way, it will be thawed when you are ready to use it.

You should preheat the oven to 325°F. If you go much higher than that, you will dry out the turkey. You will be cooking the turkey about 13 minutes for every pound of turkey. Just do the simple math based on how big your turkey is.

Next, take the turkey out of its packaging and transfer it to a roasting pan. Remember, you don’t have to baste it at this point. The juices from the thighs will flow down to the rest of the meat, making it tender and succulent. This fatty juice does the job of basting for you.

You can reduce the temperature partway through baking, if you want. If the turkey is brown but hasn’t reached it designated cook time yet, it’s not a bad idea to turn down the temperature 20 degrees or so. Just make sure that the cooked turkey has an internal temperature of 165°F. It’s a good idea to probe the turkey’s temperature in a couple of places, just to be sure it cooked all the way through.

If you want to make sure the entire turkey browns evenly, you can turn it over 30 minutes before the bird is supposed to finished cooking. This isn’t necessary for it to be fully cooked, though, and there is some danger that you will injure yourself. It’s definitely safer to just leave it be and not worry about the browning.

Serving Your Turkey

Once the turkey is done cooking, you can take it out of the oven and let it rest for about 30 minutes to cool. Then, you can flip it over to prepare it for carving. If you would like to cut the meat into sections rather than take a whole turkey to the table to serve, you may want to cut the thighs off while the turkey is still breast side down. They are easier to get off this way.

The rest of the turkey will be simple enough to cut once it is flipped over and resting properly.

When Cooking a Turkey, Is It Breast Side Up or Down?

Most people cook their turkey with the breast side up. That’s what we are all used to, but there are some advantages to cooking a turkey breast side down in bag or pan. It’s up to you how you want to cook it, but you can slightly reduce the cooking time by cooking it breast side down. Plus, you will make your turkey meat more succulent and juicier, and you’ll forgo the need for basting.

Written by Pauline

Pauline is a mother of four, when she isn't cooking up new dishes for her family and friends, she likes to dine out at newly-opened restaurants (especially tapas!) and review them in her blog posts.

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