If you’ve ever been in charge of cooking the turkey for a holiday meal, you understand the pressure of making it great.
When it comes out dry after all your hard work and time, it can be extremely disappointing and embarrassing—not to mention how chewy and boring it can taste.
After following the directions, it can be hard to understand why your turkey is still coming out dry.
There are many common reasons why this occurs, and fortunately, simple ways to amend the problems.
Here are some reasons why your turkey keeps coming out dry and ways to fix it.
Why Is My Turkey Dry? (Reasons, Fixes)
1. It’s Overcooked
Overcooking a turkey is the number one cause of dry turkey meat.
Each turkey requires its own cooking time and temperature, as size is a major variable in determining the perfect cooking time.
Know the size or weight of your bird before setting your kitchen timer.
As a good rule of thumb, a 12-13-pound turkey needs around 3 to 4 hours in the oven, while a 7- or 8-pound turkey will only need about 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Also, be sure to cook your turkey starting at room temperature, as this is how cooking times are often measured.
Another factor is whether the bird is stuffed and if so, how it’s stuffed, so be sure to keep this in mind.
It’s been suggested that starting your oven at a high temperature and then lowering it is effective in getting a crispy outside without drying the meat out underneath.
For example, start your oven at 450–475 degrees Fahrenheit for thirty minutes, and then lower the temperature to around 350 degrees Fahrenheit for the remainder of the cooking time.
Getting perfectly cooked turkey is less about the time and more about the correct internal meat temperature.
So, instead of putting your turkey in the oven and just letting it sit as the timer ticks away, it’s best to periodically check on the turkey and test its internal temperature.
This can easily be done by purchasing and using a meat thermometer.
Turkey breast should be finished and safe to eat at around 145 to 155 degrees Fahrenheit, while dark meat is safe to eat after it reaches 155 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Even if the turkey meat is a little pink, it’s still generally safe to eat if it reaches these temperatures.
2. The Turkey Was Not Brined Enough
Brining is one of the most overlooked areas when it comes to prepping and cooking a turkey.
Many home chefs only salt and baste the exterior of the turkey or the skin.
However, seasoning on the skin only dries out the meat inside and rarely makes it through the skin to reach the meat.
You’ll get juicy turkey meat when you brine because the act of brining adds moisture to the meat through the act of osmosis, meaning the brine penetrates the meat until it has the same salt and water content as the brine itself.
There are two types of brines: wet and dry.
In order to get a good wet brine, it’s suggested that you dissolve salt and other seasonings in hot water and pour them over the top of your turkey.
Then, let it sit in the brine for up to 24 hours in your refrigerator, giving the brine enough time to work its magic.
To dry brine a turkey, pack salt onto the outside of the turkey, completely coating it.
Many turkeys are sold now in kits, including a bag for brining.
If your turkey doesn’t come with a brining bag, you can purchase one separately.
Brining your turkey in a plastic bag overnight is an easy, cleaner, and more practical way to get the brining you want on your turkey.
When you’re ready to cook, remove the turkey from the brine, pat it dry to remove excess salt, and prepare it as you normally would.
3. You Cooked The Turkey Whole
Not many people know they don’t have to cook the turkey completely whole.
Different parts of the turkey require different cooking times, making it difficult to get an even roast throughout the whole turkey.
Once parts that don’t need as much cooking time, like the turkey breast, have been in the oven for too long, they start to dry out.
Parts that contain dark meat, like turkey legs and thighs, take longer to cook due to their denser connective tissue.
This problem is easily solvable though.
All you need to do is remove the legs and thighs from the turkey breast before cooking and cook them separately.
You can start cooking all of the parts together but remove the turkey breast before the legs and thighs, ensuring they are cooked thoroughly without drying out the breast.
4. Turkey Is Too Big
Buying the biggest turkey is usually a chef’s priority when it’s their turn to cook the meat, especially if they’re tasked with feeding a large number of people. However, bigger is not always better when it comes to turkeys.
22 and 24-pound turkeys may look nice on a serving platter, but the larger the turkey, the longer time it takes to cook.
The longer the turkey sits in the oven, the more juice it’ll lose.
In addition, large turkeys usually turn out unevenly cooked, as the outside areas will cook faster than the inside areas.
Uneven cooking times make the outside dry out much faster than the inside parts.
You can buy a smaller turkey to avoid this problem.
If you’re feeding a huge crowd, opt for multiple smaller turkeys rather than one big turkey. Turkeys in the 10–14-pound range are likely to cook more evenly without drying out.
5. Turkey Was Previously Frozen
Because of its convenience and affordability, buying a frozen turkey may seem like a great idea.
However, turkeys lose a lot of their moisture in the freezing process, giving you a turkey that’s already dry to start with.
In order to avoid this common mistake, buy a fresh turkey up to a few days before you plan on cooking it.
This will ensure its quality.
Organic, free-range, all-natural turkeys will give you optimum meat quality, better taste, and more moisture.
It’s also important to know it’s never recommended to cook a turkey from frozen, as it will need much more cooking time and will almost positively turn out dry.
If you do purchase a frozen turkey, it can take up to four days to thaw out safely in the refrigerator, so it’s important to factor in the added time.
You should always bring your turkey to room temperature before cooking to ensure food safety and the maximum amount of moisture and flavor.
6. Turkey Didn’t Sit After Cooking
One of the biggest mistakes amateur chefs make is carving and serving the turkey too soon after removing it from the oven.
Turkeys lose a lot of moisture in the cooking process, making them incredibly dry if eaten right away.
If you cut the turkey too soon, juices and moisture will escape from the meat, adding to the dryness.
Waiting at least 45 minutes after removing the turkey from the oven is suggested to allow the turkey to reabsorb some of its lost moisture, keeping it juicy throughout.
However, it’s important to let the turkey breathe once it’s out of the oven.
In other words, don’t cover it with foil or anything else in an attempt to keep the turkey warm.
This will cause the steam to absorb into the meat, creating a soggy turkey.
You still want to keep an eye on your turkey as it rests.
If you allow it to sit for too long or cool down faster than expected you run the risk of bacteria forming.
It’s best to eat your turkey within two hours of it resting.
The room temperature has a lot to do with how quickly your turkey cools off as well.
Keep your meat thermometer handy and make sure your turkey doesn’t get below 140 degrees to keep your guests safe and healthy.
7. You Didn’t Butter Or Season Under Skin
Some home chefs only baste their turkey on the outside of the skin.
When chefs use this method, the moisture isn’t actually getting into the meat and instead either stays on the surface of the turkey skin or rolls completely off.
Because the turkey doesn’t have a chance to marinate, it dries out inside.
You might have great-tasting turkey skin but dry and chewy meat underneath.
After brining, and especially if there wasn’t time for brining, it’s important to add seasoning and butter under the turkey skin.
This will allow the butter and moisture to seep into the meat and not just sit on the skin or roll off.
It’ll also help infuse the meat with the spices you want, distributing flavors into the turkey.
Periodically, while the turkey is cooking, you can use a baster to suck up the turkey juices and remoisturize the turkey under its skin.
The turkey skin will also act as an insulator, keeping the juices working inside longer.
8. Turkey Was Roasted In The Wrong Pan
Not many people think about the pan they’re using when it comes to roasting turkey.
They’ll just throw it in anything they have available.
But, the size and type of pan have a lot to do with how well it’s cooked and how well it maintains its moisture.
The height of a roasting pan’s sides is important.
If the sides are too high, the legs aren’t exposed to as much hot air as the breast meat is, making the breast meat cook faster and dry out quicker and making the legs and thighs take longer to heat.
So, using the right size roasting pan for your bird is crucial.
You can also use an actual roasting rack, which allows for better airflow and heat circulation, preventing the bottom meat from sitting in its juices for too long and getting soggy.
9. It Was Cooked On One Side Or In One Direction The Whole Time
When turkey is cooked in the same position during the whole cooking process, sometimes specific parts of the meat can dry out faster than others.
This can occur because different parts of the turkey are inherently more moist than other parts to begin with.
Also, different areas of your oven are different temperatures.
For instance, the back of your oven is hotter than the front, due to heat escaping through the oven door.
Also, different ovens have different nuances and some are hotter on one side than the other.
This is why it’s important to turn your turkey around and in different directions from time to time during cooking.
It’s also a helpful idea to flip your turkey completely over for some time during the cooking process.
This will allow better distribution of the internal juices.
10. No Additional Moisture Was Added
Though you don’t necessarily have to add any juices to roast a great turkey, it’s a good way to give it extra moisture.
This is a useful step to do especially if you know your turkey will turn out drier than you’d like, for example, if it was previously frozen.
Pouring chicken stock or vegetable stock in the bottom of your roasting pan allows your turkey to absorb extra moisture and gives it more flavor.
This is a trick a lot of chefs use to quickly add flavor to their meat.
You can also use chicken stock to baste your turkey under the skin, pumping it full of tasty juices.
11. Didn’t Cook It In A Pre-Packaged Oven Bag
Many turkeys these days come packaged with everything you need for the roasting process, including spices and oven bags.
You can also purchase oven bags separately at most grocery stores.
Oven bags are great because they remove a lot of steps that some home chefs find time-consuming and laborious.
Using oven bags eliminates the need for brining or basting and pretty much acts like a one-and-done deal.
Plus, you can add vegetables like carrots, onions, and celery to the bag making the whole meal easier and giving your turkey more flavor.
Though it’s not necessary to baste when using an oven bag, it’s still recommended to apply butter, salt, and seasoning mixture under the turkey skin, ensuring a good amount of flavor and moisture.
Then, just tie the bag closed and pop it in the oven.
It’s a good idea to cut a couple of venting holes in the bag to allow steam to escape.
If you don’t, too much moisture build-up may make your turkey soggy.