The Best Way to Cover Your Turkey While It Cooks

A lid, foil or cheesecloth? That is the question.

FN Flat Recipe: Instant Pot Herbed Thanksgiving Turkey Breasts with Gravy

Photo by: Armando Rafael

Armando Rafael

By Heath Goldman for Food Network Kitchen

Here’s the thing about turkey: Everyone has an opinion on the best way to pull off a showstopper. Some people are devotees to deep-fried or even grilled birds. But if you’re going the traditional route, you'll want to roast your turkey. And if you're roasting a whole bird in the oven, you'll want to make sure it emerges moist and golden. To achieve that balance, the ideal is to let the bird spend time both covered and uncovered: We recommend covering your bird for most of the cooking time to prevent it from drying out, then removing the cover for the last 30 minutes or so to allow the skin to crisp.

There are a few different schools of thought about the best way to cover a turkey. Some people are devoted to cooking turkey in a big roaster with a lid. Others advocate a roasting pan and tinfoil or cheesecloth. Because there’s more than one way to — er — skin a turkey, no method is wrong. Each can yield gorgeous, crispy-skinned succulent results. We’re here to add a little clarity to the conversation by walking you through the pros and cons of each.

Although turkey roasters are not as common as they once were, many supermarkets still carry them. Typically oval-shaped, lightweight and enameled, the inexpensive vessels come with tight-fitting lids. If you’re in the market for one, make sure to check the roaster’s capacity; the label will usually say the largest size of turkey it can accommodate. It's important to make sure your turkey will fit without touching the lid.

Here’s the beauty of covered roasters: They roast and braise your turkey at the same time, making for mind-blowingly moist results. Recipes that instruct you to cook your turkey covered will often tell you to add a cup of liquid (water or broth) halfway through roasting. The water will gently steam your bird. Just make sure you uncover the lid about 30 minutes before the turkey’s done roasting so the skin has a chance to get crispy.

Many recipes today will instruct you to cook your bird in a roasting rack tented with foil. Because roasting racks have shallower sides than roasters, more hot air can circulate around the turkey and make for extra-crispy skin. Covering the bird with foil mimics what a roaster lid would do — it traps steam and moistness so the turkey doesn’t dry out — all the while allowing the skin to crisp up. Some recipes will instruct you to cover up the turkey breast instead of the whole bird because it cooks more quickly than the dark meat and is prone to drying out. In either case, you’ll usually remove the foil tent during the last 30 minutes of roasting time to encourage the crispiest skin possible.

We’ve found that covering a turkey in foil yields much moister results than roasting it without foil, and we favor simply covering up the breast to even out cooking time. Some people swear that roasting a turkey breast-side down and flipping it halfway through achieves the same results as a foil covered breast. However, it’s pretty darn hard to flip a heavy, piping-hot bird. And sometimes the roasting rack can leave marks or indentations on the breast that detract from a stunning centerpiece presentation.

Finally, you can also cover your bird in several layers of cheesecloth soaked in butter, herbs and perhaps even a little bit of wine (again, removing it during the last 30 minutes). Cheesecloth turkeys are delightfully moist with crispy skin, although cheesecloth can be expensive and hard to find, as well as messy to apply once it's wet with melted butter — and there’s a small risk that it’ll start smoking in the oven.

At the end of the day, roasting your turkey in a covered roaster will most likely yield the moistest meat out of the three techniques above, while roasting it in a roasting pan covered in foil or cheesecloth will probably make for crispier skin. Whichever way you choose to cover your turkey, we guarantee that everyone will be clamoring for thirds.

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